La Journee Internationale de La Femme (International Women’s Day)


Until a couple of years ago, I was virtually unaware of the fact that March 8th marked the celebration of International Women’s Day in many countries around the world. The holiday reminded me of learning about women in history classes during “Women’s History Month” every March in school. I didn’t really see how women being featured but not integrated into the fabric of the stories in my textbook was going to change the world. I still don’t think that celebrations such as Women’s Day are sufficient to bring about social change on their own, but after participating in a festival during my Peace Corps service in West Africa, I see how they might help advance the work of those who are already struggling to improve women’s lives

International Women’s Day has roots in the struggles for fair pay and humane working hours for women who worked in factories and the movements for women’s suffrage in the U.S. and Europe. Marches, momentum and labor organizing worldwide between the 1850s and 1908 led to the first International Women’s Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910. The widespread celebration of International Women’s Day emerged from this conference, and the date of March 8th was set in 1914 as women around the world rallied for peace on the eve of the First World War. Today, International Women’s Day is recognized as an official state holiday in 30 countries, including Burkina Faso.

From 2006 to 2008, I lived and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the village of Diapangou in the Eastern Region of Burkina Faso. I had the privilege of working with many talented and charismatic community leaders. In 2007, my community was among those selected to receive government funding for its Women’s Day celebrations, and I offered my help in organizing a short play about girls’ education. The celebrations that day included a bicycle race for women at dawn, parades, speeches, and our theater piece about a girl who has trouble succeeding in school because she has too many chores at home and whose parents would rather marry her off than keep spending money on her schooling. We presented our skit to over 300 villagers that had come from the 30 or so surrounding villages. My Peace Corps colleagues held similar events in their own communities, taught high school girls about the community and political leadership of West African women, and one dressed in a women’s wrap skirt and pumped water for women in his village all day. A teacher at my village high school made a point of cooking for his wife all day – no small feat when cooking involves tending an outdoor fire for hours, preparing ingredients from the market, and cleaning a freshly killed chicken. People ranging from dignitaries to village elders had outfits or shirts made from the special print of fabric that commemorates the 8th of March each year.

Many people question the effectiveness of International Women’s Day Celebrations. Devoting one day a year to awareness of women’s work, health, and struggles for equality in cultures where gender-based violence and oppression is widespread (including the U.S.A) is clearly not enough to change structures of power and privilege. However, I found that after the theater production, people in my village understood better why I was there. Villagers continued to talk about the event for months afterwards, always thanking me for my involvement in helping to start converstaions about girls’ education. These conversations were an important part of how the community came to trust me and my counterparts. The celebration opened doors for discussions about women’s roles in our community, education, health and nutrition, and as a result, I was able to educate girls and women about reproductive health and family planning and help form a grassroots organization to support widows and orphans in my village. International Women’s Day won’t change the world, but it offers many of us a place from which to start.

International Criminal Court Calls for Arrest of Sudan’s Al-Bashir

On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, along with many high level cabinet officials, for crimes against humanity. The warrant calls for any government to apprehend and extradite Al-Bashir to The Hague for trial. This is the first time a sitting President has been called before the Court.

As a result, Al-Bashir’s government has expelled over 10 foreign aid groups from the area including Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and CARE International. The Sudanese President believes these organizations were responsible for giving the ICC enough evidence to indict him. Without these organizations the nearly 3 million displaced refugees in the area will have reduced access to food, clean water or medical facilities. Doctors Without Borders believes an untended to outbreak of cholera, meningitis or malaria would cause deaths in the thousands.We, at the UUA, are greatly saddened and disturbed to hear about the expulsion of the aid workers. Their presence in the camps is necessary for the health and safety of the residents.

During his presidential campaign, President Obama made very strong statements concerning the future of Darfur in Sudan. He said the United States must have “unstinting resolve” to solve the crisis there. So far, we have seen no movement on his part to act even after the call from the ICC. The UUA, a member of the Save Darfur Coalition, is asking you to send a postcard to President Obama to help end the violence in Darfur. You can send your postcard electronically and request hard copies for your congregation by visiting the Darfur Action Center.

Rev. William G. Sinkford, President of the UUA, encourages every UU to sign their postcard to President Obama. He believes this is an issue for all Americans, especially UUs to learn more about. President Sinkford says, “We felt called to speak out, to shine the light of truth into a region overshadowed by the worst form of government oppression… Neither innocence nor ignorance can excuse us from acting, but despite the outcries from the United Nations and much of the world community, the killing continues. We must do more.” See his complete remarks at http://uua.org/socialjustice/issues/internationalpeace/darfursudan/37400.shtml.

Obama Iraq Strategy Video Response

Adam Gerhardstein, Acting Director of the UUA Washington Office, responds to President Obama’s Friday announcement of his Iraq strategy. This is the first video post from the Washington Office and we are still working out the kinks, but hopefully you’ll get the message.

We invite you to send us links to your videos, so we can promote the important work UUs across the country are doing for justice. Cheers!

Batman and Counter-Terrorism

The third in a series of blog posts this week inspired by movies highlighted in Sunday’s Oscars Awards ceremony. Today, Alex Winnett, Program Associate for Peacemaking, discusses The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight won two awards–one for Best Supporting Actor and another for Best Sound Editing.

I was thrilled to hear that the late Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Academy Awards. Not only was this an excellent tribute to an amazing actor we lost far too early in his career, it is also a recognition of his best performance ever.

Ledger won for his portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker, in the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight. Ledger joined the ranks of such acting greats as Cesar Romero, Mark Hamill, and Jack Nicholson who took on the role of The Joker. But whereas Romero, Hamill and Nicholson played The Joker with a tongue-in-cheek campy insanity; Ledger’s portrayal was dark, sinister and homicidal.

Ledger’s Joker was the worst of every boogey man in our culture, a terrorist who understood the true power of terror: the ability to make an enemy an ally.

Last month, The National Review Online named The Dark Knight as the 12th Best Conservative Film of the last 25 years. One pundit made connections between Batman and Former President George W. Bush saying:

In his fight against the terrorist Joker, Batman has to devise new means of surveillance, push the limits of the law, and accept the hatred of the press and public.

But what the NRO forgets is that Batman fell into to the trap of the Joker’s genius. The Joker was able to pull Batman down to his level and turn him into a fellow terrorist. Watching the movie again, I can’t but notice the most heroic moments are not when Batman breaks the law, puts civilians in danger, or invalidates civil liberties; instead, we champion the moment when Batman’s techy assistant, Lucius Fox, destroys a surveillance computer that would make the NSA drool. We mourn the loss of the white knight District Attorney, Harvey Dent, as he goes insane. And cheer when two ferries full of civilians and convicts respectively–when faced with a high stakes example of the prisoner’s dilemma— each decides to sacrifice themselves instead of the other–thus saving every one.

While the political right would like every one to make the connection that George W. Bush and his band of neo-cons are heroic Batman-esque figures, not every one sees it that way. When faced with destroying the principles your are attempting to save, it seems like Gen. Petraeus’ principles of counterinsurgency hold true: the more force you use, the less effective it can be; tactical success guarantees nothing; and if you lose moral legitimacy, you lose the war.

Furthermore, we want to make every terrorist The Joker. We want to believe that every single person out there wanting to destroy the American system–from the Middle East to the Midwest–are all single minded homicidal maniacs who want nothing more than to kill, pilliage and destroy. But as Eboo Patel and Max Abrahms point out, the average terrorist is not Osama Bin Laden or Ayman al-Zahariri; but, rather a lost young adult who seeks refuge in a community of supporters. It is striking to see that all the 9/11 hijackers were no more than eight years older than myself. Some were even younger than I am now. Timothy McVeigh was only 23 when he blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Building in 1995.

While Commissioner Gordon announces, in a puritanical fashion, that Batman is the hero we deserve (in a world of fear and pain), but he is not the hero we want (one who will inspire us and give us hope), we are forced to ask if we should receive the hero we want or the one we deserve. If it is a choice between one who falls easily to the trappings of terrorism, or one who rises above it, I believe we should get the hero we want rather the one we deserve.

Changes in Darfur

This past Tuesday, the Sudanese government announced they made a peace agreement with one of the rebel groups in Darfur. In the agreement, members of the rebel organization Justice and Equity Movement (JEM) would be released from prison in return for a complete ceasefire from the JEM.

This is big news as the JEM was one of the many rebel organizations to be left out of a ceasefire agreement made by the Sudanese government last November.

This news comes quickly after an announcement made the International Criminal Court saying the Court had collected enough evidence to possibly try the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir for crimes against humanity. President Al-Bashir has been implicated in a bloody and brutal six year-long anti-insurgency campaign against rebel groups such as JEM. This campaign has included public murders, rapes, and the displacement of entire villages. Many in the wider global community have said there is no way to characterize this conflict other than genocide. While no arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir has yet been issued, this has added considerable pressure on the Sudanese government to make a timely and sustainable peace agreement with the rebel groups.

Over the past six years, a conservative estimate of 300,000 people have been killed due to the conflict and another 2.7 million people have been displaced, primarily to Chad.

We encourage you to write a letter to President Obama asking him to uphold the commitment he made to Darfur during his presidential campaign. For more information please visit the UUA’s Darfur Action Center.

Rebirthing King, Rebirthing America

On this past Monday, January 19th, over a thousand people entered All Souls Church, Unitarian, for the Rebirthing King, Rebirthing America celebration hosted by Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership. This event brought together a diverse group of theologians and activists from major American spiritual traditions.

Together, we explored the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2009. Using his April 4, 1967 speech: Beyond Vietnam, we looked at poverty, oppression and militarism today.

The evening began with a vigil for peace on the front steps of the church. Prayers were offered by Japanese Buddhist monks, Catholics fasting to close Guantanamo, and marriage equality activists.

During the service inside All Souls Church, Unitarian, speakers included:

  • Rev. William G. Sinkford– President of the UUA
  • Rev. Robert Hardies– Senior Minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian
  • Mark Johnson– Director of Fellowship of Reconciliation
  • Samina Faheem Sundas– Founder of Muslim American Voices
  • Rabbi Arthur Wascow– Founder of the Shalom Center
  • Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock– Minister from Disciples of Christ and founder of Axis of Friendship
  • and many others.

The service included music from the Interfaith Children’s Choir and singing from Dr. Ysaye Barnwell–a member of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

The evening was an amazing collection of inspiring speakers– concluding with messages from Rev. Jim Forbes, minister emeritus from New York City’s Riverside Baptist Church (where Dr. King gave the Beyond Vietnam address) , and Dr. Vincent Harding who co-penned the speech with Dr. King.

We learned together that Dr. King’s legacy is still important in an age of President Obama. Poverty, Oppression and Militarism are still prevalent in today’s society. Racism, homophobia, sexism, and the lack of equal opportunities inherent in these systems reinforce a lack of economic stability and reinforce these people as second class citizens. Not only does a military attempt to retain American supremacy and hegemony siphon important funds away from people who need assistance, these second class communities become a surplus of disenfranchised citizens who find their only solution is military service. (This is not to say that all military service people are or see themselves as disenfranchised. Nor is this to say that they are not incredibly brave.)

In order to end poverty, oppression and militarism, we find ourselves obligated to work against all three simultaneously.

For more information on the event and the Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership, please visit olivebranchinterfaith.org

For more photos, visit the Advocacy & Witness facebook page.

Web Banner Campaign for NRCAT

Last spring, thousands of houses of worship and religious spaces–including hundreds of UU churches and fellowships–hung banners outside of their buildings announcing that torture is wrong and immoral. This campaign was organized by the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT).

NRCAT is asking religious communities to once again hang their banners to remind the new Congress and Administration that torture is not to be ignored.

But it does not end with churches, mosques, temples and synagogues. Now, you can “hang” a banner on your blog and/or web page.

The two banners look like this–

You can sign up to have the banners on your blog or web site by visiting nrcat.org

For more information on UUs and NRCAT, please see
uua.org– UUs Take a Public Stand on Torture
uua.org
Stop U.S. Sponsored Torture- Action of Immediate Witness
uuworld.org– UU a Leader in Campaign to End US Torture

Iraqi and American Peace Accord On the Move

On Sunday, the Iraqi Executive Cabinet approved a timeline of American withdrawal from Iraq. Of the 28 ministers at the meeting, 27 approved the measure. This overwhelming support for the agreement from the Executive Cabinet marks positive possibilities for the passage of the plan by the Iraqi Parliament some time this week.

The agreement extends the presence of American troops beyond the Dec. 31st expiration date of the UN Resolution 1511. However, it requires a preliminary reduction of American troops on January 1st, 2009. Furthermore, it would put coalition-led missions under the guidance of the Iraqi military.

The time-line for withdrawal would continue in this way:

  • Full withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities, villages and towns by July 1, 2009;
  • A complete handover of all military bases to Iraqi military forces by December 1, 2009;
  • A full withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq by December 31st, 2010.

These deadlines are non-negotiable. They will not depend on benchmarks. They will not depend on ground conditions.

The agreement is expected to succeed as the Shi’a and Kurdish blocs have agreed to pass the resolution. The Sunni minority bloc is currently split on the resolution, as many fear it would leave the future of Sunni security at the hands of the Shi’ite majority. The only Minister not to approve the agreement on Sunday belongs to the strongest Sunni party.

There has been much speculation that the Bush Administration has made major concessions in order to get the resolution passed before the transfer of American governance in January. This agreement has been pushed even further up as the Iraqi Parliament prepares to adjourn for the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca for the holiday Eid al-Adha.

There is some disagreement here in the United States on whether or not this agreement would need to be ratified by Congress before it goes into effect. If Congressional review is necessary, it would need to be put on hold until the 111th Congress begins its session. That would mean then-President Obama would have the pleasure to sign the agreement into reality. According to the New York Times and Washington Post, many in the Bush Administration want to skip the Congressional review so that the reduction of troops could begin within the tenure of the Bush Presidency.

If this agreement is passed by the Iraqi Parliament, there will still be a lot of work to do on the part of the peace community. First of all, these deadlines are hard and fast, but the agreement has not been passed yet. And if there is Congressional Review necessary for American participation, we will need to speak to our elected officials to make sure the agreement is ratified.

Furthermore, these deadlines are crucial for the Iraqi people to feel empowered as a sovereign nation. We must keep the Obama administration accountable to the needs and requests of the Iraqi government and military. The deadlines must be respected and honored.

We must also keep our government and military accountable for other military operations we are currently in. We must work with the Afghani government to make sure our withdrawal from their country is timely and accountable to them as well as us.

Finally, after our troops come home, we must continue to support them. We must call for a strengthening of our Veteran’s Affairs as well as improving the physical and emotional services the veterans require. Even after the war is over, we will have over 1.5 million Iraq War veterans to support. This will require extensive physical and emotional rehabilitation as well as giving them concrete job skills to compete in the struggling economy.

Overall, this is an exciting time for the anti-war community and we should not forget to celebrate our successes. With this agreement, the United States is well on the road to a complete and timely withdrawal from Iraq.

December Action of the Month: Pictures of Peace

Throughout the month of December and into 2009, Unitarian Universalist communities across the United States are invited create pictures of peace in intergenerational arts and crafts time. Please use crayons, finger paints, collages, or any other medium to convey your dreams of peace. Congregations are encouraged to hand-deliver the pictures to the office of their local decision makers. The pictures, along with a ministerial cover letter will allow church members to create relationships with their senator and share a dream of peace.

This is an excellent project for Religious Educators to adopt. It gives the opportunity to community members of all ages to learn and teach from one another and be active together. This allows people who usually do not interact with each other (young people and elders) to work together in a spirit of peace and intergenerational dialog.

Now, in the Holiday Season and the beginning of a new Government, Unitarian Universalists will share the opportunity to imagine that world of peace and justice. Please join us as families, friends and members of a religious community to develop pictures of peace for the future.

Now is also a crucial time for Unitarian Universalism as a movement. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is currently exploring what UU peacemaking looks like. Congregations are urged to read and discuss the rough draft for the Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking. This document, to be voted upon by General Assembly in June 2009, aims to be a comprehensive, dynamic and prophetic vision of what UU peacemaking could look like. Please review the document with the intention of giving feedback to the UUA by February, 2009.

We encourage you and your community to participate in this conversation by downloading the rough draft of the Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking and sharing your feedback. This year, the Commission on Social Witness requires at least 25% of UU congregations approve of the Statement of Conscience being voted upon by the General Assembly. Your congregational feedback helps us reach that crucial goal. Congregational feedback opens *Tomorrow* at http://dyn.uua.org/congregation/.

For more information on the project along with resources on how to organize an in-district lobby visit and UU peacemaking, please visit http://www.uua.org/socialjustice/actioncenter/121437.shtml

Tents of Hope Was a Great Success!

Over the weekend of November 7-9th, hundreds of tents from around the United States and the world converged on the National Mall in Washington DC. These tents, beautifully painted, were created to bring attention to the crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Organized by the Tents of Hope Campaign, this event was a huge success.

Tents from UU congregations sat near tents from Catholic and Protestant parishes, Jewish temples, college campuses and community organizations. Together, they made a beautiful tapestry of color and a message for peace. With the Washington Monument and Capitol Building acting as backdrops and the music of local and Darfurian musicians, this was a stunning and powerful experience.

Activists and tourists alike wandered the tents learning about the conditions of refugee camps in Darfur and Chad. Organizations like Save Darfur, UU Service Committee, and Amnesty International helped participants learn about the conflict in Darfur and how to help those most affected by the violence and displacement.

Many UU Congregations, including All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington DC; The UU Congregation of Kent, Ohio; First UU Church of Dallas, Texas; and the UU Legislative Ministries of Maryland all provided tents. Many more congregations utilized the postcard campaign for Darfurian women organized by the UU Service Committee.

Several of the tents used this weekend will be sent to Darfur and Chad to act as schools, health clinics and shelters in Darfurian refugee camps.

Tents of Hope was the September Action of the Month for the UU Advocacy and Witness Team. For more information on the Actions of the Month, please visit uua.org/socialjustice.