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
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
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
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
For over twenty years, Medea Benjamin has supported human rights and social justice struggles around the world.
Benjamin was the Green Party candidate for US Senate from California in 2000, and is Founding Director of Global Exchange and Code Pink: Women for Peace.
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