It was so busy earlier this month here in New York City with many moving parts and lots to pay attention to. I woke up on Friday morning (October 7) to the announcement that the Nobel Peace Prize 2011 was awarded jointly to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. I was already planning to go to the book launch for Leymah Gbowee’s, Mighty Be our Powers, held at the Inter-Faith Church Center and sponsored by the National Council of Churches.
Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama congratulated the three joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in handwritten letters. On October 13, he said: “We have an obligation to promote a new vision of society, one in which war has no place in resolving disputes among states, communities or individuals, non-violence is the pre-eminent value in all human relations. And for this, the role of women is crucially important.”
Along with Rosa Parks, Leymah Gbowee is on my short list of remarkable women we can all learn from. I learned of Leymah’s story through the incredibly powerful film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The story is one of simplicity, clarity, fearlessness and community. Leymah received a dream and through that dream, she created an invitation with other women to pray for peace in war-torn Liberia – working through the complexities of bringing together Christians and Muslims to take a stand and send a clear, united message for peace. It was the strategy and insight of using her self as a woman – joining with other women to confront a ruthless dictator with the clarity of focus (“we want peace”) – that made all the difference. She had a strategy for engaging the men, too.
This story challenges me and inspires me as I stand in the question, “What am I being called to do as a woman at this time in the world to create peace and healthy community?” In her remarks upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize Leymah called on Americans to become better activists and to focus on building healthy communities in their our own city. She encouraged us all to be more courageous, to bring the issues we care most about to the doorstep of those who are participating in creating them. She spoke strongly against the practices of objectifying women and girls in the media. And she acknowledged Occupy Wall Street as building momentum and multiplying across the continent.
Occupy Wall Street NYC has brought together people from all walks of life, across all ages, with many different concerns and and hopes. I’ve attended several of the rallies. During a rally on October 5th, I remember being so mindful of just being in Leymah’s presence. I wondered, “What role might women uniquely play in the discourse of this day?” I was with a colleague Lisa Caswell, who also received a dream to create a Congress of American Women to bring women together around our common ground, to share stories and to create understanding. We thought, “What would happen if we had made signs that read Women for Peace and Healthy Resilient Communities? Would we attract attention? Would others join us? Would men support us? Would we be as fearless as the women of Liberia?”
Lisa just launched her website with these words: The call for such a thing as a National Congress of American Women is rising out of hope, the fearlessness of real crisis, and an understanding of the unique role we play on the world stage. It is time to rise to the occasion. We are all rising to the occasion as activists, as women, as peace builders, as occupiers. Leymah Gbowee notes, “Every time a group of women decide they’re going to protest, the entire government is uneasy.”
Mighty be our powers and our love.
See also Meg Wheatley’s book, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time and the PBS series, Women, War and Peace. This is the first in a series of blogs by Nancy Fritsche Eagan on the role of women’s leadership in building peace and creating healthy, resilient communities.