Yachats, Oregon
February 22, 2003

                                                                                                                                                   Photo credit: James Armer

Women send SOS call for peace

The letters SOS are understood worldwide as a call of distress. These letters, the O turned into the symbol of the peace movement, are composed of women who shed their clothing Saturday in a grassy field near Waldport to express their views against war. Organizers of the event arranged for a chartered plane to fly over and photograph the peace message.

By Leslie O'Donnell
Of the Newport News-Times

The oldest was 73. The youngest was 3. They came from Newport and Seal Rock, up the Alsea and down to Yachats, from Bandon and North Bend and Florence, Corvallis and Portland and Eugene, and from further away - Olympia, Wash., and New Zealand.  Several were celebrating their birthdays. They and all the rest chose Saturday to cast aside concerns about self-image, self-consciousness, and societal taboos, and bare witness for peace.

That's not a typo.

Following the path of women and men in other states, a group of 121 women took off their clothes in a field near Waldport on Saturday afternoon, reclined on grass still damp from the rain of the night before, and formed the giant letters SOS. The O was a peace symbol.  A short time later, a chartered plane flew overhead to photograph the women's message for peace.

A spokesperson for the local project said the event was a victory. "Shame and self-hatred and alienation dropped away with our clothing," she said. "(The women) demonstrated the courage to be vulnerable...baring our bodies to expose the truth that we are all the same...By presenting the photograph to the world, we send a message that we are ready to go to any length to present the message of peace, which has been bottled up by the media and our government.

"We are naked - now, do we have your attention?" she continued. "We don't want our children killed, and we don't want to kill anyone else's sons and daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents."

Similar demonstrations have occurred in California, Montana, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, Ohio, Florida, New York, Colorado, and Utah, as well as in Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, South Africa, Australia, France, and Antarctica. The first was in Marin County, Calif.

Each participant was in that field for a personal reason. The SOS had individual meaning for each woman; whether a Show Of Solidarity or a Save Our Sons, it took more than a whim to consider walking down a muddy path, crossing a stream on a log, and casting a lifetime of socialization aside for an hour of protest against a war with Iraq.

Whatever each woman's motivation, the symbolism united into a statement against war. SOS is a message of impending disaster, understood the world over as a distress signal. And the peace symbol has become equally well known.

One of the women, who asked not to be identified, said, "A woman's body image has been subject to a certain kind of warfare for a long time, so much so that many women are ashamed of their own bodies. Telling the naked truth as we did today is a way for women to fight back against aggression aimed at their self-image; they are denouncing parallel wars."

A show of hands at the gathering showed the largest contingent - a substantial majority - were mothers. More than a few were grandmothers, with one great-grandmother in the group.

They were teachers, social workers, nurses, artists, business owners, and doctors. One woman had been at Woodstock in the days of another antiwar movement. Many were in their 20s, born long after Vietnam, but the largest groups were 40 to 60 years of age.  They wore Guatemalan shawls and dangling earrings, hiking boots and warm sweaters, fleece jackets and long skirts, jeans, and flannel shirts.

In the initial nervous moments of clothes shedding, the sky clouded over, and many women huddled under towels. Time passed and songs were sung, and as if on cue, the sun came out. Then came the plane and the women's cheers.

"This is for all women in Iraq, who don't have the right to do what they want with their bodies," said Connie Delisio of Seal Rock as the gathering ended.  Before the women started on the path to the field, Ali Shapiro of Florence said she has tried every means she knows to work for peace.

"I'm very frustrated," she said. "I've spoken with my voice, with letters, through my art. Maybe my naked body will be another way to express my views.  "This shows that women are willing to sacrifice a lot to draw attention to our desire for peace," she continued. "It's not fun to be naked. I'm almost 60, I'm cold already, I have issues with cellulite."

Then her voice broke. "But if this damn war happens," she said, "I want to know that I did everything possible to stop it."

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