Adventures in Feministory: Justine Merritt, Peace Maker and Piece Maker

feministory logo--scripty font with silhouettes of a woman holding a lasso and a woman holding a protest sign on either side of the words

Meritt, a white woman, wears glasses and looks at the cameraToday, the Raging Grannies wear purple to protests and harmonize songs like the "Free Trade Trot" or "Police Brutality." In 1985, a 60-year-old Denver grandmother named Justine Merritt was an original raging granny—only she channeled her frustration against the military industrial complex into embroidering. 

On August 4th, 1985, the 40th anniversary of the U.S.'s nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Merritt coordinated 15,000 other demonstrators carrying a 10-mile-long peace ribbon that they wrapped around the Pentagon, the White House, and the Capitol, to "gently remind" the government that peace is possible.  Made from 25,000 banners sewn in church basements, schools, and living rooms around the country, the ribbon bore symbols of all the things that would be lost if nuclear war broke out.  They were tie-dyed, repurposed, and colorful: one was a giant cockroach with rhinestone eyes above the question, "Will they be the only survivors?"

Merritt began the project three years earlier, by sending 100 Christmas cards to her personal network in that classic 1980s style of social activation more often reserved for Tupperware parties or Mary Kay sales.  She was an unassuming political organizer who led a radical but simple life.  In 1969, she went from a 25-year-marriage whose "goals were a fireplace and a swimming pool," to activism, inspired by the civil rights movements and the shooting of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by local police.  She quit her job, divorced her husband, and began volunteering at a social service organization on the south side of Chicago. 

an embroidered section of the ribbon covered in bright flowersA section of the peace ribbon.

"Everyone blamed it on menopause," she said, "but I had a calling."  After 50, she joined a commune, then a convent, and found her ultimate calling as a peace (or should we say piece?) maker.

Previously: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Queer Pioneer

by Amanda Eckerson
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