Few talk about it. Fewer know much about its principles or how to apply them. Yet it has a profound impact, a long history and a reach nearly as wide as heaven. I’m talking about non-violence.
Sure, we know a bit about the civil rights movement and a bit about Mahatma Gandhi, but not much. Mainstream media focuses on the changes wrought by violence.
Pacifism is confused with those who are passive. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Consider Liberia. This nation was birthed by colonization and racism. It existed in oppression for over 150 years. A few years ago Liberia was a land torn apart. Dictator Charles Taylor’s reign imposed hunger and brutal killings on Liberia’s people. The rise of rebel groups made the situation worse. Children were forced to become soldiers. They roamed the countryside stealing, raping and killing. Villages were burned. Brutalized refugees crowded the cities. No one was safe. No one knew where to turn. The only answer lay in the powerful force of love in action, non-violence.
By 2003 women began gathering at their own risk to demand peace. They wore white and sang in the marketplace. They called themselves Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. Their numbers grew. Against tradition, Christian and Muslim women worked together—singing, praying, planning and insisting on love. They held signs as truckloads of soldiers drove past, the same men and boys who terrorized them. Their signs said, “We love you. Put down your guns.”
Ignored at first, their numbers grew. As peace marchers walked past, other women joined in from the streets. Children sang along. Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace tactics included passive resistance, withholding sex (in part to avoid birthing children who would later be raped, killed or forced to become soldiers) and insisting on reconciliation. Finally they forced a meeting with President Taylor, where they made him promise to attend peace talks in Ghana. Then they bravely met with representatives of the rebel faction, who also agreed to attend the peace talks.
A delegation of Liberian women went to the talks in Ghana at their own expense. They waited outside the hotel where negotiations were held, wearing white as reminding presence. The men stayed in luxury, stalling as they attempted to get more and more power for themselves without agreeing to more rights for the citizenry. After weeks of these fruitless talks the women learned that an embassy in Liberia had been bombed and war there had intensified. Afraid for the families they’d left behind, they took another risk. Entering the hotel, one hundred women linked arms outside the doors of the negotiating hall. They intended to force the men to stay without food and water, privations Liberian refugees knew well, until they had reached an agreement. Guards threatened them. One of the rebels kicked at them.
Leymah Gbowee, a leader of Women of Liberia Mass Action stood. She began to take off her clothing. This was a last resort. It is taboo to see one’s sister, mother or grandmother unclothed. The guards backed down. Two weeks later an agreement was signed.
When Liberia held landmark elections, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the African continent’s first elected female head of state. Yet look around. The extraordinarily brave, powerfully liberating work by Liberian women went largely unnoticed by major news organizations. Heck, even the Liberia page on Wikipedia doesn’t cite their involvement. Stephen Colbert’s interview with Leymah Gbowee promos the sex strike angle.
An extraordinary documentary about Women of Liberia Mass Action, called Pray the Devil Back to Hell came out in 2008. Producer Abigail E. Disney couldn’t rely on footage shot by news organizations. They barely cover non-violence. Instead she managed to find three years of material on the peace movement that shifted the course of history from “private individuals who just happened to be there with cameras.”
We can do more than thank goodness.
We can use non-violence so that goodness is a force for change.
5 thoughts on “Real Action Footage Hard to Find: World’s Most Powerful Force Rarely Filmed”
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Jon Stewart did an interview with her – Hope it was better and more exhaustive. Unfortunately – these ARE comedians. Their TV channel is known as “The Comedy Channel”.
They are capable of being reverent – but not often (and specifically not Colbert!)
I only saw the interview by Stephen Colbert. His irreverent questions centered largely on the sex strike aspect of the movement. I’m sure Jon Stewart handled it better. Yes, it’s the Comedy Channel but comedy is a fantastic vehicle for revealing wider truths.
I actually think he did. (And Honestly eye opener for me – I listen to the BBC World Service for Africa alot – and I think I only heard the sex angle.
This new frame of reference – is actually quite empowering.
If you have good net access – (not very common here) here you go … http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/mon-november-14-2011-leymah-gbowee