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Women against NATO

One feature of anti-NATO activities planned here is the presence of several women leaders who have notable records of directly confronting war-makers, of “speaking truth to power,” sometimes at significant personal risk.

In addition to their own stories, they offer valuable perspectives on the crucial issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan.  That’s also the subject of a Shadow Summit for Afghan Women’s Rights being held by Amnesty International at the Swissotel, 325 E. Wacker, on Sunday, May 20, the opening day of the NATO summit – where, Amnesty notes, Afghan women won’t be represented, though their interests will be seriously impacted.

Kathy Kelly, Malalai Joya, and Medea Benjamin are each speaking at the People’s Summit, Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13, at 500 W. Cermak (schedule here) and at the No to NATO rally Sunday, May 20 at noon in Grant Park.

Kathy Kelly

Born and raised on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Kathy Kelly became an anti-war activist through the Uptown Catholic Worker House in the late 1970s.  She’s been arrested in peace actions over 60 times and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, once by Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire.  She co-founded Voices in the Wilderness in 1995, which sent medical supplies to Iraq in defiance of the U.S. embargo.

With VITW and its successor, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, founded in 2005, Kelly has travelled countless times to war zones; she was in Baghdad for the U.S. invasion in 2003, Lebanon during the 2006 invasion, and Gaza during the Israeli attack in 2008; she and her colleagues have visited Iraq and Afghanistan extensively.

“We try to live in poor neighborhoods, alongside people who can’t escape the war zones, and listen to ordinary people whose voices are never heard,” she said.  She frequently reports on the experiences and views of the people she lives among.  She talks about the 250 Afghan children dying of starvation every day, while the U.S. spends $2 billion a week on the war.

“She’s an inspirational leader,” said Rev. Bob Bossie, who co-founded VITW and is now retired. “She’s radically committed to nonviolence.”  VCVN “is known across the country as an organization that’s not sitting on its heels, that’s taking risks in a nonviolent way to say we won’t be compliant, we will speak out again and again and stand with the people who are being oppressed,” he said.

The group “challenges us all to see what we more can do – what next step can I take,” he said.  “We can’t all go to war zones, but we can all do more.”

The announcement that the U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan is “very misleading,” Kellly said.  “It’s simply not true.  The Joint Special Operations forces, the most intimidating and fearsome warriors on the planet, will remain till 2024 and beyond.

“Our bases will be turned over the to Afghan government, which will lease them back to us.  We’re building the world’s largest embassy in Kabul – it’s really a huge base – and we’re building three prisons.  The night raids will continue at the insistence of the U.S.

“All these things are going to continue, so how can we say the U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan?  It’s hypocritical.

“And all these things mean the Taliban will keep fighting, and the people of Afghanistan will be subjected to another decade of warfare.”

Kathy Kelly is currently taking part in a VCNV march from Madison to Chicago.  She’s also on a panel on “How does war end” (3:15 p.m., Friday, May 18) at the Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice at People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence.

Malalai Joya

Born in Western Afghanistan in 1978, shortly before the Soviet invasion, Malalai Joya is of a generation that has “only known bloodshed, displacement, and occupation,” she writes in her book, “A Woman Among Warlords.”

Her father lost a leg fighting the Soviets, and she grew up in refugee camps.  She was not yet 20 when a women’s rights group sent her back to Afghanistan to start an underground school for girls, illegal under the Taliban.  She was 25 when, as a delegate to the Loya Jirga, she denounced the warlords who had taken over from the Tablian. She was accosted and insulted and finally removed from the assembly (see video below).

But her speech won widespread popular favor, and she was elected to the national assembly in 2005 – and then expelled in 2007 for making remarks deemed disrespectful.

She continues to campaign for peace, democracy, and women’s rights, though after several assassination attempts, she moves constantly between safehouses, attended by bodyguards.

In “A Woman Among Warlords,” Joya writes:  “The situation in Afghanistan is getting progressively worse. And not just for women, but for all Afghans. We are caught between two enemies — the Taliban on one side and the U.S./ NATO forces and their warlord friends on the other. And the dark-minded forces in our country are gaining power with every allied air strike that kills civilians, with every corrupt government official who grows fat on bribes and thievery, and with every criminal who escapes justice…

“In Afghanistan, democratic-minded people have been struggling for human and women’s rights for decades. Our history proves that these values cannot be imposed by foreign troops. As I never tire of telling my audiences, no nation can donate liberation to another nation. These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves. They can only grow and flourish when they are planted by the people in their own soil and watered by their own blood and tears.”

From a recent speech: “We need security and a helping hand from  friends around the world, not this endless U.S.-led ‘war on terror,’ which is in fact a war on the Afghan people….Today the soil of Afghanistan is full of land mines, bullets, and bombs – when what we really need is an invasion of hospitals, clinics, and schools for boys and girls.”

Medea Benjamin

Before she co-founded Code Pink, Medea Benjamin co-founded Global Exchange, an international human rights organization that helped force Nike to address sweatshop issues in the 1990s.

Code Pink – named for the Bush administration’s color-coded security alerts – has disrupted speeches by George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, Hillary Clinton, Benjamin Netanyahu and others, and has organized delegations to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Benjamin has a new book out on “Drone Warfare.”

“There’s no easy solution” to the problem of women’s rights in Afghanistan, she said. She notes that women she’s met with there have a range of opinions on how to proceed – and that, contrary to perceptions here, women outside cities find themselves in “pretty much the same situation” they were in under the Taliban. “They’re still going around in burqas.”

“Whether the U.S. pulls out this year or next year or the year after, there are still going to be fundamentalists, and women are still going to have to fight for their rights,” Benjamin said. “It’s going to have to be an indigenous solution.”

Many women there say “there will be no peace without a negotiated solution, and Afghan women must br at the table where negotiations are going on,” Benjamin said.  But with secret talks now going on between the U.S. the Taliban, she points out, that isn’t happening.

Medea Benjamin joins human rights activist Rafia Zakaria to discuss “Drone Wars,” Monday, May 14, 7 p.m. at the Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood.  She’s also joining with colleagues from Code Pink in a panel of “creative tactics for peace and justice” at the Counter-Summit (Friday, May 18, 3:15 p.m.)

Confronting power

Malalai Joya’s speech to the Loya Jirga, December 17, 2003

Medea Benjamin confronts John Brennan, Special Assistant to the President on Counterterrorism, April 30, 2012, Washington DC

Kathy Kelly speaks to Missouri riot police at an anti-drone protest at Whiteman Air Force Base on April 15; three people seeking to present a war crimes indictment were arrested. (Seven more were arrested at an anti-drone protest at Volk Field in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin on April 24.)

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