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PeaceTimes Edition 92. Ending the Global War on Terra

20 April 2009 No Comment

Peace Buttons

- by Mary Liston Liepold

Time was—just a short time ago—when passion for the environment was the province of professional environmentalists and a few student activists and outdoor enthusiasts. Most middle class citizens thought of it as something governments and international organizations dealt with, beyond the scope of their own decisions. People in barrios, shantytowns, and inner cities saw the environment, like almost everything else, as belonging to “the man.” Why shouldn’t I litter, when I know these streets aren’t mine? At the opposite end of the economic scale, captains of industry employed the same rationale. I don’t own the skies or the oceans, so why should I care what I dump into either one? The plight of the earth today may be largely the result of this distinction between private property, which can be used up and thrown away, and a commons belonging to all, exploited by some but cared for by almost none.

Back in that time not long ago, environmentalists tended to the environment and peace activists tended to peace. Fortunately for Mother Earth and her children, that time is past.

The environmental movement, the women’s movement, and the peace movement have deep roots, and they are deeply intertwined. They all reject the entrenched system of hierarchies—humans over nature, men over women, and some nations, tribes, or cultural groups over others—and see the universe as a web of intricate interconnections. The earth holds the web of life, and we think of the earth as female: Gaia, Terra, Mother Earth. She is the fruitful source of all material goods who gives prodigally and impartially. Even her destructive power is impartially dealt out. (And like her daughters on earth, she has gained increased respect in recent decades for her displays of holy anger.)

A few people got it. “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake,” said sensible Jeanette Rankin. The first American woman to win a seat in Congress, she ran and won in 1916 and 1940, and lost her seat both times for voting against a popular war. Throughout her long life Rankin championed the causes of women and peace, and she modeled living lightly on the earth.

Fast forward to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, the first Earth Day (with 20 million participants) and the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, and Jonathan Schell’s Fate of the Earth in 1982. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the nuclear winter scenario fused alarm over the US-Soviet arms race with concern for the environment. Venerable peace organizations like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and newer ones like WAND (founded in 1982) catalyzed citizen involvement. When Soviet power waned the movement fizzled, though the danger never went away.

Mary Cordes, left, with Circle sister Aldioumawoye Cisse from Mali.

Mary Cordes, left, with Circle sister Aldioumawoye Cisse from Mali.

“Going out with signs and banners in those days, even picking up the trash around the office made people think we were a fringe group, the flaming liberals,” Michigan member Mary Cordes remembers. “The people you see working for peace and tending to the environment today reflect the whole range of a neighborhood. The movement is much more like a big neighborhood, and the world too, because we all want to live in good places.”

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Kenya’s Wangari Maathai in 2004 reflected the new awareness of the connections among peace, the environment, and women’s rights.

“This was a very big surprise,” the longtime activist told The Progressive in 2005. “I was not seeking the Nobel because I knew that the committee doesn’t look at the environment, it looks at peace, and I wasn’t working on the issue of peace specifically. I was contributing toward peace, and that is what the committee recognized: that, indeed, we need to step back and look at a more expanded concept of peace and security.”

This year a billion people are expected to celebrate Earth Day. Walt Disney Studios and many national governments are among its co-sponsors, and Britney Spears is auctioning off her used clothes for the National Resources Defense Council. Sadly, it’s because damage to the environment has outpaced even the gloomiest predictions and become all but impossible to ignore. Peace with and on the earth is the paramount issue of our time.

Caring for the Earth Comes Down to Earth

Yet if you ask people what tops their list of concerns in 2009, most will say economic security. In that same interview, Maathai explicitly connected the economy with the environment. “Poverty is both a cause and a symptom of environmental degradation. You can’t say you’ll start to deal with just one. You’re trapped. When you’re in poverty, you’re trapped because the poorer you become, the more you degrade the environment, and the more you degrade the environment, the poorer you become. So it’s a matter of breaking the cycle.”

Majora Carter

Majora Carter

This is hard-headed environmentalism, not the sentimental sort. If wars and bailouts don’t drive the Obama administration’s green dreams off the rails, young people from the ‘hood may soon join African women as the new symbols of environmental action. Majora Carter from the South Bronx, who won a MacArthur “genius award” in 2005, started out fighting environmental racism and is now putting green handles on the economy. If she and her friend Van Jones (who recently joined the Obama team) get the hearing they deserve, folks who never saw themselves as activists for any cause will soon work at green jobs, eat fresh, local vegetables, and tell new stories to their children in a nation with reorganized priorities. Then, since the world looks to the US for better and for worse, good things happening around the world will weave together, reinforcing the web of life and calling a halt to the war on Terra.

Peace X Peace members in more than 100 countries are pointing the way. We talked with two who are working at different scales with the same high hearts. Lesley Pocock, based in Australia, has lost count of the number of organizations she’s founded, all under the umbrella of medi+WORLD International, “a publishing house that specializes in accredited medical education projects for world doctors.” Her goal, quite simply, is to save the earth from extinction. At the age of 23, Laura Musimbi has founded one organization so far, Kakamega Green Team Volunteers. She has been trained as a business mentor, and her goal is for every woman on earth “to know something she can do to acquire her daily bread and every other need of a human being.”

Lesley Pocock: Family Doctors for the World

Lesley Pocock

Lesley Pocock

“I was born knowing I was going to do this job—world peace via public education—and when I was seven, I planned to do it with aeroplane and leaflet drop. (True!) I have always believed in the basic goodness of ordinary people if they are given the full truth. Now I have the internet and ICT to get my messages out.

I started out as a medical education publisher, then found that those who really needed my work, globally, could not afford it at all. So I had to find a way to get it to those doctors as cheaply as possible. Most countries use our CD-based programs, but in a place like Indonesia, which is made up of 1700+ islands, the internet is an excellent distribution strategy. I’m driven; I work on instinct, and I work a lot. The 20% of my work that I get paid for, by governments and UN organizations, subsidizes the 80% that I give away.

ICT has allowed me to give the same high quality medical education I have developed as Quality Assurance for Australian and other first world doctors to low income nations. We give it in high end design for two purposes: to let low income nation’s doctors know they deserve something of high quality, and because it is even more important that they get the best. I can provide a three-year program to Indonesian doctors, for example, at the cost of $US5/doctor/3 years. While this may seem terribly cheap, an Indonesian doctor may earn less than $US100 year, so at local costs it is not cheap.

“Water quality, for example, is one of the biggest health issues globally.”

For someone who started out as a mouse, afraid to go to meetings where I would be the only woman, I have a lot of personal power. I try to keep a low profile and lead by example. I am very stubborn, and I live to make connections. I’m not a physician myself, so my grasp of medical issues is psycho-social, from the patient perspective. Family doctors are my greatest allies in all the work I do, and family doctors in the Middle East particularly appreciate what we provide. Together we take both an academic and a practical approach to child health and the health of the planet. Water quality, for example, is one of the biggest health issues globally.

I work with Global Citizens for Peace and many other organizations. Our Child-Watch Mission in Pakistan assists blind Muslim girls who had been abandoned, had no status, and lived in constant danger and degradation. With Dr. Manzoor Butt, a brave (male) supporter of women’s health and rights in a fundamentalist region where women are not meant to be entitled to health care, we are giving them a safe environment to grow and thrive.

Right now all of our politics, our national structures are set up to be anti-peace. So my own global peace and equity plan is set up almost like a McDonalds franchise. It could be fully implemented within six months without the loss of culture, country, or religion and at hardly any financial outlay.

We can’t think small. No peace, no humans!

Can we rely on governments, politicians, big business, opinion leaders, purveyors of hype, organized crime, television chat shows, and other powerful ones to make this urgent change? Obviously not, or they would be doing it now.

To survive, we have to change the way we do almost everything and we have to take control of our own future. How dare we sit here blinking stupidly as our common human dreams die in front of us?

I still believe in us: that we can save our cherished planet and our very species, with our intelligence and hard work and the personal bravery and inventiveness that has carried us so incredibly through the ages so far.

We can choose—decay and death, or health and survival. And it takes us all, the ordinary people of the planet. That is all we have, just us; those with no vested interest in its rape and destruction, getting together to stop this.

“We can’t think small. No peace, no humans!”

We just do it. We turn off the offending polluters, change the destructive and immoral practices, clean up the environment. We use our intelligence and ingenuity, and we work together as citizens of the one planet.

How do we pay for it? We spend the defense budgets, in every country. What greater defense spending than defending our very survival? And what an opportunity to get it right this time! We’ll build in a few safeguards, like ethics, responsibility, equity, and mutual respect.

I personally am putting my faith in every single one of my fellow humans, everywhere on this planet, as you in turn are relying on me and the rest of us, as our children and future generations are relying on us. Against all the evidence, I believe in us: that we can be brave, bold, intelligent, loving and beautiful, and at this vital time in the history of the planet, think big and shine as we never shone before. We can think as big as we need to think: past our wallets, our front doors, past the borders of our countries, and see us as we are—a little planet of people, in a dark and distant corner of space, vulnerable and beautiful and about to take a great step forward to a safer, more enlightened and kinder time.

The empowerment of women will play a huge part. We’ve got a vested interest in seeing our children survive. And there’s medical evidence that our thinking is naturally global. You can see two-thirds of the brain light up when women think, where for men it’s a walnut-sized area. I absolutely know women are the key, and I admire Peace X Peace for this reason.

My son once asked: “Why can’t we build the future with our hearts instead of our heads?” I am confident that we can. I invite you to register your ownership of our own planet, at www.planetarysurvival.net.”

Laura Musimbi: Starting from Home and Adding Value

Laura Musimbi

Laura Musimbi

“My hometown, Kakamega, is next door to the only surviving remnant of equatorial rain forest that stretches right from the Congo basin. I believe that most people who are born and bred close to a natural endowment such as a sea, lake, river, hill, quarry, or forest, seem to correctly spell the words NEGLECT and IGNORANCE for that resource. Here at Kakamega forest, poachers rob this habitat of her rare indigenous species at the expense of the waterhead that supplies Lake Victoria—the largest fresh water lake in East Africa.

In the year 2002, while at high school, I joined the Uzima Foundation, a local NGO with an HIV/AIDS-free campaign. I worked there as a volunteer. This is the place where I experienced a real initial public exposure with a particular interest to women, especially those that are widowed. I must confess to you, my sister, that such women out here live in abject poverty, with practical starvation.

I attribute my passion for the environment partly to intuition and partly to every activity I saw happening around me. There is this particular woman that I happened to encounter, way back in 2004. I thought that she had a unique skill in fashioning out baskets from papyrus leaves. She was doing this “just to pass the time”; so she would say whenever I asked her. I thought that I should make her see a way to take this skill to another level. I introduced to her a new trick I had read in my home science class back at high school, about value addition. We could not only fashion out baskets from the local reeds for sale, but add value to the baskets by weaving them into a tea cozy or fireless cooker. I find fireless cookers and tea cozies—meant to keep cooked food warm or to cook food that was only partially pre-cooked—as a relief to women here, whose main task is to cook.

“These women had to consult nature for their livelihood.”

I offered to use part of my little savings and borrow some little capital from my father, who had just retired as a school teacher. After recruiting five more women, we began this project. We managed to produce at least twenty fireless cookers and five tea cozies, which we later sold to local hotels and a cafeteria. After the initial success of our value-added basket project, word about it went round my village and more women were interested to join us. It is at this point that I found the need to have this group of women get formal. I decided on the first name, Friends of Nature, because the groups drew their main raw material from the local environment, so these women had to consult nature for their livelihood. But then I realized that the project’s future is doomed if it entirely relied on this, because we are depleting reeds as feed stock to make the baskets. We have renamed it the Green Team Volunteers, and I now have 50 members.

It started as a sideline to our Mitigating Climate Change Project, in which we traveled from school to school showing kids and teachers the need to plant trees to prevent soil erosion, to provide firewood, to provide food for cows, and to restore the fertility to the land. More importantly, we wanted to encourage communities around Kakamega to plant trees. One day we would like to see the poor Kenyan farmers get paid to plant trees and to sequester carbon so as to slow down the buildup of the carbon layer in the atmosphere and to mitigate global warming.

Besides talking to schools about plants, KGTV involves pupils to collect different plant species and each construct a booklet herbarium. This act will leave a green mark in these young souls and minds, who hitherto shall be mothers, fathers, and leaders of God’s tomorrow.

To take the group’s initiative to the next level, we encourage our members to start planting at least five bamboo culms back on their farms, which they are doing. We believe that bamboo shall work as a future raw material not only for our basket project, but as a way of mitigating climate change. One volunteer woman has donated a 0.25-acre parcel of land for an arboretum and we have established two huge tree nurseries of about 2,500 tree seedlings, mainly of caliandra and sesbania species. These tree species have great food value to dairy animals. Bamboo has exceptional properties in preventing flooding. I wrote about it some time ago in Voices from the Frontlines.

From December 2008 I was taken by another local NGO called the Village Enterprise Fund (VEF) as a business mentor. This NGO is funded by groups of people from the USA. My work here as a business mentor is to identify ten groups of five members each. Every member of each group should be one who suffers absolute poverty, who lives on less than a quarter of a dollar a day. Then VEF awards every group a startup capital of $100 for a business of their choice. I think this has helped to some extent, though this is not very sufficient against the prevailing conditions of these people.

“For peace to prevail . . . a person must have eaten and been satisfied.”

It is at this point that one encounters the real grip of the current global food crisis, and I came up with the idea of orange-fleshed sweet potato industries. This disdained “woman’s crop,” I guarantee to everyone, can be a real rescue to my fellow women, especially the nursing mothers and the invalids. You can read about this in Voices from the Frontlines too.

I have the idea. What is required is at least some external facilitation. I am confident that my 50 Kakamega Green Team volunteers shall also take on board this potato idea and eventually scale it out to hundreds and thousands.

My dream is that every woman on earth will have something she is doing to acquire her daily bread and every other need of a human being. I have a belief that for peace to prevail at any point in time, first, a person must have eaten and been satisfied. We must have consulted nature—the environment, the plants—to obtain this food. There shall be no peace if this basic condition is not met. Here we find humans on one side and vegetation on the other side. Both sides must maintain some peace to strike an equal balance. Talk about peace by peace!

I am playing my part as a woman. I want women everywhere to know that whatever they are doing for peace, they are doing the right thing at the right time and in the right place.”

Notes
*The title of this feature and a large part of Lesley Pocock’s section derive from her essay in the October 2008 New Paradigm Journal.
**Several of the buttons used in the banner come from peacebuttons.info.

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About the Author

Mary Liepold is the Editor-in-Chief at Peace X Peace. To reach Dr. Liepold, email maryl@peacexpeace.org.
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