Williams: ‘Get involved’
Humble and disarming, yet with emphatic conviction, she spoke of her trajectory as an “ordinary citizen” from a small Vermont town, to her decade of activism for peace in Central America during the 1980s, and finally to her co-founding of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1991, whose “no-brainer” appeal culminated in 122 nations signing a treaty on a single day in 1997.
“Land mines are a daily terror to millions of people every day,” she said, noting places such as Cambodia and Afghanistan, where people live in fear of being blown up simply for the act of walking.
In 1991, Williams was contacted by the Vietnam Veterans of America to help with the land mine crisis there. The VVA had set up a prosthetics clinic in Cambodia, yet was quite frustrated with the idea of simply replacing missing limbs. Preferring prevention to reaction, it launched the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Although the treaty has now been signed by 141 nations, the United States and Cuba remain the only non-signatories in the Western Hemisphere.
Williams said that in the post-9/11 era, people must overcome their fear of free speech and start “asking questions” if they want things to improve. She also lamented how many in this country seem to “fear hearing things they don’t want to hear,” citing fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias (well received at Laxson last October), who was loudly booed at a public forum in Florida for merely suggesting, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that just “three more months” be allowed for the United Nations team to finish inspections. Over a hundred people walked out singing “God Bless America,” she said.
Williams also noted that people seem hungry for other points of view. Yet this variety is harder to come by, as ever fewer and larger conglomerates consolidate control over what we see and hear in print, radio, and television. She characterized this concentration as “the biggest threat to democracy in the U.S.”
People have to “reclaim their rights as citizens” and to educate themselves, she said. Williams opined that there is “a gap between the myth and reality” of what is really going on in the world, noting that the ideals of “freedom, self-determination, justice, and equality” that we stand for at home are “not what we promote abroad.”
“After Sept. 11, we have purposely been made to feel overwhelmed, isolated, and impotent,” she said, as if we were supposed to “just shut up and let the government do whatever it wants in our name.
“I have every right as an active citizen to help create the world I want to live in,” Williams declared.
She received hearty applause upon reminding the audience, “We elect the government to do what we want, not so that after they are elected they can do what they want."