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November 28, 2007

Creating an Institution for Peace

There are two reasons that I don't blog on a regular basis: one, I have a truly full-time job and cannot spend time during the workday researching or writing and two, I have dedicated 85% of my free time to WILPF. (The other 15% is spent watching teevee.)

I have chosen not to write about the internal mechanisms of WILPF on this extremely public blog. While I will continue to refrain from delving into intra-personal conflict details that are best resolved through other fora, I feel it's time to address some of my WILPF work in a public forum.

Being a Member of the National Board
I've been accused of being power hungry and squandering the organization's resources on petty junkets to gab with my sister board members. The board, through a strategic planning process, is planning to restructure the composition of the next board. We have engaged stakeholders in the planning process, though they do not have equal decision-making authority. We are rolling out the vision through a series of conference calls this week with our national membership. This process has been demoralizing and fatiguing. While many people (include my local branch board) are supportive of the process, others choose to criticize and berate us for the format through which we are making changes. Rather than ask for background on the work of the board and the reasons the current board is considering a restructuring, members have decided that the position titles they prefer should be added to the next term. In the next breath, we are denounced for focusing solely on the structural needs of the organization and not spending enough time discussing the political underpinnings of the organization. Furthermore, our organization's financial precariousness is apparently caused solely by the lack of vigorous fundraising at the board level.

I have to admit that this whole discussion makes me question my unwavering support for the oldest women's peace organization. Unlike many US members, I became involved in WILPF because of my intellectual appreciation for the institution. As a peace & justice studies scholar, I learned the importance of strong civil institutions to hold governments and corporations in check. Without a strong institution, the best political rhetoric and most intriguing banners and actions wont make lasting change in this world. I think many of my sister WILPFers have more in common with the anarchists I've met in the blogosphere, than they do with the founding mothers of WILPF. Their disparaging comments on serious review of national structure is flabbergasting to me. Apparently, great program alone is the way to making our organization thrive.

As the National Program Chair, I know part of the criticism thrust at me is that I spend too much time trying to herd cats rather than do action. I'm never quite clear what action I'm supposed to be doing - as a trained organizer, I'm trying to give people the tools to lead our multi-issue organization, rather than be the leader of a fiefdom. Alas, volunteer efforts ebb and flow as the other areas of life creep in and snatch away time (illness and family obligations are the two major culprits in removing activists from our midst). And sometimes, I'll be honest, I disagree with the paths chosen by my sister activists. I believe writing this blog on a regular basis would be a better contribution to the social upheaval needed to create peace & justice in this world than wasting time writing letters to the editors of mainstream newspapers. Similarly, I don't want to spend my time organizing marches or rallies. But I respect the people who choose those paths of activism. I choose to deeply engage in issues and to write and speak about the hypocrisy and injustice in the world, rather than marching or holding honk for peace signs.

For the last several years, I've spent the majority of my time trying to create a structure that better supports the activism within WILPF and the greater peace & justice movement. Every time I read about rape as a war crime and how the international community consistently turns a blind eye, I remember why I'm involved in a women's peace organization. Every time I see misogyny on t.v. - be it the dozens of "models" on Deal or No Deal or the inability for a female contestant to win the audience's votes on Dancing with the Stars - I am reminded why even in this country, it is vitally important for women to stand together for peace & justice.

But I am tired. I'm serving my second three-year term on this board. During my first term, I watched my mentors quit - as they realized deep involvement with the org was not aligned with their personal commitments to peace & justice, because the org refused to change its parochial, upper middle class, older white women's closed society ways. During my second term, I watched the younger members of the board leave to focus more on their work (leaving me to wonder why I spent my 20s focused on WILPF rather than my paid work), and my best friend move onto involvement at the international level. I am very grateful that there are term limits and I cannot stand for another term on the board (unless I ran for President). I am tired of spending my life on this organization. Don't get me wrong - I'm a life member, and I'm not going away. Next June, I'll step down as Program Chair, but I'll still be the co-convener of the International Communications Committee and I'll still be involved in the Los Angeles branch. Hopefully, this break from involvement at the national level will allow me the room to breathe. To not wake up every day thinking about WILPF - to allow myself to create the semblance of a social life. I am hopeful that the next wave of board members will have the strength to continue implementing the strategic vision this board began.

To learn more about the US Section of WILPF, check out our website.

To learn more about Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, check out our international site.

Peace Women is an international WILPF project that monitors the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates women's equal participation in conflict and post-conflict resolution.

Reaching Critical Will is an international WILPF project that believes it will take a critical mass of political will for nuclear disarmament.

The Jane Addams Peace Association is educational affiliate of WILPF. Named for our famous, Nobel Peace Prizing winning, founding member, tax deductible donations to WILPF's peace work can be made through JAPA.

For more information on the Los Angeles branch, please email wilpfla AT yahoo DOT com.

Posted by cj at November 28, 2007 9:08 PM


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