Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Thursday Plenaries

Thursday was an interesting day. In the morning we had the plenary for the WCUSP campaign. In the afternoon was the plenary for the Save the Water campaign.

I am indebted to "The Daily WILPF," our unofficial record of the 90th Anniversary WILPF Congress - a newspaper that is being produced by Ellen Schwartz and Joan Bazar - for the information regarding plenary speakers.
"Women Challenge US Policy: Building Peace on Justice in the Middle East." Our panelists will confront powerful myths and stereotypes, investigate the role of the Christian Right in US policy toward Israel-Palestine, and look at ways to work in coalitions for change. Barbara Lubin is founder and executive director of the Middle East Children's Alliance, which since 1988 has delivered millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to children's clinics, hospitals, schools and women's organizations in the Occupied Palestinian territories and Iraq. She will speak about challenges she faces in her work. Joy Totah Hilden will tell how her experience as a Palestinian-American of Quaker background has influenced her belief that Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace. Rachelle Marshall is a free-lance writer for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and is active in various peace organizations including Jewish Voice for Peace. Libby Frank, former WILPF Executive Director and Middle East Committee chair, will speak on understanding the role of lobbies in US Middle East policy.
Personally, I was really engaged with the speeches made by our panelists. Those who have their speeches in written format are graciously making that available to WILPF and we will have them up on the WCUSP area of the US WILPF website soon. After the plenary, we had breakout sessions to discuss both the plenary and the campaign. As a member of the WCUSP leadership team, I lead a breakout session. I have to say, even more than being on the national board, it was a moment of true empowerment for me. I say this because strangers looked to me to organize and lead a discussion and accepting my format and leadership (I created a stack to facilitate constructive dialogue - a "stack" where people's names are jotted down in the order they raise their hands to enhance people's conversation and prevent cross-talk, where two people discuss back and forth leaving no space for others to join the conversation). I learned the stack from my experience on the WILPF board. Right, so a lot of stuff came out of our discussion group, including the fact that we're not all on the same page regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I realize that this is a taboo issue for many American peace activists, and I hope that our campaign serves as a model for how to increase education and activism on this important issue.

At the beginning of lunch, I participated in a Women In Black demonstration organized by an amazing woman I am priviledged to work with on the WCUSP leadership team, Yvonne Logan. She brought a script written by Women In Black in Rome and a large paper version of the separation wall. Yvonne and Libby Frank took turns reading about the life experience of Palestinian individuals and then our chorus repeated a question about why does this wall separate her from her work (and similar questions). It was very moving for all involved.

I ate lunch with the WCUSP team and our plenary speakers. We spoke a lot about what we learned from the breakout sessions.

There was a short break after lunch where I was able to purchase some jewelry from the WCUSP table (beautiful earrings made by Yvonne and a necklace made by the Hebron Embroidery Project, "Fair Trade Palestinian Embroidery," and brought to our table by Tura Campanella Cook, our campaign co-chair.

Then we had the Save the Water plenary session.
"Save the Water - From Pollution, Privatization, and Misuse." Gemma Bulos, award-winning representative from Women's World Water Movement, will lead the plenary in her song, "We Rise." Panelists on Thursday afternoon and in Friday workshops include Nancy Price, environment writer and activist coordinating speakers on privatization, pollution, and exposing the bottled water industry. Sylvia Kothe will come from Stockton to tell about the fight to take back the water resources from OMI-Thames. Caleen Sisk-Franco, leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe will explain why her people feel threatened by the proposed increase of the Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River. Juliette Beck of Public Citizen will give an overview of national and international water issues.
Caleen Sisk-Franco opened the plenary with a call to the four directions, heaven and water to bless our gathering and our journeys home from the gathering. She also sang to the sacred water in her language. It was a really moving experience. She spoke to us about her people and their struggle with the government for recognition as a tribe and how their land has been taken away, and their dead uprooted in the U.S. government's pursuit of water and development. Personally, I was not only affected by her presentation, but also in the way she was included in the program. This may not be politically correct, but I often see white Americans attempting to become part of the Native American culture because they do not feel connected to their own ethnic group. Instead of co-opting the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, I felt that we were really coming together out of mutual respect. She mentioned that it was particularly encouraging to speak to our gathering because we have so many elders present, and that shows our deep roots and the importance of our organization. The other panelists also had impressive presentations, including two speakers not listed in The Daily WILPF - Regina Birchem, our International President who gave a demonstration of how much water is on the Earth and how comparatively, only a drop of that is potable (drinkable) fresh water. Susi Snyder, our International Secretary-General spoke about how water connects every aspect of our international program and how our Water campaign relates to aspects of international WILPF work.

During the break-out session following the plenary, I was able to meet other WILPFers and learn about their local water issues and how water politics relates to the continuing struggle against corporate personhood. I was also able to introduce people to our at large membership and this blog. I hope to figure out a way to promote all of national WILPF's incredible activity to our Congress attendees and WILPF members in general with our amazing incoming national board.

I had dinner with some other Jewish WILPFers and we had an interesting discussion that ranged from Israel to the Holocaust to the current politics in Germany and the United States.

After dinner, I went to the joint board meeting, where members of the outgoing and incoming national boards were able to introduce ourselves and have some bonding time. We also made a few decisions, which I can't remember in full because of the final activity of my day yesterday. The decisions mostly involved offering US WILPF support for statements of solidarity to the Cuba 5, the International Women in Black Conference, and Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother camped in front of Bush's ranch demanding a dialogue with him.

After the meeting, I went to the Castro (district?) with some members of the youth caucus. It was great to get off campus and bond with my fellow young WILPFers. (FYI, I'm 27, but no longer the youngest member of the WILPF board.) I am so energized by the enthusiasm of my demographic group. While the connection, support, and comraderie with WILPFers of all ages will continue to be a strong reason I continue to be active in this organization, I'm also thrilled to help form an active youth caucus (starting with a youth caucus meeting tonight after the scheduled activities). Showing my relative age and lack of sleep, I drank a double shot soy latte instead of an alcoholic beverage. We had a great time. Now, I'm off to breakfast. Egads. Running late again. Must be on time for the 8am fundraising workshop by Kim Klein.


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