My life with Gather the Women
~ Barbara Belknap
I am a past Convener – I term-limited out after we instituted term limits, but I will always be a sister to all my sisters in GTW.
I came of age in the 1960s – the second wave of feminism. I marched in the 1980s in Washington, DC, with my daughter Amy. I’ve loved seeing my GTW sisters in the marches of the Trump era.
In 2000, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and, eventually, had to resign from my job as the Executive Director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) that challenged me and that I loved, but I had to be tough in order to deal with the fishermen who paid a fee to ASMI and a huge board of Directors with only 2 women on it.
What do I love to do? What gives me energy? What makes me happy: being with progressive women, feminists, wise women. I had to change direction. I found out about Gather the Women at a Peer Spirit Circle Practicum at Marsh House on Whidby Island, Washington, with Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin. Anne Fitzgerald was one of the women there and she mentioned Gather the Women. I asked, “What’s that?” I immediately resonated with the phrase itself and asked her all about it.
Starting from zero, I learned the Circle Principles, carrying the little Peerspirit card with the principles on the back with me to all the circles I facilitated. After that I could not comfortably sit in rows any more.
Gather the Women opened my world to a different way of meeting together where all voices are heard not just the loudest. It took lots of practice not to jump into the conversation. That’s how my family of six worked. Loudest voices won. I had to unlearn interrupting as a matter of course and learn to listen instead of thinking about what I was going to say next.
In 2007, Kathe Schaaf, Anne Fitzgerald, Joy Adams, Marilyn Nyborg, and others I can’t recall right now went to the 3rd International Women’s Peace Conference in Dallas, Texas, as members of Gather the Women. There were hundreds of women there from all over. GTW offered a circle in one of the ballrooms. We didn’t know if anyone would come given the huge number of venues and event, but the women came. They kept coming and filled the perimeter of the ballroom. I’ll never forget the power and energy in that room. There is no doubt in my mind that women sitting in rows of folding chairs would have left depleted from all the information and emotion because I’ve been to meetings where we sat in rows. There is real power in the circle.
A Leader in Every Chair – Basic Guidelines for Calling a Circle. Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea