It’s August 10, 2016 and I’m interviewing Trudy Maloney. What have you done for a living?
Trudy: I did social service. I worked with survivors of traumatic brain injury for about twenty years. That’s how I met Ed, my husband. He’d been badly hurt but he was doing great. His head was smashed on a pool table because he came to the defense of a woman who was being battered.
You’re obviously very sensitive to the needs of others. What do you think in your background made you so sensitive and led you to become an activist?
When I was just a little girl, my mother told me about Dr. Martin Luther King. She was a big supporter of him. During the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama our pastor went and everyone was in an uproar but my mother said, “That’s what Jesus would have him do.” This was in Ohio, very conservative small farm town. But my mother stood up and I’ll never forget. My mother was adamant that we understand about civil rights.
Then when I was a teenager. I was riding with my stepmother and we went through the south side of Chicago. I used to live in a wealthy suburb of Chicago and I saw what looked like war-torn Europe – with the windows broken. And I saw a girl playing in a vacant lot. And she looked like she didn’t have enough clothes on. Chicago’s cold. I looked out that window just for that second but that second changed my life. I went home and back to our big, big house. And I laid on my bed and cried.
Just thinking how there was no justice, there was no god. How could there be a god and have this happen? Such inequality. And naturally it changed me. So everything I looked at after that moment was different. I didn’t have the same desires that my peers did. But, then I found new peers. I started going to the Unitarian church. I met young people from the LRY, Liberal Religious Youth.
I didn’t really do much until I was 18 but in my heart I did. I moved to Chicago with my boyfriend. He was a VISTA volunteer [Volunteers in Service to America, a federal program] I’d met at a Unitarian picnic. We lived in a very poor district of Chicago.
Was your family in the Unitarian church?
My father was. But then they went to a more conservative church. But my parents both decided that I would have to choose my own way, which was good.
Yes, yes. What are the most interesting or satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?
At first it was all civil rights and then Vietnam. Seeing those body bags as a teenager and young woman. And the Democratic Convention in Chicago, 1968. That was huge. Peace and justice issues all my life.
Did you stay with this VISTA person very long?
Long enough. He was getting a deferment from the draft. And once the VISTA time was over he had to go back to school or he would have been drafted. So, he went back to Ohio where he was from and I stayed in Chicago. I lived in a commune.
So, you say peace and justice issues. Would that be mostly going to demonstrations?
Lots and lots of demonstrations. And working with my VISTA volunteer friend. One of the things we did that was so great was that there was not much fresh food in the ghetto. West side of Chicago. Right before the race riots [in 1968] actually. That’s when I was living there. So we’d pick up a bunch of women, put them in a school bus and take them to a suburb. First I’d gather lots of suburban papers and they’d cut out the coupons for the sales in the supermarkets there. Because where they lived, they were in a food desert. We took them on Wednesdays because that’s when the big sales happened.
Now, please tell me about the School of the Americas and your going to the protests against it in Georgia.
Yeah, going to Georgia. Well, I found out about it through Peg Morton [a dedicated Quaker activist and community organizer, now dead, who eventually served three months in a federal prison for “crossing the line” at an SOA protest]. For years I’ve been doing vigiling against these endless wars, since we first bombed Afghanistan in 2002. Used to be on Wednesdays in front of the Federal Building. We had signs and of course, lots of cars go by there. It was an Interfaith thing.
I remember, my father told me one time, “Stand up for what you believe in, even if you stand alone.” He told me that, I guess he never thought I would actually do it. [laughs] I have many times in my life, stood up for what I believe in. And I’m really not all that tall, Sylvia, 5’2”.
And what was your father’s profession, his background? And your mother?
Well, he was a businessman. Until he retired and then he taught business at a university. My biological mother died young. She was a nurse. And my stepmother was a sociologist. But she didn’t do much with her degree. I don’t know, really, all that she did but once my father and my stepmother got married they had twins not too long after that. So that kept her pretty busy. But, she was very active in a lot of things like the League of Women Voters.
And later one of the things she did, which I think is kind of exciting, was for years and years she welcomed people to this country when they became citizens. And I guess she helped almost every single one who became a citizen in Buffalo, New York! For years and years she did that.
Were you living in Buffalo then?
No, I ran away from home when I was 18. I never really went back. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to do with my parents but I never lived with them again. And my parents moved from this suburb of Chicago to a suburb of Buffalo, New York. So she had an opportunity to do this. Her children were a little bit older.
So, you come from people who stand up for other people, helping people.
Yeah! I guess I do. And my mother and my stepmother, both. And my father was very supportive of me, really. He was proud of me. Well, not when I was young (laughs) — he thought I was a nut!
So now let’s get back to School of the Americas. You heard of this from Peg Morton, because of this vigil against the Afghan war?
Yes, and then I read some things. We started bombing them in January of 2002. That’s when I first started going to the vigils. It was horrible! Couldn’t imagine how that was gonna help anybody. You know, bombing ‘em. I’ve really been opposed to war. So, what got me interested in the SOA was I read some things that Peg turned me on to. And the thing that got me the most was this town in Colombia — I can’t remember the name of it — that decided that they weren’t gonna go with either faction. And they were retaliated against. And terrorized. And the thing that got me the most was a little baby, 18-month-old baby. (pause) Was chopped up. Pieces thrown into a river. And we were responsible. Our country. For training the people that did it.
And that burned me to such an extent that I had to do something to honor that child. And that family. And the people that thought that was OK to do that, you know? Jesus said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” And they were as tortured, how can you love and do something like that? How can you ever love? And think it’s OK to chop up a baby. [exhales] And throw it into a river.
Yeah. I just interviewed a woman who had very similar experiences when she was living in El Salvador with people who went through similar torture and murder and mutilation, but you were just saying that something similar happened here as well.
In Baltimore, police officers, a SWAT team they called them, it was on Democracy Now last night. Went into an apartment of a young woman and shot her and her 5 year-old child. This just happened. And it was because of a traffic violation. What I’m sayin’ is it’s not just another country. It’s 600 people so far this year have been killed by the police in this country. That’s 600 people. And there doesn’t seem to be any kind of responsibility. That really bothers me, that we’re paying people to murder. And these people are supposed to protect and serve.
So, you did take this pretty dramatic step when you went down to Georgia from Oregon to demonstrate against the School of the Americas. Can you tell me about that experience?
Well, I went three times. And one time I went down with the intention of crossing the line. That’s when you enter the base there. And this is the base where they have what they used to call the School of the Americas [often referred to by its critics as the School of the Assassins.] Now it’s WHINSEC. [Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation]
It’s a branch of the American military and they teach torture. They teach how to interrogate.
They bring military officers in from other countries. And probably they teach police officers as well, I really don’t know. But, this was primarily about what was going on in El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru. All those places at that time. Central and South America. When I went down it was with the intention to cross the line. I would’ve been sent to a federal penitentiary for maybe three months. But I didn’t cross the line.
One of the reasons I didn’t go was because my husband has a brain injury and a seizure disorder and I thought what would I do if my husband had a seizure and I wasn’t there and he died. And my father was in his late eighties and I was helping him a lot and he was going downhill. By then he was living on the other side of the river from here. And I would take him shopping and make sure he had his medication and made sure that he would get to his appointments and all that. So, I decided that I could not do it in good conscience.
Up until the night before I was gonna do it, I thought I was gonna do it and I went back and forth and back and forth. And then also the federal penitentiaries had been changed by that time. They were run by private companies. And I guess they were brutal. And I didn’t wanna do it to myself but I didn’t wanna do it to my husband either. I thought it would just be too hard on him and he could have a seizure. We lost one of our kitties and he had a seizure. And the doctor told me that when he gets very upset he could have a seizure.
So, you went three times to the demonstrations there? How long do these events take and what happens there for the protestors?
Well, you go and when it started on Friday, there was a gathering and they had wonderful, wonderful speakers. And then on Saturday there were tables where you could learn about different things. And then Sunday was just amazing. For hours and hours, they sang the names of the dead. And that was the day that I would’ve crossed the line. And then when they said that baby’s name, I heard it. And I collapsed. I started to cry uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop.
Thinking about what we did, just right on the other side of that fence. To cause something like that to occur. And that was just one of the names, just happened to be something I knew about, this little baby. And thinking about the fact that I don’t have any children. And how precious this child is. How precious every child is. This particular child — I met the uncle. I met the baby’s uncle. At a Fellowship of Reconciliation event that they had.
And that moved you. I can see it in your face.
Beyond words, really. His family was murdered. And he was standing up and he could go back and he could be murdered, too. But, he did it anyway! He came anyway! When I think about people’s courage. They’re gonna stand up anyway.
That’s just what I heard from another woman I interviewed. She lived for a year in El Salvador with refugees from death squads. [Sylvia Gregory – her three-part interview is posted on this blog.]
Booker T. Washington said, “It’s not enough to look at where someone is. You have to look at what took them there.” To see that young man, the uncle, standing up, giving that little talk. And then go home and maybe be murdered. And they don’t just murder people. They have to torture ‘em first. It’s just their way of horrifying and terrifying. Terror to the community. Terror to the world. So I have to speak out. It’s the least I can do. It’s the very least I can do. So, that’s that.