In the early 1980s, while the country was still experiencing fear of nuclear war, tensions between the U.S. and Russia began to rise a bit when Ronald Reagan was elected 40th President of the United States and continued until the death of Russian leader Konstantin Chernenko. There were many who had lived through the upheaval of the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and were acclimated to the panic that a perceived threat of worldwide disaster can bring. If you live with the threat for long enough, perhaps the only thing that many can do is go on with their lives and hope for the best.
It was the revelation of the younger generation’s fears that opened Betty Bumpers’ eyes to the effect that the sociopolitical climate was having. Betty was riding in a car with her daughter, Brooke Bumpers. Brooke asked her mom what they would do if nuclear war broke out or if there was a nuclear disaster of some sort. Betty Bumpers laughed her daughter’s question off, saying, “Well, honey, I guess we’d just go back to Arkansas.” Brooke was not reassured or amused in the slightest, and went on to ask what in the world would they do if Arkansas was targeted or affected.
Betty’s conversation with her daughter made her realize that Brooke and other young people like her were really worried about their futures and the future of the country. This sparked in her the need to do something to alleviate their fears. Betty spoke to several women that she knew in Washington D.C., many of whom were the wives of various members of the Senate, and a plan and a campaign began to take shape in her mind. In this way, Peace Links, a campaign for world peace, was born.
The first main objective of Peace Links was the United States’ relationship with Russia. Like I mentioned last week, Betty and her companions within Peace Links felt that there was not such a big difference between themselves and the women of Russia. Didn’t they all love and take care of their families? Weren’t they all hardworking and strong? With these similarities in mind, Peace Links reached out to the women of Russia, which had a positive influence on both countries.
Peace Links campaigned for there to be a putting down of arms, for the threat of nuclear war to be eradicated. Their quest for peace was not always smooth. One example would be when Betty was listening to a live broadcast of the Senate, a representative from another southern state, Alabama, accused Peace Links of being led by or associated with communists. Betty was “surprised, shocked and bewildered…” and found the entire debacle “…ridiculous (The Washington Post, 1982).” I am not sure why the speaker felt threatened by Peace Links, but there are always naysayers. However, the attack on Peace Links actually worked to its benefit, giving them more exposure and raising more awareness of what they were trying to achieve, which was only a nonviolent resolution to the Cold War.
Peace Links expanded from Arkansas and eventually had over 30,000 members within the U.S., and didn’t shut down until the end of the Cold War. In the meantime, Peace Links worked with existing groups and organizations of women who worked in their communities. This was still a time of acute evolution for every woman’s role within their home, community, and country. I think that we’ll touch a bit on the feminist movement next week.