Nancy Price, Co-chair of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s Earth Democracy Committee, reviews Pat Hynes’ new book in WILPF’s recent magazine: PEACE & FREEDOM SPRING/SUMMER 2022. Founded in 1915, WILPF is one of the world’s longest-standing women’s peace organisations.
It is my pleasure to introduce you to at-large WILPF member Pat Hynes through this collection of her writings. Hope, but Demand Justice is an inspiring book that brings together articles she published mostly between 2010 and 2021 at a time, she reminds us, of “deepened social and economic inequalities and expanding weapons budgets, as the Earth reached tipping points—points of no return—from existential climate crisis and species extinction.”1
Pat is a trained environmental engineer and Professor of Environmental Health Emerita at Boston University. In her professional life, she has worked on multiracial and low-income issues in the urban environment, including lead poisoning, asthma, safe housing, community gardens and urban agriculture, feminism, and environmental justice. She has won numerous awards for her writing, teaching, and applied research, and has authored seven books, including The Recurring Silent Spring and A Patch of Eden: America’s Inner-City Gardeners.
“It was a seminar on the public health effects of war in my department at Boston University School of Public Health that set the course of my life since retiring in 2009,” she relates. “I chose to speak in that seminar on the health effects of war on women, a topic that led me to much soul-troubling reading about the rampant sexual violation of women during war, in refugee camps, and during post-war occupation. Being an environmental engineer led me to probe the effects of war on the environment—again facing another shock that the US Pentagon is the major institutional contributor to the climate crisis worldwide.”(97)
These realizations led Pat to join the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice “as my first political act once I returned fulltime to my home in western Massachusetts. And thus began a journey of writing, speaking, protesting, initiating partnerships and collaborative projects, many here and others in Vietnam, Sierra Leone, and with Lebanese NGOs working with Syrian women war refugees, all with Traprock as a sheltering canopy” (97-98).2
As Pat explains in her introduction, titled “Work for Something Because It Is Good”: “Many writings focus on both the evidence and obstacles that obstruct our quest for peace, justice, and a sustainable Earth with equal emphasis on policy and activism to re-right our path” (1). She also stresses that “Though Hope, but Demand Justice separates chapters by topic, I did not conceive of them in silos. Rather, they reside in the web of interrelated politics, the environment, economics, and all manifestations of political and social justice and injustice—the dimensioned world in which we live our lives” (2).
Peace & Freedom readers will find convergence with WILPF’s many program areas, and will resonate with the examples in this book that show the crucial link between new policies and grassroots organizing and movement building for lasting systemic change. Pat’s expertise about the impact of militarism on women and children—and on Mother Earth—is evident in several writings. One article in particular, “Ten Reasons Why Militarism is Bad for Women” (188–193) could be handed out at WILPF tables to educate the public and recruit new members.
Pat discusses each point and provides reliable data to back everything up, as she does throughout the book.3 She reports on the “rise in the proportion of civilian deaths—and notably women’s and children’s deaths—in twentieth-century and twenty-first-century warfare” (189). She stresses that “Eighty percent of the world’s refugees and internally displaced persons are women and children” (190). And she points to the rape and sexual exploitation of women and girls during war and in post-conflict areas:
A unique harm of war for women is the trauma inflicted when men wield women’s bodies as weapons to demean, assault and torture….
Military brothels, rape camps, and growing instances of sex trafficking for prostitution are fueled by the culture of war that relies on, licenses, and admires male aggression and by post-war social and economic ruin, which is particularly devastating for women and children. (291)
Her important article “Girl Soldiers: Forgotten Casualties of War” highlights the fact that girls are among the children abducted during war, and “are exploited like boy soldiers as servants, cooks, porters, spies, human shields, suicide bombers, and fighters.” (195)
These realities are hard to stomach, but Pat practices “living with hope” (2). In his forward, Randy Kehleremphasizes that “lest you think you’ll come away from reading these essays feeling numb, hopeless, and depressed, please don’t worry. Despite the gravity of the problems she analyzes, there is a clear stream of hopefulness running through all of her essays as she describes positive, real-time actions, initiatives, and actual accomplishments on the part of ordinary citizens and a few – though still too few – enlightened leaders worldwide” (xii).3
Pat writes, “Those who work for good to save public forests or to save the lives of COVID patients and those who speak out against the futility of war, strive to create a future of equality for girls and women and people of color, labor to eliminate nuclear weapons—present a lifeline through Hope, But Demand Justice” (2). Among the many strengths of this book are the specific groups and projects she highlights, among them the Indigenous Environmental Network, Housing Is a Human Right, Vietnamese “Peace Villages”4, Nuclearban.us and Back from the Brink (both based in Northampton, Massachusetts), Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Greenbelt Movement, and the EMMA Coalition5.
Scanning through the chapter and article titles demonstrates the wide range of topics covered. As a co-chair of WILPF’s Earth Democracy committee, I was struck by how much Pat has written about the environment. She relates, “A thread joining personal and community activism to crucial government and economy reform courses through consideration of the environment. All are needed to sustain life on our already diminished primal home—our planet Earth” (5).
The entire first chapter is devoted to writings on climate crisis and citizen action, with chapter titles like “We Loved Our Trees and Waters,” “Civil Disobedience in the Time of Climate Change,” “Earth Day 2016: Retrospect and Realism,” “Madness Driving Climate Policy Catastrophe” (a review of Simon Pirani’s Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption,) and “What Then Is the Value of Bird Song?“ (a review of Lost Woods: The Discovered Writings of Rachel Carson edited by Linda Lear.
Pat also takes on inequality, COVID-19, international relations, nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and veterans’ issues. Her final chapter is focused on “Pursuing Equality for All Women” and there is much to enjoy here. “Bread and Roses Restaurant: The Women’s Restaurant Inc. 1974 – 1978” tells the wonderful story of this women’s-owned business that included a gourmet vegetarian restaurant and a center for feminist culture with weekly events. This chapter also includes “African Feminists: A Key to Global Peace” discussing Pat’s experience at the 2018 WILPF International Congress in Ghana and linking the fate of nations to the status of women.
I highly recommend this remarkable book. Pat organizes, frames, and explores each topic in fresh and unique ways, going far beyond ordinary journalism and reminding us that intelligent, impassioned writing can be one of the most vital expressions of activism. Each article is written in an authentic, compassionate, honest, and personal voice with many enriching passages woven together: engaging bits of memoir; comments and observations about friends, neighbors, colleagues, students, and travels; historical background about the topics with facts and data; anecdotes, observations, and experiences; comments on books and quoted poems; and recommendations for policy and action.
In the afterword, “Hope” (published in Portside in June 2021), Pat writes:
…many of us have had to examine our sense of hope and where we experience it. For what we choose in the face of diminishing prospects for our world—action, despair, or some place in between—will determine how fully, how resolutely we live.
Hope upwells in me now in smaller places and actions, no matter their chance of success—when I witness, for example, the countless bold and creative actions under- taken by youth across the world on behalf of their future; by victim survivors resisting their oppression; by a small prescient group challenging the majority consensus, and by an unexpected outcome defying the naysayers. (211-212)
With words that should encourage us all to engage in actions of resistance, she concludes: “We create conditions for hope when we aspire to something both good and badly needed and when we work toward achieving it, no matter the odds. And, if enough of humanity joins in this, we can improve the odds of human survival” (215).
1 Many of the articles in this collection were written as guest editorials in the prize-winning local newspaper the Greenfield Recorder. Others were published in regional newspapers, and for progressive online national publications such as Truthout, Truthdig, Common Dreams, Portside and Nukewatch Quarterly.
2 Pat served as the director of Traprock from 2010-2020 and continues to serve on its board. She notes that “Western Massachusetts has a long and honorable history of mobilizing against nuclear weapons. Ending nuclear war and fostering non-violence were the animating mission of the Traprock Peace Center…in Deerfield…in 1979.” (121).
3 As Randy Kehler says about Pat in his forward, “Why Do I Trust Pat Hynes?”: “I never have any doubt that she really knows what she is writing about; it’s clear from her sources that she has done the research” (xi).
4 Pat shares that “Peace Villages are organized and built by the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange, VAVA, with funds from the Vietnam government and international supporters. Many staff and administrators are retired Vietnamese war veterans, and some staff are themselves physically handicapped from their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange” (74-75).
5 Pat lifts up the Equality Model in Massachusetts (EMMA)in her afterword, which was founded by survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking and has led to the establishment of exit programs for women and girls in prostitution and advocacy for important legislation to “Strengthen Justice and Support for Sex Trade Survivors” (214-215).
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