Notes from WILPF Gathering, July 2011 by Cathy Breen
(I had a delightful tour from Joanne Andrews of the Granary and the trail behind (which was thinned 3 years ago), and got a little 5” seedling fir tree to take back to NYC. Am just amazed at how beautifully maintained the houses and extensive grounds are, and at how knowledgeable and adept Joanne is.)
Peggy Luhrs: Militarism and the Environment
Peggy spoke about how the military pollutes the environment. Her special anger was that the mayor of Burlington has invited war profiteer Lockheed Martin to town to “help with climate change". Her outrage was shared. Peggy’s presentation elicited a lively and varied discussion ranging from themes of electrical grids/meters and drones to that of nuclear weapons facilities and the use of DU bullets used at the firing range in Jericho, VT. Many in the circle contributed with their own comments, helpful facts and recommendations for films and books on the topic. (i.e. Scarred Lands/Wounded Lives by Alice and Lincoln Day).
Health Care in Vermont: How have we gotten as far as we've gotten?
Megan Sheehan of the VT Workers Center told how the Center got started. About how people struggling with poor working conditions and health issues were listened to. How a grass roots movement began and people in difficult situations began to unite. How chapters began to be built everywhere in the state…”an opportunity to show how all our struggles are united.” Used media to tell stories and affect legislators. Then Progressive Vt. House Representative Sandy Haas spoke about how the 2005 Single Payer Bill was introduced and was later passed, only to be vetoed by the Republican governor. As Sandy described the present bill (signed by Democrat Governor Peter Shumlin)“for every individual there would be a primary care team, to look at a person holistically. One-third of costs are due to advanced care planning, she said, and she brought up the issues of hospice, palliative care and the scare tactic of calling end of life discussions 'death panels'. She spoke of the “incredible division across the country between Democrats and Republicans. " "Is the bill going to be based only on traditional and pharmaceutical medicine and not holistic?" was one of the questions that arose.
Questions were put to Rep. Sandy, and issues like paying off exorbitant student loans for years and years, and loan forgiveness were brought up. One WILPFer has a 26 year old friend who owes $200,000 in loans from Boston U. Another said “We have to treat health care as a public good.”
Paij Wadley-Bailey: Rwanda
Paij began her presentation about Rwanda by showing a DVD about the use of solar cookers in Africa, particularly in Kenya in a large refugee camp there. Paij will be traveling to Rwanda in August for her 9th trip there and is hoping to introduce solar cookers. She brought a sample solar cooker with her to show us. Tanya, who has been to Ethiopia, also shared something of the reality of women from that part of Africa. Tanya was able to share only briefly due to time restraints (a scheduled conference call with other WILPF folks) about the extensive degree of female genital mutilation.
The DVD Paij used set the tone of the whole presentation for me. The images graphically depicted the utter impoverishment and destitution of the people due to drought, deforestation and lack of vegetation and/or livestock, and was appalling to witness. The film demonstrated how life-saving a simple solar oven/cooker can be in an area of fuel/wood scarcity, where the women and children have to walk at times 20Km to gather firewood. Paij said, about her talks with women in Rwanda: “I can only hear two stories about genocide or I become a basket case,” underscoring the dire situation our sisters and brothers there face. In the village she goes to there are about 340 women and 50 men. Paij brought up the problem that the plastic bag needed for the solar cooking unit is far from ideal. It is plastic and easily damaged. Then what? The question arose about WILPF not being a charitable organization. Someone else said “If basic needs are not met…..having sustainable projects is a political act.” “Perhaps WILPF has to do it differently….” Hopefully this discussion can continue.
Hattie Nestel spoke on Nuclear Plants and Nuclear Power
She focusing on the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant. Vermont Yankee's license will expire on Mar. 12, 2012. Many US reactors are 40 years old. The Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 against renewing the license. Some figures noted:
-U.S. gets 1/5 of its energy from nuclear plants.
-In Germany 8 of their 17 nuclear plants were closed after Fukushima.
-3/4th of uranium mining occurs on aboriginal lands.
-She recommends a book about Alice Stewart: The Woman Who Knew Too Much by Gayle Greene.
Paki Weiland: the Gaza Flotilla
She spoke about her recent effort to sail on the US boat “Audacity of Hope” which was part of the flotilla to Gaza. She led us in a very personally engaging way through the difficulties they experienced as well as the positive media coverage. They were in Athens during the general strike; some fasted in front of the US Embassy in Athens and were detained for a period of hours. The fast was in solidarity with the captain of the boat who was detained. She showed us a great slide show.
-On Thurs., Sept 15, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will be coming to the UN to request Palestinian statehood, and there will be demonstrations at the UN on that day.
-One WILPFer spoke about how they are trying to get people to divest their monies from Motorola, Caterpillar, etc., and withdraw money from TIAA- CREF.
-Israel gets $3 billion a year from the US.
Cathy Breen and Charlotte Dennett on the Arab Spring
Cathy from Voices for Creative Nonviolence talked about her recent trip to Syria and Jordan and the restive climate in the Middle East. How Iraq and Iraqi refugees are forgotten, and how things have changed for them in the last two months with respect to decreased resettlement numbers to the US and their fear of returning to ongoing violence and war in Iraq. A Syrian woman Cathy greatly respects for her compassion and astute analysis told her in an official visit last April in Damascus: “I do not question the intentions or the genuineness of the revolutions, of the movements [in the M.E.], but I am skeptical of the outcome…and the media is not helping. Having people in the streets doesn’t create institutions. There are no clear leaders. When a revolution doesn’t have clear leaders or agendas, who will lead the change? Look at Iraq!…which was to be a model, a country that had all the humanitarian assistance, the support of the international community, a clear agenda supported by the west. Look at Iraq today…with an absence of security, of basic services…”
Charlotte Dennett, proficient author and researcher on Middle Eastern events, followed Cathy. She had our rapt attention as she shared her own analysis of events in the Middle East, stressing that it is “too early to assess.” She asked our thoughts on “what are people protesting?” and continued to draw out the listeners' ideas throughout the evening. More than once, Charlotte referred to the publication Foreign Affairs, and recommended David Hirst’s book “Beware of Small States….Lebanon? and “Rock the Kasbah" by Robyn Wright. She spoke about the importance of the Mediterranean Sea…in terms of oil, “the great game for oil.” She outlined three pipeline oil routes and passed various maps around. The great powers have realized that you “can’t have instability where you have pipelines.”