Several people gathered on a beautiful summer day in Portland for a Women in Black demonstration. Women in Black is a global movement founded by women in Israel to oppose the occupation of Palestine. They seek a free, independent state for the thousands who were displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948 and continue to be affected by invasions, bombings, and brutality from the Israeli army. In 2001, they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
I spoke at length with Yvonne, who regularly participates in the Women in Black demonstrations. Yvonne has stood with the Women in Black in Belgrade, Sebia, in 1994, and in England and Italy. She, like many life-long peace activists, has a wealth of experience and stories to share that could fill an entire newspaper. Not that we often see such viewpoints in corporate media of course; instead "experts on the Middle East conflict" are brought in for faux debates and "balanced" with crooks from the military-industrial complex. Where are the voices of those who live with the consequences of war? Yvonne was in Sarajevo during the siege of that city. She has lived in Iran and Afghanistan and seen -- felt -- firsthand the effects of U.S. foreign policy.
"Guns, bombs, and shells are indiscriminate," Yvonne said, speaking about her time in Sarajevo. "They indiscriminately kill people. It's hard to seek alternatives to peace when you're being subjected to violence."
Referring to her sign with the words, "Free Palestine," Yvonne said, "I could also say 'Free Israel'. Free Israel from the way its government is oppressing its own people. I feel sorry for the people there who don't believe in what their country is doing."
This was one of those conversations when I wished I had a disc recorder, so I could just upload some audio for people to hear. Yvonne's stories are fascinating, moving, and are better heard than read. "When bombs are falling and snipers sniping, you feel so alone. Sarajevo was like a prison, but the guards were bombing and sniping. A lof people were scared. You hide in a doorway and think, 'I hope I don't get wounded'. It was crazy... We were glad when it was rainy or cloudy because they couldn't see for sniping."
"One day in Sarajevo I saw some children playing. They build a little village out of mud with houses of sticks, bridges of stones, and flowers and bits of privit for trees. It brought me to tears. They were rebuilding their village. They wanted their village back."
"The Palestinains must feel like this every day. Some days they can walk around, but the economy is in shambles."
I asked Yvonne about my perception that women are on the forefront of the peace movement, and perhaps always have been. Of the three weekly peace events in Portland every week, two are led by women's groups: the Women in Black on Fridays and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom on Wednesdays. Both groups include participation by men but are clearly led by women. Yvonne nodded. "Women by nature are more nurturing and less violent than men," she said. "Not all women. And there are a lot of men working for peace but there are strong women taking the lead." She mentioned the women in Nigeria who took over an oil facility in July and said, "They are so strong, and they're doing things."
Women in the U.S. are able to speak out more than in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, Yvonne said. "Not that they're listened to," she added with a smile. Here in the U.S., "You see a lack of humanity and values -- inner values that aren't based on capitalism and violence. When I look at the poor, I see that they're so discriminated against. It's a caste system, like in India. Now this guy [points in the direction of the Greek Cusina restaurant] wants to get rid of the food trucks and the homeless people."
"When you're not looking for a way to preserve all life around you, you're doing something wrong. We have to have a peace culture. We don't have to like each other, but we must not kill each other."
The Women In Black hold demonstrations every Friday from noon to 1:00 on the NW corner of the Pioneer Courthouse block, across from the Square. Everyone is invited to join them.