“We can only be secure when justice and the sharing of resources in the world are present,” said the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize recipient to an audience of nearly 400 at the annual Great Lakes PeaceJam held last weekend at Western Michigan University.
Williams won the Peace Prize for her work in starting and heading up the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (www.icbl.org) in 1992. Five years later she and a team of activists persuaded 121 nations to sign a treaty called “the Ottawa Convention” to ban the use, stockpiling, production and sale of landmines, which at the time was considered a legal weapon for military arsenals in over 80 countries. As of March 2008, there are 156 member states and 39 states that remain outside the treaty including two signatories that have not yet ratified, according to ICBL. Unfortunately, the United States, China, Egypt, Finland, India, Israel, Pakistan and Russia did not sign the treaty. But that has not stopped Williams from continuing her effort to rid the world of violence.
In fact, she has stepped up her campaign for human security by participating in PeaceJam's “Global Call to Action” (www.peacejam.org). The program involves several Nobel Peace Prize laureates who work with and inspire the youth of the world to be involved in a decade-long quest to effect change by addressing the following needs:
· Providing equal access to water and other natural resources
· Ending racism and hate
· Halting the spread of global disease
· Eliminating extreme poverty
· Fighting for social justice and human rights
· Promoting rights for women and children and their roles as leaders
· Restoring the earth's environment
· Controlling the proliferation of weapons
· Breaking the cycle of violence
Many governmental leaders believe that they need a mighty military machine to make their people safe and secure, said Williams. As important as the military is, having “the biggest, most muscular missiles and defense in the world” is not the path to increased security.
To illustrate the hapless pursuit of national security, Williams noted that on September 10, 2001, the United States had the strongest military presence the world had ever seen. On September 11, after Americans “freaked out” over four hijacked airplanes, $44 billion was allocated to the Pentagon “to make our country more secure.”
For example, she is concerned about President Obama's decision to step up the war in Afghanistan and send drones to bomb Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan.
“Won't the people who are bombed there try to send some drones over here?” she asked.
She also urged the audience to consider the effect gross inequality has on the world.
“There is something wrong when 20 percent of the world's population controls 80 percent of the planet's resources,” she said. “Or when 1.5 billion people are without clean drinking water. There is something wrong when a handful of billionaires have more wealth than all of sub-Saharan Africa. That's why people strap on a bomb and blow it up.”
Williams warned her audience that peace activists are considered by too many people to be “kumbya, guitars, doves and rainbows.” Instead, she urged her audience to commit themselves to a brand of activism that is bigger than just being against war.
“They call us peaceniks and tree-hugging liberals,” she said. “That means that we are little wimps who don't understand what makes peace in the world. It implies that we can't deal with the complexities of national security like the big-time policymakers do.”
PeaceJam participants donned gray t-shirts with a Williams’ quote printed on their backs: “Emotion without action is irrelevant.”
“Emotion is the first step,” said Williams. “But if it's not channeled positively, it is a waste.”
This article appeared in Common Dreams on Wednesday, April 1, 2009.