• Words cannot express the tragedy, grief that war’s violence leaves in its path
By Naomi Klouda
The Women in Black stand at a park by one of Homer’s only traffic lights each Tuesday at noon, eight years and four months into the Iraqi conflict known as the Second Operation Desert Storm.
Occasionally a driver goes by and wags a middle finger at them. They also have received thousands of supportive waves, bouquets of flowers, honks and many cups of coffee and tea. In Homer’s peaceful hamlet, other than the Women’s vigil, one could easily forget America’s involvement in the devastating wars raging in the Middle East.
“I would say 99 percent of our interaction has been positive. But that hasn’t always been the case,” explains Woman in Black Kate Finn. The wars prompted their vigils over the past decade, but the overall message is simply to promote peace and justice, the women said.
Homer’s Women in Black ponder the message people might be able to see, if not hear. They have said when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end, they won’t need to keep street vigils. But until then, they faithfully appear each Tuesday at noon at the small park next to the Homer Fire Department.
Homer’s group is only one of two active in Alaska on a regular bases.
“We stand for peace and justice,” said Darlene Hildebrand. “Words fan the flames, but silence can be potent.”
Kate Finn, Jane Regan, Cheryl Rykaczewski, Trisha Caron and Hildebrand aren’t members of an organization so much as a movement of women across the world. During the last 30 years, women have found their ability to express outrage at political, military, economic and personal violence by taking to the streets in silent protest. The practice began in Israel in 1988 when a mother, aggrieved by the death of her son, stood in silent, non-violent protest. The movement spread, including Palestinian mothers, to Italy when “Women Visiting Difficult Places” aimed to promote dialogue and supported the Israeli women on both sides of the conflict. When war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, Italian women went to Belgrade to visit activists protesting the ethnic cleansing, rape, torture and mass displacement. This led to a worldwide movement.
Even though its not an organization – no dues, no membership rosters, no presidents – Women in Black were awarded the 2001 Millennium Peace Prize for Women by the United Nations.
For Homer’s Kate Finn, WiB exists not as an organization, “but as a means of communicating and a formula for action.”
“A recurring thread of our numerous WiB discussions is that we human beings are deeply interconnected. When one person suffers, each of us is diminished, and when one of us is filled with love, each of us is enhanced by this greatest of human experiences,” Finn said. “This concept, rolling around in my head as I stand at Women in Black, allows my thoughts and emotions to move in the direction of compassion and peace, exactly where I want them to be.”
Homer’s WiB see better choices than war as a way to resolve conflict. As Jane Regan points out, war comes at an enormous financial cost – $1 million per soldier per year.
“I stand because I want to make the violence visible. And in this time of economic crisis, I think we can’t afford these wars. As the nation is discussing right now, we need to live within our income – but for some reason they aren’t talking about the money it costs at more than $1 million per soldier per year,” Regan said. “Our country spends more on the military budget than the next seven countries combined. We can’t afford to do that.”
In some war-ravaged countries, it’s a crime even to stand in silence.
“It’s an opportunity where I can, in a simple way in my own community, stand up for two values that I feel are really important: peace and justice. And that’s as fancy as it gets,” Hildebrand said. “I can stand, and there are a lot who can’t stand because their lives don’t permit that kind of time commitment. I’ve been told: ‘I’m so glad you are still standing,’ by people who can’t do that. It’s a powerful and kind visual reminder to people when they drive by of how important peace and justice is in the world.”
WiB’s ideas trickle down to the individual level. “As I stand, I reflect on kindness and how I’ve been kind or unkind in my life, and just be with that, too. Because we are all in this together,” Hildebrand said.
Violence doesn’t work, and it’s disheartening that humans still use it as the primary way to resolve conflicts, Regan points out.
“One of my favorite quotes, credited to the Buddha is: ‘If you see yourself in others, then whom can you harm?’ is a powerful mind changer for me, when I can pull back for just a moment to incorporate that into who I really am at any given moment,” Kate Finn said.
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