Patti Willis, Pacific Pacifist

By Fred Knelman | 1992-07-01 12:00:00

Patti Willis, former potter and 22-year resident of Denman Island, B.C., is a planetary peacemaker. The grounding of a life among trees and landscape has brought relief and nourishment to her work which focuses on the insidious implications of military strategies and deadly weapons systems. From her serene rural setting she networks with the world, making full use of electronic communication equipment. The light of her life and continual impetus for her work is her 19-year-old daughter, Lily, who has just completed her second year at UBC.

Patti is currently employed as Research Resource Coordinator for the Pacific Campaign to Disarm the Seas, an international research, information and sup-port network focusing on militarism in the Asia-Pacific region. Adhering to the principle of 'think globally, act locally,"

Patti is also involved in a variety of community groups, including the Denman Island Peace Group and the Heron Rocks Friendship Centre of Hornby Island, B.C., an educational centre promoting cross-cultural and global understanding on issues of peace, environment and human equality.

I had the good fortune of being one of Patti's research directors for her MA in interdisciplinary Peace Studies at Antioch University in Ohio. Antioch is one of the few schools of higher education which offer off-cam-pus graduate programs in interdisciplinary fields without sacrificing high scholarly standards. Patti focused on "effectiveness" in the peace movement Her work did not fit the neat, confining prescriptions of scholarly research. While it certainly met the criterion of depth, it also expressed a breadth of approach, moving comfortably across disciplines and faculties. Patti's previous formal education was a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Teaching Certificate from the Graduate School of Education.

Patti's research showed a rare integration of theory and practice. She used the Nanoose Conversion Campaign (NCC) on Vancouver Island as a case study. NCC, a community-based group opposed to the use of the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Ranges (CFMTR) at Nanoose Bay by U.S. nuclear-powered and nuclear weapons-capable attack submarines, works to convert the facility to peaceful and productive uses. This facility is a torpedo test range for anti-submarine warfare. Not only is this facility in violation of Canadian public policy, which forbids nuclear weapons to be placed on Canada's sovereign territory, but the testing operations at the facility fit within the U.S. first strike, first use offensive nuclear attack policy.

Patti's extensive knowledge of navy policies enabled her to both study the NCC as a peace movement and to participate in its activities.

Patti's Master's thesis went against the grain of dominant social science methodology with its reductionist analysis, assumption of neutrality and exclusion of boundary effects and field interactions. Patti made her own values evident in her observations. Her thesis is of value to peace workers generally. It proposes that peace work is like piece work. It is a part of living. As activity, it is peace-making. It is cumulative, it is process, it is non-linear, it is empowering, it is dedication, it is caring and committing, it is the integration of the personal and the social and of ends and means. It is peace on earth, peace with earth, peace with each other and peace with ourselves. On Patti's fridge the following lines are posted:

No ray of sunshine is ever lost, but the green which it awakens into existence needs time to sprout, And it is not always granted for the sower to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in faith.

One of Patti Willis' most important peace roles is in her work with the Pacific Campaign to Disarm the Seas, a network working to free the Pacific Basin and its peoples from the threat of military intervention and war. PCDS's International Office is located in Japan and Patti manages the PCDS Resource Office on Denman Island. Among her tasks is the publication of a bimonthly digest, Information Update (I.U.), which focuses on military activities in the Asia-Pacific region. She also writes and publishes regular briefing papers concerned with issues of the Asia-Pacific, and also covers such topics as Low-Level Flight Testing in British Columbia. The update draws on an international network of researchers. Patti's function is to collect, organize and distribute information, as well as to undertake investigative research. Anyone interested in U.S. naval military policies will find I.U. and Patti Willis extremely valuable resources. In fact, in connection with my preparation of affidavits on behalf of the Vancouver Island Peace Society (VIP) in its case against the Canadian Government condemning the harbouring of nuclear-powered and nuclear-capable ships, Patti Willis was able to provide me with confidential documents of the New Zealand government

Patti's work with the PCDS has taken her across Canada, to the United States, Korea, Australia and Ireland in the last few years. In May she was invited to Yokohama, Japan, to speak on nuclear disarmament and U.S. military strategy in the post-Cold War era. Patti is presently producing a video for PCDS on the role of navies, including their continued accident hazard, in the post-Cold War era.

The U.S. navy is the most autonomous and complete branch of the armed forces. It in fact includes an army and an air force. A dominant aspect of the U.S. navy's policy is forward deployment coupled with a preemptive prescription. The recent penetration of U.S. subs into Russian territorial waters near strategic sites is a typical posture, fraught with danger. The U.S. is at-tempting to preserve the military budgets of the Cold War through the invention of new enemies, frustrating the release of the peace dividend required for the solution to the problems of global equity and environmental conservation.

The English poet, Ian McEwan, wrote "Shall there be womanly times or shall we die?" This brings us to another central aspect of Patti's belief system, her feminist philosophy. In her keynote address titled "A Different Voice: What Women Know About Global Peace," ('International Women's Day Banquet, Comox, B.C., 1989), Patti disavowed the biological basis of social behaviour and affirmed that differentiated gender roles are culturally created. On the other hand, Patti also affirmed that certain social experiences of women invoke insights, skills and behaviour that are consistent with the process of peace-making and provide women with the propensity to become peace workers. Men tend to engage in Peace as PAX or order, while women live "shalom." Women's' greater opposition to militarism and war and greater support for peace and disarmament have been revealed in many surveys, and expressed in the classical women's' groups for peace such as the Voice of Women (of which Patti is a member) and the women's groups in India and Africa who are in the forefront of environmental protection. These are forms of liberation from male-dominated militaristic or environmentally exploitative societies.

Patti Willis' feminism is an amalgam of caring and nurturing, concerned with all aspects of injustice. It goes beyond ecofeminism in its concern for equity, environment and peace, normally the activities of three solitudes. It is best expressed by the concept of "extended common security," whereby global security encompasses the above trinity of concerns. This leads to an understanding of interdependence that appreciates relative independence. Patti differentiates between "power over" and "power to" or empowerment, the latter leading to the breakdown of the false barrier between beliefs and action, between life and the activities of commitment.

Before I knew Patti, I had described a type of psycho-social evolution which could be applied to her: "The heart and the mind become the real situation context for action. This is the path that erodes despair and leads to hope. This is the path that cures alienation and returns us to kinship. Even the legitimating of empowerment is transformed into its opposite, i.e. the rejection of power. Self-identity is twinned with full recognition of the 'other.' Relatedness, identification and kinship become the social bonds of planetary citizens. Finally, the liberators are liberated. Then the circle becomes a cycle. That is the definition of sustainability, human sustainability." Patti Willis goes in peace.

In contrast to Clausewitz's description of war as a "continuation of politics by other means," for Patti, peace becomes an extension of love by peaceful means.

Fred Knelman is an adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria.

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1992

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1992, page 10. Some rights reserved.

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