Williams discusses diversity, spread of information to achieve goals
Sitting barefoot and cross-legged at the front of Belk Auditorium in the Business Building, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams frankly told an audience of over 80 students, faculty and Columbia community members who had come to hear her lecture, "Women, Peace and Security," that there was "nothing magical in being an activist."
This may seem like a puzzling message coming from someone so revered for her peacekeeping activism. The 10th female recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Williams served as founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and is chair of the Nobel Women's Initiative, an organization of the remaining six living female Prize winners to promote equality and human rights.
But the Vermont native's message in her lecture, which was one of a series of presentations this semester to commemorate the 50th anniversary of USC's Walker Institute of International and Area Studies, was that all effective activism requires is a clear goal, a creative strategy and cooperation among a diverse network of people. Williams said she was almost upset by the attention she received from the media because it was "disrespectful of every grassroots organization that had made the ICBL possible." In the first five years of existence, ICBL had successfully organized an international treaty that would, for the first time in history, ban a conventional weapon used by so many countries around the world.
"When people work together for a common goal, and everybody does their bit, you can change the world." Williams said. "Information is power, and if I'd kept the information to myself, we wouldn't have been able to accomplish anything."
Throughout the discussion, Williams emphasized the Nobel Women's Initiative's dedication to protecting security but not the kind of security on which governments spend millions of dollars for weapons development and militancy.
"We're contributing to security that doesn't come at a cost of human beings but protects the needs of humanity,"
Williams said. "I think the success of the land mine ban fueled a new kind of thinking about human security versus national security."
Williams also stressed the need for increased diversity in the decision-making process, as well as an abandonment of ignorant national paternalism, in order to carry out peacemaking goals. She said this philosophy stemmed from her passion for women's rights.
"We need as many women making decisions as men, and we need people of different ethnicities and backgrounds talking to each other," she said. "When it's just a bunch of white men from the same background talking about the same issues, which is how our nation has been historically run, we lose the potential for a different way of looking at things."
Williams was quick to clarify that despite the misconception surrounding female Nobel winners, she was no Mother Teresa (although she was raised Catholic), nor is she a "kumbaya" peacemaker. She once grabbed an American colonel by the throat and said, "F*** you," after he told her that land mines "might be banned in 10 years," and she was glad to tell of how the press once caught the Dalai Lama jokingly strangling her at a meeting.
"I can get mad, and I can get rude; I'm a normal human being who has this immense recognition," Williams said. "But really, the reason any of us do the work we do is because it's right. I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, 'Holy smoke, this person's trying to make life better for everybody.'"