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On this week's Peace of History:
Let us return to Polaris Action in New London, summer of 1960, and examine the impression that CNVA and the Peacemakers had left on feminist author Barbara Deming. Near the end of the Action, in late August, the Peacemakers ran a 16-day nonviolence training in New London which was regularly attended by 30-50 people. The participants ranged in age, race and gender and came from a diversity of backgrounds, from the religiously devout (of many different faiths) to young “beatnik” types. Having read Gandhi for the past year, Deming’s curiosity was piqued, but she still arrived skeptical, planning “to attend for perhaps a day.” She would write for the Nation afterwards: “But I had expected to be unimpressed by the people I would find in New London. I assumed blandly that if they were, in fact, impressive, I should somehow have heard about them before this.”
That skepticism dissipated over just the first few hours of the training -- enough, at least, to convince Deming to stay another day. She would ultimately attend every day of the sixteen day training. By the end of it, Deming was convinced that “The ‘pacifists’ are the only freely active people I have met in a long time” because their uniquely principled lifestyles revealed them to be “above all people ready to act.”
From that same Nation article, Deming wrote: “Coming face to face with them was, in fact, like entering a new world.” Indeed, after Polaris Action, and as a direct result of her experiences there, Deming joined CNVA herself. For the next two decades, Deming participated in innumerable civil rights and anti-war activities, adopting that same freedom and spontaneity into her own life that she had first witnessed and admired during that summer in New London. Deming would go on to commit the rest of her life not only to the principles of nonviolence, but also to the incorporation of nonviolence theory into feminist practice, as well as to the communication of those principles to the public at large.
Joanne Sheehan tells the story of Barbara Deming and others at the Peacemakers/CNVA training in the video “Roots of Nonviolent Direct Action Training” (https://youtu.be/jprdqKEBGvU?t=790). If possible, we strongly encourage reading Barbara Deming’s own words. This Peace of History quoted heavily from Deming’s Nation article “The Peacemakers” (Dec. 17, 1960), which is itself an incredibly honest and moving first-hand impression of Polaris Action -- and all the more exciting to read knowing how profoundly the experience shaped her life after. "The Peacemakers" was printed in Barbara Deming's book Revolution and Equilibrium and can also be found in the Barbara Deming reader We Are All Part of One Another.
Next week: we will dig into more of the history of VPT proper to tell the story of how and why the CNVA acquired a 54-acre farm in Voluntown at all.