Whenever I travel to international gatherings to talk about the war in Iraq, economic development and women’s rights, the question I get asked most frequently is: “Where are the women in the United States? Why aren’t they rising up?”
I hear it from women in Africa, who have lost funding for their health clinics because of the Bush Administration’s ban on even talking about abortion; from Iraqi women, who are suffering the double oppression of occupation and rising fundamentalism; from European women, who wonder how we can tolerate the crumbling of our meager social services; and from Latina women opposed to unresponsive governments that represent a tiny elite.
The question is variously posed with anger, contempt, curiosity or sympathy. But always, there is a sense of disappointment. What happened to the proud suffragettes who chained themselves to the White House fence for the right to vote? What happened to the garment workers, whose struggles for decent working conditions inspired the first International Women’s Day in 1910? What about those who emulated Rosa Parks, risking their lives or livelihoods to confront the evils of racism? Given their tradition of activism, why aren’t American women today rising up against a government that dragged them into war with lies, that spies on their peaceful activities and diverts money from their children’s schools or their mothers’ nursing homes to pay for an immoral war?
I mumble excuses. We have no strong opposition parties or militant trade unions. We have a corporate media that keeps women ignorant. We’re either too affluent to care or too poor to do anything about it. I insist that we keep trying, with efforts like CodePink: Women for Peace, the National Organization for Women and other women’s groups, like Gold Star Families for Peace. I say that millions have come out to protest against the war but get demoralized when our government refuses to listen. But deep inside, I ask myself the same question: Where are the women? Why aren’t they rising up?
I remember when we first started CodePink before invasion of Iraq, and we felt compelled to leave our families, our jobs, our warm homes, and camp out in front of the White House to try to stop the war. “We’ll put a call out to women across the country,” we said, “and the streets of Washington, DC, will be flooded with angry women saying no to an unjustified war.” During the four cold, winter months we spent in front of the White House, hundreds of women came to join us, and more than 10,000 marched with us when we ended the vigil. But we kept wondering, Where were the millions of women who, according to the polls, were strongly opposed to the war? When a grieving Cindy Sheehan called on people all over the country to join in her vigil at Crawford, Texas, last summer, a few thousand people responded, most of them women. But why didn’t tens of thousands come? Or 100,000?
Over the years, hundreds of thousands of women–perhaps millions– have marched in antiwar rallies. Why don’t they become part of an ongoing movement? Why do they get demoralized so quickly when their efforts don’t bear fruit?
A few months back, I asked a group of international women for advice. Two issues kept cropping up: persistence and solidarity. “It took us decades to overthrow the oppressive apartheid regime,” said one woman from South Africa, “and one of the things that kept us going was solidarity from the outside world–people getting arrested at South African embassies abroad, refusing to buy South African products, sending us moral support.” The others agreed. “The struggle has to come from within,” said a woman who had spent years organizing landless peasants in Brazil, “and you in the US have more freedom to organize than we ever had. But US women need to feel the support of their sisters overseas, just like we have had tremendous international support.”
So a few weeks ago, CodePink drafted a Global Women’s Call for Peace in Iraq with the idea of asking women around the world to sign on and then march to US embassies on March 8, International Women’s Day. We thought that the idea of women worldwide putting pressure on the US government would inspire US women to stand up as well.
We sent our friends overseas a draft of demands–withdrawal of foreign troops, no permanent bases, rebuilding funds going directly to Iraqis instead of US companies and equal rights for women. It immediately “went viral,” on the Internet, with women from Mongolia, Mexico, Australia, Albania, the Philippines and Pakistan requesting to be among the initial endorsers. Our goal of getting 100 prominent women to sign quickly become 150, then 200, and before we even officially launched the campaign, more than 3,000 women (and male allies) had signed on to the new website, Women Say No to War.
So please join us in building this global call, sending it to our friends at home and abroad to get at least 100,000 women on board. Please commit to doing a local action on March 8–shut down a recruiting center, sit in at a Congressional office, hold a vigil on a crowded street corner, paint a peace mural. Or join us in Washington, DC, where Iraqi, US and British women–including Cindy Sheehan–who have lost sons in this war will try to meet with US women leaders, from Condoleezza Rice to Hillary Clinton, to push our peace plan.
Let’s make March 8 a day when we revive the fighting spirit of International Women’s Day and unleash the power of women across generations, races, ethnicities, religions and borders. Let’s make it a day to show our anger over the war, our compassion for our sisters in Iraq, our disgust with our leaders and our determination to change course. And let’s commit to building, over the long term, a women’s peace movement that will make our global sisters–and our grandmothers–proud.