Mandy Carter: Women’s Peace Walk, 1983

Peace Advocate January 2023

Mandy and Judy on the 1983 Women's Peace Walk, pictured here with media.

By C.R. Spicer

The Seneca Women’s Peace Camp was formed in 1983 to protest the scheduled deployment of Cruise and Pershing II missiles before their suspected shipment from the Seneca, NY Army Depot to Europe. Women organized feeder marches from Boston, and as far away as North Carolina, arriving for the camp opening July 4, 1983. In this interview, Mandy Carter recalls organizing the 1983 women’s peace march from Durham, NC as a staffer of the War Resisters League, which this year marks its 100th anniversary.

Mandy Carter is a southern African-American lesbian with a 56-year movement history of social, racial and LGBT justice organizing, including as consultant for the Freedom to Marry project in Boston, 2001-02. She was nominated for 1000 women for the Nobel Peace prize in 2005. She served as national co-chair of Obama LGTBQ Pride and in 2015, was co-organizer for the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March.  She is currently a fellow with the Resistance Studies Initiative at UMass Amherst. More information can be found here

Here is Mandy Carter’s story, as told to C.R. Spicer.

Getting started, making plans

It was Petra Kelly’s Women Peace Encampment in Europe, protesting US missiles going to Europe, that made us ask, “Why aren’t we doing something here, at the Seneca Army Depot, where the missiles are shipped to Europe?”

I was then at War Resister’s League (WRL) Southeast. Dannia Southerland had just come out—and when I came on staff it was the first time two out lesbians were staff on WRL/Southeast. We said, “Why don’t we do a peace walk”?

There were several very strong Friends meeting houses we called and said, “Hey, what houses do you know on the walk up that way that will be favorable?” Our questions: “Where do we take breaks? Where are the police, the hospitals?” We rode that entire route ahead of time, noting every phone, every gas station, to know what to expect when we walked. The gas prices were a dollar something. Some of the Quaker houses were very, very not nice, almost like the NAACP, not having any of this gay /lesbian or anything. We had to find out the Friends Meeting houses who could recommend campsites, and that’s where we would go, or if we got invited, we stayed at Quaker Friends meeting houses.

I was on salary with the War Resisters League, and we had a building, the Institute for Southern Studies. A lot of progressive groups were in one building and we shared a Xerox machine. That was our infrastructure. No one really got paid. I was the treasurer. WRL kept all the receipts. We had cash. The cost was my salary, gas, food, anything you would need for that 20-25 mile a day walk. Someone donated the truck that carried our supplies and paid for gas going up and back.

Around that time there was a women’s books store: Regulator Books, and at the Durham Public Library we knew there were two women working at the library who were lesbian game changers–Joanne Able, who is still alive, and Nancy Blood. And we said we need an exhibit. Despite opposition, we held a local meeting at a very progressive bar café where we asked: “Could people bring stuff to carry on the trip? Including drinks high on electrolytes? Who could join us for one day? Who could join us for all thirty days with Judy and Duffy and me?” When people joined up we’d say, “Don’t join us if you know your health would be in jeopardy.” We didn’t have a doctor, or any of that.

Word spread out to different parts of the community, by mail and word of mouth. We had students from campuses nearby saying, “I can walk for ten miles, or for five miles, whatever.

People in the Quaker network said “We will give you a meal,” and we had that network, Women Music Festival, Ladybug music, on our rolodex. We knew each other in advance, not out of the blue. It was low-profile now that I think about it. No press release, but every single place had a lot of media.

1983 Women’s Peace Walk

The walk itself

We had Legacy for Music on the kick-off. And once we got going, we had a nice crew of people, until Virginia. A camera came out when we crossed the State line into Virginia. We didn’t think of it as a media event. More like, ‘We’ll get there and figure it out.’

Realistically, 80 percent of the trip was two people walking, and one driver—it might have been Alana Freeman. The support car was sometimes in front, a lot of times behind us. We didn’t have any walkie-talkies in 1983. And we learned to always go at the pace of who walked slowest. It’s a women’s thing. Men are like “I want to get there now.” Elizabeth Freeman, an elder, she would set the pace. So there was intentionality, feminism in it, being careful about people’s ability.

We wore placards that read Women Peace Walk back and front, and carried a huge Banner that said “The Women’s Peace Walk, From Durham to Seneca”. People would ask, “Would you like fresh lemonade?” It was never… with a quizzical, “Why you doing that? You going to walk that far?” People would honk a little bit. The fact you had women, sometimes older, sometimes not, made people curious. If they pulled over, it was “I’m just interested,” and smiling. I think the smaller the group, the more they were impressed.

Gatorade — we lived on that, not just water, for the electrolytes. No hamburger. Healthy food, basically, and potlucks when we stopped at Quaker houses. The majority of the overnights were at public camping grounds. We had tents and sleeping bags with the car. We planned in terms of any contingency, a best-case scenario or a worse. We had raincoats.

Every night we would debrief. What we expect, not in a bad way, in our mind’s eye. I was African American with two white women friends, Judy Winston and Duffy, and depending where we were, Virginia back roads, with intentionality, literally, we chose the visibility—whether three or more, the visibility of just walking. Cars going by at 25 or 30 miles an hour. We were walking in a file. Single file always. I’d pick up objects—I still have a Playboy bunny lighter I found on the road.

Once, we were walking on the road, carrying a Styrofoam peace dove, when maybe a six-year-old and a twelve-year-old on the side asked, “Where all you going?” “The Seneca Women’s Peace Camp. We’re from Durham.” “What’s with the chicken on the stick?” the older one said, but in a curious kind of way, almost confused, and then, “Well, what’s a peace dove?”

We were in communication with Seneca throughout the walk and they had an infrastructure to receive us. Once we got closer to Seneca, there were people coming from the camp to join us. They wanted to know, women and nuns wanted to know, all about us,

If I’m not mistaken, the camp is a reserve now. What about the people who live in that town? The main industry was that Army Depot. What I remember of the camp, to be honest with you, were the mosquitoes. We had camped out in our tents and the discussion about the mosquitoes– in my opinion–was very contentious: “We are [or we aren’t] going to use DEET or whatever.” Finally, we all chose to sleep in the very truck we came in. And the next day, after 30 days on  the road, I was more than ready to go home.

For more about the Seneca Women’s Encampment, including footage of the groups arrival see, click here.

CR Spicer, interviewer and narrator for Mandy’s story, walked 600 miles for nuclear disarmament April-December, 2022. His Friday walks from Somerville To Walden Pond followed the Minuteman Trail.