This past Thursday, Elizabeth Self, lover of all things peaceful, attended the Sustaining Peace lecture held at the Teacher’s College. Bwog is sure that there were tons of lovely and accomplished speakers present, but we zeroed in on one of our favorites: the ridiculously flawless Leymah Gbowee, who happened to be Barnard’s Commencement speaker this past Spring.
Sustaining Peace: Interdisciplinary Perspectives was a program about conflict resolution, violence prevention, and sustaining peace held at Teacher’s College on October 24, 2013. It lasted 9 hours. I hate to disappoint you, but, even in the name of journalism, I am not that dedicated.
I in fact slid in right before the keynote speech, feeling somewhat like a kid who only read the Sparknotes (back in the eighth grade when people actually generally read the book before class). Fortunately, there was a cheat sheet to be found in the program, so I decided to clue myself in about this “Leymah Gbowee” while the speaker before her talked about some experiments in abstract terms that I didn’t understand.
‘Let’s see… Nobel Peace Laureate – good grief, how do I not know who she is? – founder of stuff, president of big stuff … saved Liberia … “brought together Christian and Muslim women in a nonviolent movement that played a pivotal role in ending Liberia’s civil war” — Hallelujah, this woman must have reached nirvana … Board of Directors, honored at the Olympics, has six ki- wait a minute, she has six kids? Six kids, and she did all this? Maybe she should have given the speech on having it all. Maybe she should be giving all of us pep talks. Whatever she’s got, can they bottle it?’
Another speaker introduced her in much simpler terms, and I realized the program didn’t do her justice. As it turns out, when Gbowee was 17 and hoping to head to college, the first round of the Liberian civil war broke out. While she was at first angry at having lost her chance at an education, she later became a counselor, which is when she said she realized that the soldiers, too, were victims in the conflict. She later organized a women’s protest group that would quiet line the streets where the army marched by. Once, the speaker disclosed, when police tried to arrest her, she said, “Here, let me make it easy for you,” and she began to strip out of her clothes. The policemen were so shocked they ran away, but later on she was able to employ their help in tracking down and communicating with political figures.
Finally the lady of the hour took the stage herself, upon receiving a standing ovation, told everyone, “It’s a long day, you don’t want to be standing.” She tried to sound like an average human being who got lost and is having a hard time keeping up with her four-year-old, but I knew better. Her address included many anecdotes about her alliance of Christian and Muslim Women (“Christians have too many scriptures to quote about diversity…”), particularly the day they all had to sit down and address all the stereotypes they had about each other. But the bulk of her stories about that group were about finding value and talent in all of the women there, regardless of their background or temperament. “Sustainable peace is equal participation… We are different, but we are one. You have to be tolerant,” she would tell the participants.
Gbowee shared about the problems in the Liberian education system as a means of illustrating issues in modern politics. “It’s about politics today, not the good of the younger generation… Politics today is not about the good of the people, but who can shout the loudest.” She also called out the distribution of natural resources and the recent shut-down of the U.S. government as examples of when political leaders are like her four-year-old and can’t handle cooperation. She explained, “Humanity misses out when it’s “I” or “my political institution” that has to shine, instead of seeing the value in everyone that makes the world beautiful.”
She questioned what good all the intellectual rhetoric since the Cold War has really done to prevent conflict around the world. For sustainable peace, she said, we must, “… embrace a world that sees victory without losers.” At that point she was done and I was a little mindblown, so just in case you want something a little more on the level of everyday life, or to help you get through midterms, I gathered a few more gems for you to quote at your friends, loved ones, or even just yourself in the mirror:
“We try too much to focus on the hard and complex instead of the simple and doable.”
“Network like cancer.”
“A leader is a trashcan. You are forced to like everyone, but not everyone has to like you.”
“No matter how meager the resources, sharing them helps us group together for change.”