Greeley woman retires after fighting for peace, freedom more than four decades
The first night Elaine Schmidt moved to Greeley, a neighbor knocked on the door. He asked if she was against the Vietnam War. She was. He invited her to a meeting with other folks against the war. There were about 10 people there that night.
She saw right away the group would give her an outlet to speak out and take action against the injustices she saw in the world. She decided to join.
That first night in 1965 made her a part of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom for 49 years.
After 44 years as chairperson, Schmidt, now 84, is retiring.
WILPF is an international group that was established in 1915. It’s a nonviolent group focused on using existing international legal and political frameworks to effect change in the issues of gender, militarism, peace and security, according to WILPF’s website.
Schmidt has been to Cuba, Russia and Iraq for women’s conferences. She’s also put on successful women’s conferences at the University of Northern Colorado.
In 2003, three Catholic nuns were arrested for raiding a Weld County missile silo. The trio — in their 50s and 60s — cut through two chain-link fences into a missile silo off Colo. 14, about 8 miles west of New Raymer.
Following the nuns’ arrest, Schmidt organized a rally to carry on the message. Protests took place at 49 missile silos, including 25 in Weld.
“Our group has always been for disarmament, and we try to talk about it and make people aware,” Schmidt said in 2003. “That’s the main thing and hopefully people will make the judgment that these weapons are not necessary.”
She also boycotted lettuce, grapes and wine to stand against mistreatment of migrant workers alongside Jose Calderon, a local Latino activist, and she protested the Iraq war.
There are different minorities in Greeley now, Schmidt said, and she still sees racism.
“It bothers me to think it hasn’t changed much,” Schmidt said.
Despite that, Schmidt is hopeful and plans to continue to attend Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom meetings.
The Greeley chapter of WILPF is the last one remaining in Colorado. It has 17 members and many folks come to meetings to learn about community issues.
“I just think it’s wonderful we’re still going,” Schmidt said.
Other groups, such as Greeley Indivisible, a progressive group, have attracted others who are passionate about effecting change.
Members of the Indivisible group often come to WILPF meetings, Schmidt said.
Hollis Berendt, 65, will take over as chairperson. Berendt said she’s seen revitalization in progressive social change groups since the election of President Donald Trump. She plans to keep educating people on current issues. It’s important, she said.
“If you don’t know what’s going on, you could be subject to things that will affect you that you don’t’ even know about,” Berendt said.
— Kelly Ragan writes features and covers health for The Greeley Tribune. Have a tip? Want to share your story? Call (970) 392-4424, email firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on Twitter @kelly_raygun.
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