Friday, July 7, 2017

Jane Milliken, Activist for Peace

In October 2013, Oral History Project volunteer, Harriet Feldman, interviewed town resident and fellow volunteer, Jane Milliken, who was no ordinary citizen. While the rest of us were tending our gardens, Ms. Milliken, also a gardener, had for much of her life been involved in something larger, nothing short of world peace.
Jane Milliken, Peace Activist, and more...
On June 27, 2017, when Jane Milliken died, the world lost a fervent protector, and we at the Greenwich Oral History Project lost a valued and loved member.

In her interview Ms. Milliken, who came to Greenwich in 1966 from New York City, notes that the Peace Movement, of which she was to become an active member, evolved in Greenwich soon after the end of WWII. The first organization in the area, according to Ms. Milliken, was the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. Its leaders included Norman Cousins and Joan and James Warburg, prominent literary figures and peace activists in Greenwich at the time.

For Ms. Milliken, though, the galvanizing moment came when she read Jonathan Schell’s book, The Fate of the Earth (1982). For her, the book, “spelled out in dramatic terms that we must disarm completely, get rid of the nuclear bomb, because otherwise the Earth would be annihilated…and I vowed at the end of that book to do whatever I could to stop it.”

As she traces the peace movement in Greenwich, Ms. Milliken comments on other noted Greenwich residents who were involved in the quest to stop nuclear proliferation, among them Barbara Tuchman, author and historian. Ms. Milliken recalls a town meeting she and others called “to gather people who were concerned about the nuclear arms race. We had a full turnout,” she notes, continuing: “and it was there that we decided we would form what became known as the Greenwich Campaign for a Nuclear Freeze Now. Everybody insisted that they put in the word “now.” This organization “reached out to those people who didn’t mind marching on streets,” Ms. Milliken says. The point was education: “You need to educate people on all levels and have demonstrations that attract attention.”

Another organization devoted to the same end but through different tactics was The Greenwich Forum on Nuclear Arms Control. They were also committed to education but through lectures, bringing in renowned speakers.

These two organizations, under different names as time went on, proceeded to educate through perilous times in our nation’s history, working in tandem with other grass root organizations nationwide.

In 2013, though, The Greenwich Forum on War and Peace and Greenwich Peace Action closed, giving a scholarship to a student at Greenwich High School, who was very active in peace issues.

In her 2013 interview, Ms. Milliken fears not having made enough progress, noting that perhaps people don’t think as much about nuclear weapons now. “It’s a quiet period,” she says, adding, “except they do think about them at the U.N. and they do think about them if they’re a part of an institute of peace or an organization devoted to that. I could only say I’m humble. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

It is painfully ironic that Ms. Milliken died just days before North Korea launched an ICBM capable of hitting Australia—or Alaska. Perhaps it is time we all begin to read anew the Jonathan Schell book that first propelled her to devote her life to peace. It may no longer be a quiet period with regard to nuclear weapons, but may Jane Milliken rest in peace knowing she and others like her have left us a worthy blueprint for action.
Jane Milliken and daughter, Cordelia Persen

The Greenwich Oral History Project interview, “The Peace Movement in Greenwich,” October 2, 2013, narrated by Jane Milliken, can be read in the Greenwich Library reference area on the first floor or in the Oral History Project office, located on the library’s lower level.