The Cause: Social Justice Advocate Val Mullen

Val Mullen, of Vershire, has been an activist for peace and social justice since 1963. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Val Mullen, of Vershire, has been an activist for peace and social justice since 1963. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

The Woman: Val Mullen, 91, of Vershire.

The Cause: Currently, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), advocating women’s rights, social justice, peace among nations and the end of nuclear energy and weapons. Mullen and a few Chelsea residents founded the Chelsea branch of the organization in 1980 to bring area women together for peace and social justice. Though she is “beginning to slow down” now that she is in her 90s, she still attends protests and sends out email alerts about legislation dealing with military issues to WILPF branches nationwide.

The Means: Public protests, letter writing and promoting public awareness.

The Impetus: After her time as a student at Oxford University, Mullen was drafted into the British army in the midst of World War II, where as a member of an anti-aircraft unit she witnessed the destruction caused by bombing in England. When she moved to the U.S. in 1947, she set up a League of Women Voters chapter in Syracuse, N.Y., and eventually became an American citizen in 1950. In the years that followed, Mullen protested the Vietnam War, the conflicts in Central America and nuclear power.”How I got into activism, I’m not sure. When I was at school in Oxford, I was always interested in politics. I joined every political club — conservative, labor, liberal. I didn’t join the communist one — though there was a big communist influence there at Oxford, even amongst the faculty.

After World War II, I and many others thought that there couldn’t be any more wars after all that carnage, and also we hoped that the U.N. would be able to really bring about peace. I was in London during some of the bombing (during the war) and although I didn’t experience anything like the civilians in Europe and Japan, it gave me the incentive to work for peace.

What keeps me going? I’m beginning to wonder, I really am. I guess because someone has to speak up for peace and justice. That’s all, but I don’t see that I’ve achieved much.

In a perfect world, there would be no poverty, no extremes between rich and poor. And at least the rich would feel an obligation to help the poor, which (they did) at one time.

You can’t give up. Each generation is a little tiny bit of improvement. You just have to go for that and hope one day it will get better.

Photograph and interview by Sarah Priestap

Published in print on June 10, 2012.


Committed for the Long Haul

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Like most photojournalists, I fairly often encounter activists of various kinds in my work. Whether they are picketing, petitioning or persuading, they are almost always passionate about their cause and eager to talk about it. So when I was asked to consider producing a biweekly photo feature for the Perspectives section this past year, I thought that focusing on activists, …