I am attending the Northern California WILPF Cluster Meeting in Palo Alto. Below is my report on international WILPF.
Last summer, I started a global conversation among WILPFers about the meaning of our organization. Some people took this as a jumping off point for further criticism of the organization, others weighed in with reminders of the purpose of our organization as outlined in our international constitution and by-laws.
Get five WILPFers in a room, and you're bound to end up with ten opinions. I'm not sure we, as members of the League from California, will come to agreement today, but I'd like to offer a forward looking perspective based on my work on the Secretary General Search Committee, my participation in the International Board Meeting in January, and my eleven years of activism in the US Section.
Political advocacy can feel the most relevant when dealing directly with a local issue - for example, a local military recruiter pushing their “college” deals at the local high school; or the local utilities company pushing chemicals into the public water supply. These are extremely legitimate and important issues that must be countered. Through WILPF, we have the ability to tie these local issues to international treaties, like the International Rights of the Child. By connecting to an international sisterhood, we can learn from our sisters overseas, and coordinate our work so that every time we act on a local issue, we know that our sisters in Costa Rica and Japan are struggling with similar concerns, and that together – drop by drop – we will change the way governments enforce international treaties and we'll ensure those international laws are written from a feminist / peace-building perspective.
By nature, I'm a critical person. So I completely understand the instinct to focus on what's wrong and to be critical of the presumed centers of power in WILPF. I also try to understand the desire to support the peace & justice movement in general. And I definitely understand being overwhelmed by all there is to do as volunteers; my own branch has been on life support for several years and I often wonder if I should have been focusing my time re-energizing my branch rather than helping WILPF at the national and international level.
There are ways in which I'm biased. I think we need to learn from good examples and work to strengthen our capacity, through tools like SMART campaign planning and work plans. Next year, we'll have both a national and international Congress and we need to work towards building bridges of cooperation domestically and with our Latin American sisters (and indeed all sections) prior to those meetings.
Several staff members have moved on in the last few months – and soon all of those openings will be filled. Though I consider Susi Snyder among my closest WILPF sisters, I am so excited about the new Secretary General. The Search Committee went through a vigorous process of reviewing resumes and interviewing three finalists. We coordinated Skype calls across three continents – Los Angeles, Sweden, Berlin, and Tokyo. And we recommended a candidate to the Executive Committee who will raise the profile of WILPF internationally and help announce to the world that we are starting a new chapter in our history.
Make no mistake – members are not the only critics of WILPF. At the international level, funders and sister NGOs have already written our epitaph. People have suggested that our highly successful UN projects, Reaching Critical Will and Peace Women should break away from WILPF and become separate NGOs. Thankfully, none of our current leaders agrees with that idea and under the leadership of our incredible UN Office Director Anjie Rosga, the NGO community is beginning to understand how the projects are connected to our organization as a whole. Additionally, she has worked with members and interns to develop a new international program that concretely connects WILPF's UN advocacy with local activism.
As we move closer to our 100th anniversary, it's time to make a choice: it's time to work together, to build a stronger WILPF, to move our institution to the forefront of change, to allow WILPF to lead the way towards a better future. I've been working through WILPF for 11 years because I believe in the power of our women-led organization. I believe that we're stronger together than our individual parts. As exciting as the work of some of your branches is, it is our collective power, as an international league, that gives us our unique strength and promise.