As I have traveled around the world to various international gatherings-some of them related to the war in Iraq, some to economic development and some to women's rights-the question I am asked most frequently is "Where are the women in the United States? Why aren't they rising up?"
I hear it from women in Africa who have lost funding for their health clinics because of the Bush administration's ban on even talking about abortion; I hear it from Iraqi women who are suffering the double oppression of occupation and rising fundamentalism; I hear it from European women who wonder how we can tolerate the crumbling of our meager social services; I hear it from Latina women who are used to overthrowing unresponsive governments that represent a tiny elite.
Sometimes the women ask the question with anger, sometimes with contempt, sometimes with genuine curiosity, sometimes with sympathy. But always, there is a sense of disappointment. What happened to the proud suffragettes who chained themselves to the White House fence for the right to vote? What happened to the feisty garment workers whose struggles for decent working conditions inspired the first International Women's Day in 1910? What happened to the many Rosa Parks who risked their lives confronting the evils of racism? Why aren't women today rising up against a government that dragged them into war in the basis of lies, a government that spies on their peaceful activities, a government that takes money from their children's schools and their mothers' nursing homes to pay for its immoral war?
I mumble excuses-we have no strong opposition parties, we have no militant trade union movement, we have a corporate media that keeps women ignorant, we're either too affluent to care or too poor to do anything about it. I insist that we are trying, and point to the efforts of CODEPINK, NOW and other women's groups, to Cindy Sheehan and military moms. I say that millions have come out to protest against the war, but get demoralized when our government refuses to listen. But deep inside, I ask myself the same question, "Where are the women? Why aren't they rising up?"
I remember when we first started CODEPINK before invasion of Iraq, and we felt compelled to leave our families, our jobs, our warm homes, and camp out in front of the White House to try to stop the war. "We'll put a call out to women across the country," we said, "and the streets of Washington DC will be flooded with angry women saying 'no' to an unjustified war." During the four cold, winter months we spent in front of the White House, hundreds of women came to join us, and over 10,000 marched with us when we ended the vigil. But we kept wondering where were the masses, where were the millions of women who-according to the polls-were strongly opposed to the war? When a grieving mother, Cindy Sheehan, called on people all over the country to join in her vigil at Crawford, a few thousand-mostly women-responded. But why didn't tens of thousands come? Or 100,000? Where were the millions of women whose hearts must have gone out to Cindy?
A few months back, I asked a group of international women for advice. They talked about their own struggles, and two issues kept cropping up: persistence and solidarity. "It took us decades to overthrow the oppressive apartheid regime," said one woman from South Africa, "and one of the things that kept us going was solidarity from the outside world-people getting arrested at South African embassies abroad, refusing to buy South African products, sending us moral support." The others agreed. "The struggle has to come from within," said a woman who had spent years organizing landless peasants in Brazil, "and you in the US have more freedom to organize than we ever had. But US women need to feel the support of their sisters overseas, just like we have had tremendous international support."
So a few weeks ago, CODEPINK drafted a Global Women's Call for Peace in Iraq with the idea of asking women around the world to sign on and then march to US embassies on March 8, International Women's Day, to turn them in. We thought that the idea of women worldwide putting pressure on the US government would inspire US women to stand up as well.
We sent our friends overseas a draft of the Call--which included the withdrawal of foreign troops, no permanent bases, rebuilding funds going directly to Iraqis instead of US companies, and equal rights for women. It immediately "went viral," with women from Mongolia and Mexico, Australia and Albania, the Philippines and Pakistan requesting to be among the initial endorsers. Our goal of getting 100 prominent women to sign quickly become 150, then 200, and before we even officially launched the campaign, over 3,000 women (and male allies) had signed on to the new website www.womensaynotowar.org.
Suddenly, it felt as if we were unleashing a long-pent up torrent of women's voices shouting "Enough"-enough death, enough destruction, enough misuse of our world's resources, enough hatred, intolerance and fear. As we say in the call, "This is not the world we want for ourselves or our children. With fire in our bellies and love in our hearts, we women are rising up-across borders-to unite and demand an end to the bloodshed."
So please join us in building this global call, spreading it to our friends at home and abroad to get at least 100,000 women on board. Please commit to doing a local action on March 8-shut down a recruiting center, sit in at a congressional office, vigil on a crowded street corner, paint a peace mural. Or join us in Washington DC, where Iraqi, US and British women who have lost their sons in this war, including Cindy Sheehan, will try to meet with US women leaders from Condoleezza Rice to Hillary Clinton to push our Peace Plan.
Let's make this March 8 a day when we revive the fighting spirit of International Women's Day, when we unleash the power of women coming together across generations, races, ethnicities, religions, and borders. Let's make it a day when we show our anger over the war, our compassion for our sisters in Iraq, our disgust with our leaders, and our determination to change course. And let's commit to building, over the long term, a women's peace movement that will make our global sisters, and our grandmothers, proud.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace. Please visit www.womensaynotowar.org to sign the call and join us on March 8.