Longtime South Bay peace activist Lisa Kalvelage dies
Longtime peace activist Lisa Kalvelage, a petite German immigrant who marched against three U.S. military invasions and coordinated the San Jose Peace Center through the tumultuous Vietnam War era, died on Sunday. It was International Women’s Day, her fellow peaceniks noted. She was 85.
The Cupertino mother of five daughters is best remembered in a song by legendary folk singer Pete Seeger that she inspired. “My Name is Lisa Kalvelage” evolved from her 1966 act of civil disobedience, when Kalvelage and three other housewives parked themselves in front of a forklift loading shipments of napalm bombs headed from Alviso to Vietnam. Donning Sunday dresses, gloves and heels, the quartet entered the storage yard by climbing a fence, an act that would lead them to the county jail, where they were strip-searched and deloused.
Seeger’s song recounts the tearful testimony Mrs. Kalvelage gave in her resulting trial on trespassing charges, a courtroom scene that riveted the globe: “Hopefully, some day my contribution to peace will help just a bit to turn the tide,” goes the song, which has also been recorded by Bruce Springsteen and Ani DiFranco.
Mrs. Kalvelage was eventually convicted, but received a suspended sentence.
Decades later, her bravery continued to inspire those around her. “Lisa was a person of great integrity and courage and not inclined to compromise that,” said longtime friend Ursula Gobets, 82, of Sunnyvale. “She lived a wonderfully inspiring, courageous and eventful life, true to her values and principles.”
In a 1986 profile in the Mercury News, Mrs. Kalvelage likened her protest to lessons learned from being raised in Nazi Germany — never to keep silent. “If you live in a Democratic country where the government is you, you cannot say, ‘I followed orders.'” she told a reporter. “If you recognize that something is wrong, you have to speak out to set it straight.”
Mrs. Kalvelage raised five daughters while serving as coordinator for the San Jose Peace Center between 1967 and 1972. The girls would be put to work in the days before e-mail alerts, folding and stapling mass-mailings.
“She recruited all of us,” said her daughter Ingrid Owen, 54, a San Jose paralegal. “We knew the work my mother was doing was not only important to my mother, but really important to the community.”
In addition to her anti-war protests, Mrs. Kalvelage — who despite her more than 60 years in the United States spoke with a thick German accent — trained conscientious objectors and fought against nuclear arms proliferation. She also worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Hemlock Society, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Humanist Society.
Her family described a wicked sense of humor — Mrs. Kalvelage relished playing practical jokes on Bernie, her husband of 30 years — and they imagined that she hung on long enough to see George Bush booted out of the White House. Weakened by a decade of congestive heart failure, Mrs. Kalvelage nonetheless kept on protesting until the end, when she died in her sleep, surrounded by photographs of her children and grandchildren.
Her latest bumper sticker advises onlookers to “support the troops” by bringing them home.
Bernie Kalvelage, a former American GI who met his wife outside an opera house in her hometown of Nuremberg, Germany, said the pair fought for peace together, although she brought a special spark: “I respected her courage and steadfastness in trying to bring peace to this world.”