As a high-school sophomore in 1986, I became a punk. I cut
my hair, tore up my cloths, and was into self-destruction. Disillusionment
with what I had accepted as stable and inherently good - - this society,
government, authority, and economic structures—was almost too much
to handle. And on top of it all, I was having nightmares about being blown
up by my own government's nuclear weapons.
That's when I took the steps that would change my life forever. I decided
one day at my kitchen table to become an activist. I joined the STOP Nuclear
War club at my high-school, eventually becoming its president and broadening
its focus to become Students for Social Responsibility. We formed similar
chapters at other high-schools, formed a network, and had events together,
Many future activists were introduced to activism through these high-school
In college at the University of Texas, I worked in a bi-racial and bi-national
anti-apartheid group and learned volumes about racism within leftist circles,
as well as within the university system. After visiting El Salvador in 1991,
1 moved to New Yolk to work as paid staff for a Salvadoran solidarity organization
called CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador). Although
CISPES focused on El Salvador, the group worked to dismantle militaristic
and greed-based U.S. foreign, as well as domestic, policy. CISPES worked
on its piece of the pie within the broader scheme of breaking down an economic
and political system that is unjust and deadly for a majority of people in
CISPES taught me organizing skills which I have carried into several other
phases of activism and jobs. 1 briefly took a position with the Texas Abortion
Rights Action League (TARAL) but soon quite in solidarity with the firing
of one of the women who worked there. We had both spoken out about the strict
hierarchical office structure and its severe lack of effectiveness. Student
activism at the University taught me more than classes ever could. Struggling
alongside South Africans for university divestment, coalition-building against
the Gulf War, campaigning for the first black female president of the
student body who was also a lesbian and a leftist, protesting the University's
racist curriculum and pushing for a multicultural agenda, working with the
Women's Action Coalition (WAC), and writing my dissertation for an
honors program on the university as a Capitalist tool all shaped my outlook
on the larger world beyond the University microcosm and prepared me with
the working skill to make some changes in it.
In 1992-93 I began substantive work with the Foundation for a Compassionate
Society. Although I was hired as a receptionist, I was able to work my way
up the work ladder to be able to organize and participate in Foundation protects
and events. After completing support work for several staff projects, I was
hired as a co-manager of the Grassroots Peace Organizations Building. The
Grassroots Building is an important Austin resource. The Building offers
low-cost and free office space to local progressive social change groups.
Some of the long-standing tenants are the United Farm Workers, the Texas
Civil Rights Project, La Pena, and The Foundation. A diverse sampling of
groups have called the Building home, from ACT-UP and CISPES to lnforme SlDA
Okay (an African-American weekly). Meeting space is also available for groups
not housed in the building.
As soon as the staff al\t the Foundation learned that Texas
has offered itself, against the will of the citizens, as a national nuclear
dumping ground, a loose collective was formed to work with other environmental
groups from around the State and Mexico to expose the dangers and racism
of such a dump. The dump is scheduled to be built 16 miles from the Rio Grande
in the low-income and mainly Chicano town of Sierra Blanca, We brought in
scientists to explain the serious health effects of emissions from nuclear
plants and from radiation leaked into the air, soil, and water from dump sites.
We were surprised to learn the direct link between the skyrocketing incidence
of breast cancer, mortality rates and nuclear radiation.
We eventually sponsored an international conference entitled, 'The Breast
Cancer Epidemic and Nuclear Radiation- Women's Action for the Environment." Partially
in conjunction with WEDO (Women's Environment and Development Organization)
from New York and national Green
peace, and in close consultation with several
local citizens' and environmental organizations, the conference brought together
scientists and activists from around the state and the nation. The conference
was a huge success in terms of building coalitions and unity amongst groups
working on similar issues, educating politicians and citizens about the health
threats posed by the continuing operation of the nuclear industry from uranium
mining to waste dumping and hearing the testimony from indigenous people
and other people of color, and women with or recovering from breast cancer.
It is clear that people of color and low-income people are the recipients
of a disproportionate amount of society's toxic and nuclear waste, and the
strains on physical and menial health that come with it. These are the groups
whose voices must be heard and who, as the directly affected, are the leaders
in the environmental movement
Currently, I and several Change of Heart staff members are continuing to
follow up the conference in several ways, including coordinating grassroots
events and inter-group communication and strategizing on several anti-dump
fronts; legal challenges, electoral politicking, education and letter-writing
campaigns, as well as protests and direct actions. The foundation and Change
of Heart have become an integral part of the statewide opposition to the
proposed dump, in terms of material support to other groups and as networking,
educational and and labor resources.
The Foundation and Change of Heart has offered me a very special opportunity
to work with incredibly competent, intelligent, and powerful women, while
at the same time getting paid a living wage to do what I consider the most
important job in the world: make small, but significant structural changes
toward building a sustainable, healthy, economically, politically, and socially
just way of operating on this planet while at the same time dismantling the
oppressive and entrenched capitalist and military complexes.
Suze Kemper is Co-facilitator of The Grassroots Peace Organization
Building. With her co-worker, Erin Rogers, she works to keep the building
a warm and workable haven for the many grassroots organizations which use
the space to work for peace and justice.
roots Peace Building has a long and magnificent history of its
own. Presently, Kemper and Rogers are gearing up to make the changes to convert
the building to a solar powered facility and present it as a viable model
for other downtown locations. Also, Kemper and Rogers organized an art opening
and reception and presented the transcriptions and video
the Breast Cancer Conference sponsored by the Foundation.
Kemper's association with the Foundation for a Compassionate Society has
been both as a volunteer and paid staff since 1990. Kemper began by working
with Sally Jacques on performance-pieces such as Inside the Heart, Inside
the Springs, BodyCount, 64 Beds and several others. She performed with her
Hard Women performance partner Rachel Martin-Hinshaw at several events sponsored
by the Foundation.
Since August 1991 Kemper has worked on several FFACS projects including
The Four Directions, a cause-related marketing retail store which supported
the efforts of cooperatives and indigenous groups and returned a portion
of each sale to a particular group.
She also worked as Studio Manager for Let The People Speak!, a feminist
and human rights public access video program. As part of her work with LTPS!
Kemper also served as camerawoman and helped to produce a catalog for distribution
of these tapes.
In November 1993, Kemper partnered with Jacques on Project Bosnia and continues
to work on gathering humanitarian aid for the people of the former Yugoslavia.
Together Kemper and Jacques created the Foundation's Austin to Bosnia drive
that led to shipments of nearly 7,000 pounds of medical and material aid
donated nationwide. From Austin these shipments were routed to organizations
such as Children in Crisis, Project Bosnia and Tresnejvka who in turn provided
transportation and distribution into the former Yugoslavia. The work continues
as other organizations have joined the humanitarian efforts throughout the
United States and Europe.
As an artist, a performer, printmaker and visual artist, Kemper is drawn
to the exploration of language, process and a love of the mundane. Kemper
believes in art and humor as tools for activism. Kemper passionately embraces
the human spirit and lives for the briefest of moments when connection is
made whether through similarity or difference.