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

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

4 January: Orientation, Agenda Review

It felt quite weird to have a logistics and orientation session at 4:30 pm on Monday, after a full day of activities. While I really appreciated the time spent reviewing examples of effective WILPF work from around the world, I wonder if we have a universal understanding of the consensus process and how much time is needed to develop consensus. My observation throughout the week was that the board developed agreement on proposals through a combination of consensus building and voting. I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on our process prior to our next meeting. The reason I'm spending time writing about this is that as a convener of a standing committee, I am a non-voting member of the International Board. I think this means I can participate in the consensus process, but I cannot vote. When polls are used to check for consensus, it makes it difficult for me to know whether it is legal for me to express my opinion.

My technical questions are the most benign of the queries that rose during this part of the meeting. Several representatives from European sections spoke about their disagreement with the schedule's structure. They were convinced that having a communications workshop before talking about the meat of our program was putting the cart before the horse. (I tried to explain that the workshop was developed to give all participants a baseline understanding of campaign planning before we got into detailed conversations about our program.)

It's difficult for me to attempt to report on Monday afternoon in an unbiased way. I feel that I understand all sides of the argument: people who brought up concerns via our board listserv felt their concerns were not fully answered by the Executive Committee. The ExCom felt that people who objected to the proposed agenda did not offer an alternative (i.e. what areas should be cut to allow time for additional conversations). While the agenda was ultimately adopted, the process showed some interesting divisions:
--members of the International Board do not have a unified understanding of the purpose of the board
--members of the International Board do not agree on what makes WILPF unique, nor do we all agree on the political priorities of our League

Again, I'm hopeful that we can work through these differences. By working with my international WILPF sisters for a week, I've learned that there are many things that divide us. It's not just the divisions created by age and nationality. We also come to this work from different perspectives. For example, since I have a BA in Peace & Justice Studies, I have a strong appreciation for the role of civilian institutions in creating a peaceful world. Therefore, I'm committed to supporting the structural health of the League as much as I support its political aims. Having served as the national program chair of the US Section, I'm not as interested in arguing the relative importance of one plank of our program over another plank. There's a simple reason for my perspective: regardless of how much we debate whether to focus on the economic causes of war or the environmental effects of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, our members will decide individually which area to put their time into. I believe we need to develop international programs that provide a unified theoretical framework for distinct local, national, and regional projects.

To do this properly, our local program leaders need to be connected to our national program leaders and they need to be connected to our international working groups. Being connected to the different levels of WILPF doesn't have to be a huge time commitment: often it simply means signing up for a listserv and agreeing to respond in a timely manner to messages received. Of course, our communication system can be a huge barrier to women whose mother tongue is not English. But for those of us who are fluent in English, we simply have no excuse for not connecting our work to the work of our WILPF sisters around the country and around the world.


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