‘Josephine (“Jo”) Vallentine (born 30 May 1946) is an Australian peace activist and politician, a former senator for Western Australia. She entered the Senate on 1 July 1985 after election as a member of the Nuclear Disarmament Party but sat as an independent and then as a member of the Greens Western Australia from 1 July 1990. She resigned on 31 January 1992.’
Short biography written by Jo Vallentine for ‘Reimagining Peace’:
My interest in working for peace stemmed from the time I was a teenager, on a scholarship to the United States, at the end of which, our group of international students was addressed by Robert Kennedy. There were over 1,700 students from 72 countries, and he asked us this question: “can any of you imagine allowing your country to go to war against the country of any student in this auditorium?” NO! was our resounding response. It was a great moment, when the realisation dawned that all of us all linked, and all of us had responsibility to ensure that our countries were not pitted in anger against any of our friends from far-flung places on the planet. It has been a continuing journey of inter-connectedness for me, since that time….. as a teacher, as a traveller, as a Quaker (with a long tradition of peacemaking and standing up to authorities bent on destruction of either communities or the land), as a mother. First public stirrings occurred when I started attending the Quaker meeting in Mt. Lawley. Inspiring Quakers were part of the Moratorium Movement, against the Vietnam War. In the early eighties Quakers used to vigil on the Wesley Corner in Perth, calling for disarmament, east and west, as the cold war unfolded. And we were involved in 1982, at the beginning of People for Nuclear Disarmament, modelled on the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which had for many years been organising ban the bomb marches to Aldermaston in England, where nuclear weapons were manufactured. When the Labor Party, under the leadership of Bob Hawke, decided to turn away from the policy banning uranium mining, a lot of angst was stirred up. At the national conference in 1984, the ALP decided to allow three uranium mines to operate in this country. It was an illogical position, as if three mines wouldn’t create much damage. So the time was ripe for a new political movement to surface. Called the Nuclear Disarmament Party, with just three simple platform items: no uranium mining, no visits of warships bearing nuclear weapons or powered by nuclear generators, and no foreign military bases on Australian soil, it was the fastest growing political party in this country’s history….with 8,000 members in less than six months. It also fielded Senate teams in all states in the December 1984 election. I was chosen to stand for W.A., and against all odds, managed to claim a Senate spot. My small team, but backed by a huge peace movement at the time, decided to focus on community education rather than legislation, although in my eight years in Parliament I put forward four private member’s bills. We organised a Lobby for Peace, public fora on topics like “Just Defence”and asked lots of awkward questions, all the time challenging the ANZUS alliance, and our subservience to foreign powers, which has been this country’s history since before the Boer War. There were many public appearances in the International Year of Peace, and the cancellation of an offensive arms bazaar, and participation in the Philippines Peace Brigades (opposing U.S. military bases), and a mass arrest at the Nevada nuclear weapons test site. Home grown arrests followed: at Pine Gap in 1987, in Kim Beazley’s office when Australia joined in the first Gulf War, on the quay at Fremantle when British warships carrying nuclear weapons docked, and in post-Senate days at Jabiluka, in the south-west forests, and at the gates of NATO (opposing the bombings in Serbia & Bosnia). Civil disobedience has been important to me, as a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Dorothy Day. I call it “holy obedience” because when I decide to break the law to promote peace, I feel that I am responding to a higher law than that of any state: a moral force which impels me to put myself on the line, in an uncomfortable place, in order to draw attention to great injustices caused by war. If I am fined for trespass, and someone anonymously pays my fine, that annoys me: the end of the line if I commit a deliberate act of holy obedience, is to face the consequence of spending time in gaol, which I have done several times. Organising for a more peaceful community can take many forms: belonging to small groups is effective in being a change agent. Rallies and marches, letter-writing lobbying, and visits to elected representatives were all part of the pre-social media toolkit. So was the big Journey in Connectedness, which was undertaken in 1997 – a 55 day bus journey around Australia to uranium minesites, or potential ones, in company with two people from the Chernobyl affected area of Russia. It was a privilege to introduce them to indigenous communities around the country, struggling to say no to mining, an opportunity for them to show pictures of “before & after” the nuclear disaster in Ukraine, which needed no translation. Now of course, activism is very different, clickavism some call it: when hundreds of thousands of signatures can be mobilised in a very short space of time, and delivered to decision-makers with stunning visuals and requests from the world’s citizens to protect this or that, or to take certain actions for the sake of future generations. Jo Vallentine August, 2014.