Melinda Moore

31 Oct 2019
ByJulia Sonenshein, Assistant Director of Communications, Marketing

“I highly recommend cowboy boots with pointy toes when going over ten- and twelve-foot chain link fences with razor wire,” laughs Melinda Moore, assistant to Principal Joe McCauley at Fieldston Lower. She fondly remembers the summer of 1983, when she was one of about 1,000 women arrested for storming the Seneca Army Depot in upstate New York.

For two months leading up to that weekend, roughly 12,000 women set up camp outside the base to protest the planned deployment of the Cruise and Pershing II missiles to Europe. The protest escalated, and hundreds were arrested on the base, including Moore — exactly as she had planned. 

It was drizzling when Moore arrived for the demonstration. “They’re not just going to open the gate and let you in,” she says. So they climbed fences. Soldiers were waiting on the other side, helping protestors down before binding their wrists with zip-ties. Once she’d made it off the fence, Moore was promptly arrested. There were too many of them for the military police to charge, but the officers kept the protestors in pens in the cold rain. “Man, I got so sick after that because you’re just soaked to the bone,” she remembers. The police brought the protestors inside to process them, and eventually let them go.

Moore isn’t sure if this was the event that led to her being banned on all military bases — it may have been one of multiple protests at the Nevada Test Site. Either way, Moore is not particularly welcome on federal sites to this day.

Between Moore’s utterly infectious laugh, down-home Texas drawl, and zooming pace, a conversation with her feels like a rollercoaster ride complete with unexpected loops and tilts. You end up with windblown hair and a giant smile on your face. Moore’s communication style is fitting, considering her life’s twisting, exhilarating path.

Moore joined ECFS in 2016 as a data support manager and, a year later, expanded her role to the Assistant to the Lower School Principal. Moore calls herself the “mom of the school,” keeping track of a monumental list of logistics. In addition to supporting McCauley, she works with the front office team to manage “the whirlwind of busyness” that is every day in an elementary school.

Moore came to ECFS after years of peace and justice fieldwork, and Fieldston is a natural continuation of that commitment to a better planet. “I totally believe in the mission and the vision of the school, which is to raise an ethical, humane, whole human — to nurture the whole child. I think that is the only way we’re ever going to change the world,” she says.

Moore grew up in the segregated South in Longview, Texas, “in the middle of nowhere — in the country. I mean, the country,” she says. East Texas was “super conservative, super religious, and super segregated.” She went to a white elementary school, only experiencing racial diversity at age ten when her mother moved the family to Indiana to pursue a master’s degree at Purdue University. It was the late 1960s, and living on a college campus put Moore at an epicenter of activism. “There were protests and the presidential election, Robert Kennedy and Dr. King were assassinated, and I’d be on my school bus and there were college students protesting daily, sometimes running with the police chasing them.”

In high school, Moore’s family moved south to the Beaumont-Port Arthur area of Texas. Her school was more racially diverse, and because of the power of labor unions in the area, class divisions weren’t as distinct as they were where she grew up. Without haves and have-nots, Moore says people were more likely to be judged “for the content of their character” than for social status. “It was a lot of fun. And I thought, ‘I just want to stay here forever.’ My mom said, ‘No, you’re getting out of this podunk town.’” Moore’s mother encouraged her to go to the University of Texas in Austin, where she befriended students with different histories and life experiences than her own. It was “an awesome, awesome place,” she remembers.

Moore intended to become a pharmacist, but she enrolled in one drama class, loved it, switched to a drama major — “really practical,” she deadpans — and worked hard to lose her Texas accent. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she did exactly three plays. Competition in the theatre community was far too cutthroat, too “dog eat dog,” she says. She recultivated her accent, formed a country western band, and left the theatre world.

It’s the building of the community that not only makes change possible, but helps you survive.

When a friend told her about a job in the Riverside Church’s famed Disarmament Program, Moore jumped at the chance. She joined the organization on December 1, 1980, just weeks after Ronald Reagan won his bid for President at the height of the nuclear arms race. “Everybody was freaking out. We all thought it was going to be the end of the world.”

Moore worked with legendary activists Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr. and Fieldston alumna Cora Weiss ’52, organizing grassroots resistance to militarism in congregations throughout the country, creating resources that could be used in local communities, leading non-violence trainings, and organizing direct actions, including the famed June 12, 1982 Rally for Nuclear Disarmament that saw a million people fill Central Park.

Part of Moore’s organizing meant run-ins with the police, which ranged from being detained and released, to being charged and arraigned in court. Today, Moore describes her legal history with pride but is quick to point out that she didn’t make light of it at the time — and that it was a privilege to take that risk. “You had to get ‘the call.’ Because it’s still a very serious thing to do. If you’re willing to do it, you have to say, ‘I would be willing to take the consequences of whatever happens, even if that means jail time.’”

Moore’s time at Riverside was busy. “I was singing at night and organizing during the day.” She eagerly marched, picketed, and occasionally got arrested. For two years, she organized weekly vigils outside the United Nations to raise awareness of US intervention in Central America. She sat in against Apartheid outside the South African embassy in New York and took groups of Riverside Church members to Washington, D.C., to get arrested as an act of defiance outside the White House during that same campaign. If there was injustice, she was there with a sign — and more than likely, bringing people along. “It truly is what democracy looks like,” she says. 

In 1991, Moore left Riverside Church to join the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the oldest pacifist organization in the United States. Founded by A.J. Muste and Jane Addams, F.O.R. was instrumental in the civil rights, anti-war, and anti-nuclear weapons movements. Moore continued leading non-violence training and then moved into a role as the organization’s graphic designer — using skills she’d learned at a college work-study job and honed over the years while making pamphlets and posters at Riverside Church. In 1993, she had her first child and began working from home, designing the organization’s print materials and Fellowship magazine. She stayed with the Fellowship of Reconciliation until 2005, when she moved on to pursue her own design business and spend more time volunteering as the PTA president at her children's schools. (“Like being the mayor of a small town,” she says.) Because of her extensive work with her sons’ schools, it was an easy transition back into school life when Moore joined ECFS.

Today, Moore is still active in the peace and justice movement in entirely new ways. “I was looking at my photos and I came to realize that I’m now like the older women who showed up all those years ago,” she says. Moore is passionate about a number of issues: climate change, voter suppression, women’s rights, gun safety, nuclear weapons, and immigration reform, to name a few. And she’s embraced her new role: “We can’t all be the ones to go to jail or lead the march or organize the vigil, but we can be the folks willing to support the ones who do. Everyone can do something. And that’s what I'm doing now: helping to plant the seeds of change.” She contributes money, phonebanks and canvasses for candidates for public office, and makes flyers for her co-op’s green committee. “I spend a lot of time trying to convince my Republican Texas friends and family that ‘liberal’ is not a dirty word.” And she still goes to protests — the Women’s March, the Climate March, the March for Science, and a protest for Yemen with 12 people.

Moore feels hopeful about the future, watching the next generation continue to fight and work together. “People go, ‘Oh, how can you be involved in all this depressing stuff?’ But, when you participate, it’s not as depressing! Because you see that there are other people with you. It’s the building of the community that not only makes change possible, but helps you survive.”