Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | January 31, 2009

Peace Worked in Liberia

This is so inspiring, because it is exactly the kind of situation where conventional wisdom would say, there is no way to stop that man other than to fight back with violence.  But, it can be stopped by people who support each other, and give each other the courage to stand up and very publicly say, “this is wrong and we want it stopped”, and refuse to go away.

From “A Crazy Dream” by Bob Herbert, in today’s New York Times:

I’m quoting some excerpts below:

In the documentary film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a woman whose family had endured the agony of civil war in Liberia talks about a dream she had in 2003 in which someone urged her to organize the women of her church to pray for peace.

Prayer seemed like a flimsy counterweight to the forces of Charles Taylor, the tyrannical president at the time, and the brutally predatory rebels who were trying to oust him from power. The violence was excruciating. People were dying by the tens of thousands. Rape had become commonplace. Children were starving. Scenes from the film showed even small children whose limbs had been amputated.

It’s the kind of environment that breeds feelings of helplessness. But Leymah Gbowee, the woman who had the crazy dream, would have none of that, and she should be a lesson to all of us.

The filmmakers Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker show us how Ms. Gbowee not only rallied the women at her Lutheran church to pray for peace, but organized them into a full-blown, all-women peace initiative that spread to other Christian churches — and then to women of the Muslim faith.

The women prayed, yes, but they also moved outside of the churches and the mosques to demonstrate, to protest, to enlist all who would listen in the cause of peace. Working with hardly any resources, save their extraordinary will and intense desire to end the conflict, the women’s initial efforts evolved into a movement, the Liberian Mass Action for Peace.

Nothing could stop the rallies at the market, not the fierce heat of the sun, nor drenching rainstorms, nor the publicly expressed anger of Mr. Taylor, who was embarrassed by the protests. Public support for the women grew and eventually Mr. Taylor, and soon afterward the rebel leaders, felt obliged to meet with them and hear their grievances.

The moral authority of this movement that seemed to have arisen from nowhere had become one of the significant factors pushing the warring sides to the peace table. Peace talks were eventually held in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and when it looked as if they were about to break down, Ms. Gbowee and nearly 200 of her followers staged a sit-in at the site of the talks, demanding that the two sides stay put until an agreement was reached.

A tentative peace was established, and Mr. Taylor went into exile in Nigeria. The women continued their activism. Three years ago, on Jan. 16, 2006, in an absolutely thrilling triumph for the mothers and wives and sisters and aunts and grandmothers who had worked so courageously for peace, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as the president of Liberia — the first woman ever elected president of a country in Africa.

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