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November 7, 2011

Women – An Essential Ingredient in the Recipe for Sustainable Peace

“There’s no way you can fix a community and say you can find a solution for that community when you only use half of the community. When men make peace, it’s not a total peace.”

Leymah Gbowee
Nobel Laureate, 2011



The remarkable Leymah Gbowee is, at only 39 years old, a Nobel Peace Laureate and recognized as an integral part of the sustained peace enjoyed by her country of Liberia for the past nearly 12 years. Ms. Gbowee was just a teenager when the devastating Liberian civil war that would last 14 years began, but from that tragic experience grew her resolve and identity as a peace activist. She emerged as a strong leader in women’s activism and illuminated the power of women as peacemakers. Ms. Gbowee is uncompromising on the goal of attaining global peace by nonviolent means, and she teaches us by example that the way to reach that goal is by establishing sustainable peace community-by-community.

In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor on October 31, 2011, in which Ms. Gbowee comments on how she views the peace in Liberia today, she said that people are just now “…learning to live again.” It may be difficult for those living in Western countries to comprehend what a 14-year-long civil war with well over 200,000 people killed and untold numbers injured or forced to flee from their country as refugees is actually like.  Imagine a young woman of just 17 consumed with thinking of how to change this terrible path of destruction on which she found her country, and realizing quite clearly that without the activism of half of the population, that is, the women of Liberia, there could be no sustainable peace.

Leymah Gbowee shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 with the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and fellow women’s peace activist, Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. Ms. Gbowee is not, however, interested right now in a government position, telling the New York Times that “I still like bouncing around…I say, can you please just let me protest and do things I like?” She talked to the Times during her book tour to promote her memoir Mighty Be Our Powers. (Follow this link and read an excerpt from this fascinating account of Ms. Gbowee’s life during the Liberian civil war and her evolution into a peace activist.)

Watch and listen to Leymah Gbowee as she inspires us all to find our own unique way to advocate for nonviolent pathways to peace in our own lives, in our own communities, in our own countries, and ultimately globally on this planet we share.

Peace Activist Leymah Gbowee gives a powerful speech at the 5th Annual Living Legends Awards For Service to Humanity at the Emmanuel-Brinklow Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Ashton, Maryland



November 3, 2011

The Trail of Tears Continues

trail_of_tearsThe Trail of Tears, by Max B. Standley

Old conflicts often take new forms – guns and swords are replaced by social, legal and political manipulation.  The story of Native American tribes in America has been one of dispossession.  The first stage was symbolized by “The Trail of Tears,” when President Andrew Jackson and the Congress forced the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Indians to abandon their homes in the Southeastern United States and relocate to the Oklahoma territories.  At the heart of the matter lay the desire for their land and gold (then being mined in Georgia).  During the brutal march, thousands died of exposure, disease and starvation.  This marked the beginning of the reservation system which was characterized by land grabs and broken promises.

indian children in public schoolsDuring the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the dispossession became cultural as the last native resistance against the taking of their lands subsided.  Tribal languages, teachings and cultural ways were steadily eroded as their children were forced into the American public school system via Native American residential schools in the interest of assimilating tribes into American cultural.

Today, native families are under a new threat of dispossession – the forced removal of their children to foster care.  The story of one such Native American family in South Dakota, and the institutions and processes that enabled it, recently aired on National Public Radio (NPR).  The story was one in a series reported by Laura Sullivan and highlighted the systemic nature of this new form of cultural conflict.  Not surprisingly, the reports have engendered strong reactions – outrage from many citizens, demands for an investigation by the ACLU, and denials from South Dakota’s governor and many social workers who feel they have been wrongly vilified.

native-american-girlRegardless of the report’s political and legal fallout, it underscores the real emotional damage done to the children involved.  They are the innocent victims at the center of this tangle of greed, insensitive government and legislated good intentions gone wrong.  Children are the tablet on which our future is ultimately written.  If they are hopeful, our future is hopeful; if they are fearful, our future will be filled with dread.  Their future is not a place for compromise. We can  put an end to this pernicious new form of dispossession if we exercise our inherent empathy, compassion and ethical sensibilities.