CHANGING THE WORLD ONE EAR AT A TIME
By: Tom Jackson
May 21, 2000
DADE CITY - Armed with spirit and brandishing statistics, Candice Slaughter Warmke is the last person you'd expect to arrive anywhere packing limited expectations. But, as the head of a Women's Peacepower delegation visiting Ireland this week, Warmke has adopted a minimalist agenda.
The group from Dade City will present a handful of Amigas Awards, honoring women involved in cutting-edge society-building in a country torn by generations of deadly religious intolerance. These Irish women are examples of those who "take risks financially, physically and emotionally to make the world a better place."
Ideally, Warmke would return having established an Irish branch of Women's Peacepower, but she considers that overly ambitious. A week isn't enough time to overcome Irish expectation that deserving social agencies should feed off governmental largess.
Because there is no tradition of individual giving - except to the church - Warmke will be content if she returns having sown the seeds that blossom in some season yet to come.
It's not that she doesn't recognize urgency when she sees it. Urgency is everywhere she looks. But when you have jounced along mountain roads near the border of Nicaragua and Honduras where nursing mothers sling automatic rifles over their shoulders; when you have waded into the fight against female circumcision in East Africa; when you wept over descriptions of life in India: when you have lived much of your life traveling in fear, and you have survived all of it, then patience is a natural byproduct.
Thus will she urge her Irish hosts to reshape their thinking. Who has the biggest buildings, the best real estate? The church? And how did that happen? "By asking for money from everyone and whenever the opportunity arises," she says.
She can sermonize all day - "You can take the woman out of the Baptist church," she says, "but you can't take the Baptist church out of the woman" - but she will try her best to listen and learn. After all, she says, while America has the most resources and the most sophisticated thinkers, it still hasn't figured out how to solve its raging societal problems: gun violence, sexual assault, homelessness, poverty.
It's simple enough, and tempting, to take Warmke out of context. Americans who, by and large, lead peaceful, law-abiding, tax-paying and charity-giving lives naturally bristle when our shortcomings are thrown in our faces.
And when she says the numbers make it clear - "America is the most violent society in the world" - we rush to point out Rwanda and the Balkans and Sierra Leone and Chechnya, where killing is wholesale. The United States abolished slavery and genocide in the 1800's. Furthermore, whatever its First Amendment problems, hate-crimes legislation codifies our stand against ethnic cleansing.
We accept that certain domestic subcultures abuse and bully one another, but it's the rare citizen who condones that nonsense in his back yard.
But we are sufficiently circumspect to understand we lack answers that work for everyone. And if folks such as Warmke, working out of tidy bungalows in little towns like Dade City, can be our ears and later, our conduits, the planet has a chance to improve, incrementally at least.
Says this excellent woman who has learned to accept the slowness of change, "One person doing the right thing can change the world."
But first, we must listen to each other. Is that so much to ask?
From The Tampa Tribune
Jan 9, 2000
Standing up and then fighting back
Candice Slaughter Warmke works out of the ``whites only'' part of the Dade City train depot.
They don't call it that anymore, of course. The train depot has been restored and painted over, and part of it is now even a history museum.
It's a nice enough display, but history also has a way of being painted over and you would have to look pretty hard to figure out that one part of the station was once reserved for ``whites'' and another for ``colored.''
In fact, you would have to be a member of an older generation to remember that it was
not just train stations where there were separate waiting rooms, drinking fountains and
worlds for black and white.
Today the ``colored'' section is a dispatch office for the taxi company. The ``whites''
section is the home of the Women's Peacepower Foundation, which makes for one weird station.
I wish they could have come up with another name for the foundation. Women's Peacepower sounds like some kind of feminist terrorist group. When I got there and the door was locked, my first thought was they saw me coming. Warmke, the organization's president and CEO, claimed it wasn't me but that the depot is in a rough part of town.
ANYHOW, WHAT BROUGHT me there was when a friend of mine, Tampa sculptor
J.J. Watts, was named a winner of one of the foundation's Amigas awards. Watts, by the way, not only created the police memorial in front of the downtown Tampa station, she recently has been showing up around town with a powerful sculpture of a person holding out the limp form of a child. She says she may use the award money to take her sculpture to Tallahassee and place it where legislators can see it in the upcoming session.
I noticed that not only were a number of local people getting cash awards, but that the
foundation was presenting awards internationally, and has been for almost 12 years.
What's going on here? What is an organization working out of the ``whites only'' part of a train depot in Dade City doing handing out awards to people from Bangladesh to Croatia?
THE ANSWER IS WARMKE. Her personal story reads like a litany of everything wrong with our society. It is one of growing up in rural Ohio in a family where she was beaten to the point of torture. It's a story of alcoholism and spousal abuse. It's one of homelessness and breakup.
If you can't see the physical scars, Warmke bares the emotional ones.
Warmke is a survivor. Unlike many survivors, she hasn't put it all behind her. Instead, she channeled her anger into starting two shelters for battered women in Pasco County. She helped start a foundation to gain clemency for battered women in prison and speaks nationally about domestic violence.
The Peacepower Foundation concentrates on recognizing the efforts of women in Florida and around the world who work to stop violence.
``We want to reward individuals who work alone or in small groups, unrecognized, for
their efforts. And we don't just want to give them a plaque. We give them small amounts of money to help continue.''
Since 1988, they say they have given slightly more than $160,000.
``The money isn't much, no more than a couple of hundred dollars, but imagine what that means to someone working on a project somewhere who never gets recognition or is not a well-known name in a community,'' Warmke said.
``I know people are always wondering what's with this Dade City thing, but you can be
anywhere and make a difference. We have a Web site [www.peacepower.org] and I think it's important to emphasize that it is in the small communities of the country and among individuals doing grass-roots work where a difference is going to be made.
Peacepower sponsors tours to other geographic locations such as Central America, Russia and Ireland. The purpose is to bring together women working in the field of family violence, exchange information and ideas and work collectively on projects to promote peace.
For everyone who wasn't able to go on the tour to Ireland with us, we will share some of our personal photos with you.
Sponsored by Womens Peacepower Foundation, Inc.
May 20-31, 1999
Women's Peacepower Foundation with the women from Bannside Community Group in Portadown, Northern Ireland.
Candice Slaughter Warmke and Diane McCabe from Women's Peacepower Foundation meet with Monica McWilliams from the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition.
The Women's Peacepower Foundation delegation met with women
advocates at Stormont in Northern Ireland.
Who says activists can't have fun !
All this free Caffreys beer given to us and we aren't drinkers !
Enjoying the wonderful bed and breakfast farmhouses with our hostess.
The group enjoyed gracious hospitality with Patsy and Ken Irwin at their castle
Other Media Articles
11-11-98 Woman gets award for prison work: Women's
Peacepower Foundation honors Betty Lou Haber for her years of work on behalf of other
inmates at Florida Correctional Institute.
By Amy Ellis, St. Petersburg Times
LOWELL, Florida For years, women who arrived at Florida Correctional Institute invariably found their way to Betty Lou Haber. As the clerk in the prison law library, Haber toiled sometimes 12 hours a day, seven days a week, helping women manuever their way through clemency or parole proceedings.
Meanwhile, Haber, serving a life sentence for her husband's murder, watched her own requests for clemency be denied time after time. Five times, a judge denied her request for a new trial, despite the emergence of new evidence
Now 63, Haber has been in prison since she was 40. On Tuesday, she was honored for her work on behalf of other inmates by the Women's Peacepower Foundation, Inc. a Dade City based women's advocacy group.
As she held the framed lavender certificate in her hands, Haber, a former model, trembled slightly. "Can I keep this?'' she asked a prison official. " This is the most beautiful piece of paper I've ever gotten".
Convicted in 1975 for the murder of her husband, Albert Haber, a prominent Tampa businessman, Betty Lou Haber always has maintained her innocence. Her son, Arnold Jefferson McEver III, also was convicted in the killing and sentenced to life. Since then, he has said in a sworn statement that his mother knew nothing about the crime. A third man, Joseph Brandt, was convicted in the killing. He was later killed in prison.
Candice Slaughter Warmke, president of Women's Peacepower, said she thinks Haber, a former battered spouse, is innocent but said that is not the reason she deserves the award.
Since 1988, the foundation has recognized some 50 women, including women in Poland, Russia, South Africa and around the United States, for their work on behalf of other women. Haber is the first woman to be honored while in prison.
"The women we honor each year are exactly like Betty,'' said Slaughter Warmke, a well-known advocate for battered women. ""She has just been so selfless. So many people in that position (law clerk) use it for extortion. But Betty was so kind she gave of herself and her knowledge.
Slaughter Warmke first tried to give Haber the award in December 1997, but said she was told by prison officials that Haber ""was a murderer and would not be allowed to have the piece of paper the award was printed on.'' Not to be thwarted, Slaughter Warmke went directly to Harry Singletary, head of the Florida Department of Corrections. Within a few months, a trip to Marion County was scheduled.
Gene Morris, spokesman for the department, said he has worked with Slaughter Warmke on many trips into prisons and always tries to accommodate her. He said he could not explain the delay in presenting Haber with the award.
Haber said she plans to donate the $250 that accompanies the award to Another Way, a shelter for abused children in Levy County. Haber and other "lifers'' at the prison also are making crocheted dolls and animals for the shelter for Christmas.
Although Haber worked for nearly 10 years in the prison law library, the stress of the job eventually took a toll on her health. She worked for a year in the chapel and now works in the prison's education center, doing mostly clerical work. She earned her GED in prison and also learned to crochet.
Haber said young inmates often come to her seeking legal or personal advice. She always tries to help. "As a mother, it's hard to turn your back on anyone,'' she said. "A lot of them took to calling me Mom or Grandma."
Haber said she is not bitter about her 23 years of incarceration, although, she said, "I cried almost the whole first two years I was here."
Her mother and her stepfather have died while she has been in prison. Haber, the mother of three, has eight grandchildren, who visit her regularly. Her cell is covered with family photographs.
Haber said she has been told she has a parole hearing coming up, but no date is set. "I just told the truth all the time, and that's what I'm going to do this time,'' she said.
For now, Haber thinks she is doing the Lord's work. "It's all in God's hands, I do believe that,'' she said. "I ask the Lord what else He has for me to do. Whatever His will, I'll do it."
Amy Ellis covers education and
social services in east and central Pasco. She can be reached at (813)
226-3452, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
7-26-98 Former battered spouse says she wants to
help create a society where abuse is neither expected nor tolerated
By Amy Ellis, St. Petersburg Times
DADE CITY, Florida - The antique sapphire pendant Candice Slaughter Warmke wears around her neck is a daily reminder of the struggles she faced trying to improve the lives of battered women in Pasco in the early 1980's.
It was given to her by another pioneer woman, Roxie Dillon, who worked to bring the League of Women Voters to Pasco.
"It was her way of encouraging me to continue my work," Slaughter Warmke said. "Trying to start shelters for women back then was like speaking Greek and everyone else was speaking English." Now, as president of the Women's Peacepower Foundation, Slaughter Warmke is the one encouraging women to change their lives and, she hopes, the world.
"We don't just want to be middle-class women throwing money at projects," she said. "Our goal is to merge women who have something to give in terms of money with those who have wonderful, innovative ideas but no money".
The foundation, which recently moved from an office in Slaughter Warmke's home to the restored train depot in Dade City, provides money to grass- roots organizations around the world working to end family violence.
The foundation has supported groups in Central America that are just starting to address family violence, as well as two secretaries in Poland who used the Internet to collect hundreds of postcards depicting women at work.
"In Poland, women are either prostitutes or mothers, nothing in between," Slaughter Warmke said. "These were just two ordinary women with limited resources trying to promote a more positive image of women in their society."
A former battered wife, Slaughter Warmke has been an outspoken advocate for battered women since she moved to Pasco in 1982.
She helped establish the Salvation Army shelter for women in New Port Richey and safe houses for women in Dade City. Her work now, she said, is a labor of love - without the constant reminders of the brutality so many women face in their homes.
"Our philosophy is that we want to live in a different world," she said, "one where family violence is not simply expected, where it is not tolerated."
She still speaks on behalf of battered women, most recently in support of Bernice Bowen, the girl-friend of Hank Earl Carr.
Carr killed Bowen's 4- year-old son and three officers before killing himself May 19. Bowen now faces three counts of accessory after the fact to murder because she lied to authorities about Carr's identity.
Slaughter Warmke said family and neighbors who knew Bowen was in an abusive relationship, but did nothing, are responsible too.
"This women has lost everything, and she'll probably end up in prison too," Slaughter Warmke said. "They're teaching a lesson: Don't kill cops. But it doesn't matter what you do to women and children."
She also continues her work to win clemency for battered women in prison for killing their husbands or boyfriends.
Most recently, she tried to visit Betty Lou Haber, a Tampa woman who is serving a life sentence for the death of her husband, Albert Haber, a prominent Tampa businessman. Haber, now 62, has maintained her innocence and tried several times to win clemency.
Slaughter Warmke had planned to honor Haber with an award and a $250 check for Haber's work helping other women in prison.
The prison has refused to allow Slaughter Warmke inside, even though Haber has said she intended to donate the $250 to the prison chapel.
"She has been in the system for 25 years and has done incredible things to help other women win clemency," Slaughter Warmke said. "I was told she couldn't even have the piece of paper the award was printed on."
Her work with the foundation, though, occupies most of her time.
A book she co-authored, Women Who Dare, will be published this fall. A three day historic tour of Dade City, designed for women, is also planned for the fall. The foundation is busy raising money for a permanent endowment.
In between her work for women, Slaughter Warmke makes regular visits to a home she is building entirely out of recycled garbage in Ohio.
She doesn't mind how busy her life has become.
"When I was a battered woman, nobody helped me," she said. "The answer is we have to confront it. I'm a professional agitator, so that's what I'm going to do."
A spiritual retreat encourages a daughter
to rediscover her mother
by Clare Warmke
I resented my mother when I was younger for not smelling like Ivory soap. She smelled of sweat and crumbling fabric from her long days in her upholstery workshop. The boots she wore made a clacking noise from all the tacks bore into the soles. She buried herself in decaying cushions and rusty seat springs, rebuilding furniture to make it look like the pages of Country Living -- working every moment instead of going on welfare.
I had received the message somewhere that mothers were supposed to be soft -- strong, yes, but always with the light scent of cream lotion. Her callused, arthritic hands made me fear for my future, a future I felt she was etching out for me each day as she wrenched staples from corroding chairs. I didn't want to identify with her, because I saw no positive progression or movement in her life. For years, though, I saw my future as a shadow of her present. I would be a divorced mother of two, struggling to rise above the poverty line, but always falling short.
We always have people we identify with, people who influence our lives. Sometimes we choose them, and sometimes we fight against them. I attended a spiritual retreat hosted by the Women's Peacepower Foundation, a family violence advocacy group I had worked with in the past, in my search to find women with whom to identify. I was intrigued by the idea of a shared community of women, expecting to define my ideal of womanhood over the course of the weekend. I was among 10 other women, all practicing yoga and self-commitment in the back room of a hunting lodge in southeastern Ohio. We giggled that the deputy sheriff was going to think we were conducting a seance and run us out, but we were serious about the weekend's intention -- to listen to ourselves and try to bring peace and discovery to our lives.
We gathered each morning in a room we had spruced up with colorful posters with quotes from Zora Neal Hurston and Ranier Maria Rilke. The windows lining the back wall gave a peaceful view of Lake Hope, part of the Zaleski State Forest of McArthur, Ohio. We were an instant community, all at ease with each other. Our three days were filled with activities to help us connect with each other and, more importantly, ourselves. We practiced truth-telling exercises and yoga techniques, made collages, wrote letters to ourselves, danced. We focused more on discovering what it was we already had that enriched our lives, not what we felt we needed to attain to feel complete.
At one point during the weekend, we formed a circle, each woman holding hands. We were asked to "invoke the motherline," saying the names of women who had influenced our lives in some positive way. The voices of a few of the women shook when they said the names of women who had touched their lives. I was caught in the energy of the group, listening to the breathing of each woman forming the circle. It didn't occur to me until that night, alone on the stone terrace, that I had not said my mother's name.
I never identified with my mother's life -- I spent too much time misinterpreting it, and fighting it. It was a great shock to me when I was a teenager and I found a poem, crumpled and trying to stay hidden, in the top drawer of my mother's dresser. In my mother's handwriting, the poem expressed a desperate want for love, a longing to fill the voids in her life. Had the poem not been so plaintive, so amateurish, I would have been able to dismiss it as something my mother copied from somewhere. Something she liked the sound of, on an intellectual, detached level. But I knew she wrote it. And it jarred me to discover my mother's frailties.
The realities of her childhood were hidden from me for years as well. I've only learned some of the truths about her childhood in recent years, but those revelations did not initially bring me closer to her. There had been occasional murmuring about her abusive father, but nothing was openly discussed with me until I was in seventh grade. It may have been because, by that time, I was becoming a woman -- at least physically. I had grown to 5'11 by that time, and my mother used to say that she wished she could bring her father back to life for just one day, so that I could fight with him. I would have been able to fight with him eye-to-eye, and when she had been my age, she had to stand on a chair to look him in the eye. His tall frame standing over her would infuriate her, and when the fighting would start, she would stand defiantly elevated. I always found the image ridiculous -- my mother's anemic, skinny little-girl body trying to secure power over her father by standing on a chair.
Her father was what some might call a typical batterer. He was a manic-depressive alcoholic who beat his children with belts. Well-liked in the community, he was called "Gentle Ben."
When my mother was in the lower grades of elementary school, Gentle Ben would beat her until blood creased her skin and she couldn't wear the crinoline skirts little girls were supposed to wear in the 50s. Her personality was confined, like the wily naturally blond curls her mother smoothed down each day, as she grew. When she got a little older, she began sleeping with a knife, and dreamed only of escape from her home. Her father stopped at her closed door each morning, throwing a distorted shadow of a 6'0, 200-pound man across her floor. She would clutch the kitchen knife's wooden handle, resolved to kill him if he opened the door. Her young life was a series of terrified morning moments, the feel of a knife handle in her hand.
These moments of terror were not a part of my childhood. My parents had an unhappy marriage and I was accustomed to the sounds of fighting as I drifted off to sleep each night, but there was no blood, no knives. They divorced when I was eight, and my brother was only three. She turned off ten years of her life after the divorce, became a machine. Occasionally, in the early years, she would attempt to get a college degree, taking one course at a time. My brother and I even made a banner for her once and surprised her when she got home from an exhaustive day. "Off to College," it said, with a poorly drawn sketch of her running with a stack of books, cartoonish poofs of air whipping out from under the sketch's tennis shoes.
Her first real breakthrough came when she finally got the job she had been wanting for years. She was hired as a full-time upholsterer by Ohio University, where she had been attempting to earn a degree. This meant she would rise above the poverty line, and she would have better hours, more time to socialize, and more opportunity for taking classes.
I spent a lot of time alone with myself on the spiritual retreat weekend, writing. A conversation I had recently had with my brother inspired a journal entry one night, as I listened to the crackle of the woods from the lodge's stone terrace. The conversation had been spurred by my brother's slow realization that our mother was a person, not the superheroine she appeared to be during our childhoods. He's 17 now, the same age I was when I began to realize my mother was not just an upholsterer, but someone who wrote love poems on scraps of crumpled stationery.
While my brother and I spoke, we shared images we had of our mother from our childhoods. We remembered her drafty upholstery shop, where people brought her ugly and decaying things to be made into something beautiful, something they could show off at business dinners. And she was the best upholsterer in town. She breathed in and hacked the dry follicles of fabric, even when the winter air whistled through the slats of the workshop past her kerosene heater set on low.
Staring at the crisp blankness of my new journal's pages, I had to remind myself where I was, at Lake Hope, not standing in the doorway of my mother's upholstery shop. "Daniel recounted a time he remembered," I wrote. "He was watching Mom work from the door of her workshop, and her hand slipped into a nail from a chair frame, ripping a gash in her palm that would have needed stitches had she any money for hospital bills. She flung her hand away, terrified blood would stain her client's fabric.
"When Daniel returned with bandages, she was pulling upholstery staples with her left hand."
Her life had trained her not to blanch at blood -- to always be strong. I saw these characteristics as undesirable -- hard. I hadn't taken the time to reevaluate. I hadn't taken the time to truly listen to the small, crumpled up piece of paper I found in her dresser so many years ago -- her appeal for love. I saw her as one thing, and one thing only -- a divorced mother of two struggling to rise above the poverty line. Now I have discovered that she is a woman. A woman with a past and a future.
I came to this retreat to discover the woman I wanted to become. I even verbalized it once during the weekend, when we were lighting candles for ourselves and giving a hope or prayer to the group. I borrowed the words of Nancy Mairs and whispered, "I offer this hope for the future. I tell myself that I do not know yet the woman I will become, nor does any other woman here know who she is yet to become." I surprised myself by choking on the words, crying before I had even set my candle in the circle of small, fragrant fires. And I thought of the journal entry I had written the night before -- how much of my mother's life it left out. And how it had never occurred to me that my mother might be the woman I wanted to become.
Over the course of the weekend, we had been asked to try to discover what it was we had in our lives that gave us peace, not what we felt we had to find to complete the puzzle of our lives. But I was on a search. I realized I had traveled to a lodge in southeastern Ohio in order to discover my mother, discover what I already had.
My mother and I are graduating from college together this June. We are reaching the same milestone at the same time, both propelling into new territory. I am inspired by her ability to emerge from a life of pain, her hands, though not soft, still the hands of a mother.
Now, I invoke the motherline for no one but myself. "Priscilla, Priscilla," I whisper, throwing my mother's name into a circle of energy I have discovered surrounding myself.
Women's Peacepower Foundation, Inc.
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