Where are the Voices of Reason and Dissent?

Four years ago last week I published an article in local papers and across the internet asking “where are the women”?

In September 2001 this was the chant reverberating throughout a stadium flooded with 10 thousand participants during the NGO closing ceremonies at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. This was the conference that the Bush Administration refused participation.

Fidel Castro was the honored speaker along with five dark suited dignitaries–all males-who took seats at a table behind him. Before Castro began to address the attendees, a lone voice shouted across the vast crowd: “where are the women”?

Within seconds the mantra rumbled from the masses crossing lines of race, gender and nationality. The entire stadium echoed and shook with the chorus “where are the women?”

There we were celebrating the end of a two-week world conference in which oppression and the marginalization, of the disenfranchised was center stage and there was not a woman to be seen or heard from at the podium-apart from the interpreter.

At the time, no one imagined that in just a few days the World Trade Center would be demolished and a month later the United States would stage a war in Afghanistan in which few voices of reason or sanity were audible.

First in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq, the voices of reason–and noticeably women–have been muted throughout the four years of destruction and devastation.

In 2001, Congresswoman Barbara Lee courageously voted against the 40 billion dollars for the military to retaliate against the terrorist attacks. In a vote of 420-to-1 she was the lone dissenting voice that said no, we should not go to war.

Ms. Lee had the audacity to suggest–and the courage to declare–that the annihilation of civilian men, women and children abroad wasn’t an appropriate response to the terrorist attacks in the U.S. and that we should not rush to war.

During an interview in September 2001 Ms. Lee said “We don’t know the real nature of terrorism in the true sense of the word. We have not invested in combating terrorism the way we should have, which involves many issues. I am convinced that military action alone will not prevent further terrorist attacks.”

And four years later, it turns out the lone voice drowning in a sea of testosterone was right.

This wasn’t “women’s intuition”. It was a perspective based on a broader and more informed viewpoint of American foreign policy.

As a result of speaking out Ms Lee was ostracized and rewarded with death threats that required her to secure police protection.

More recently Cindy Sheehan, a grieved mother who lost her son in Iraq raised her voice and requested a meeting with the White House. She was rebuffed, and eventually handcuffed and arrested and labeled ‘unpatriotic’ for being unwilling to sacrifice her son–good-naturedly.

This week it seems only fitting to highlight the importance of women and the role the feminine has played in igniting the conscience of the nation during the week of Rosa Parks’ death.

What is the feminine perspective? It is a perspective that values life above all else but it is one that is also adept at negotiations and communication.

The feminine perspective (which is not soley the possession of women) weighs humanitarian issues along side of the political–rather than in place of it. And historically-like it or not– it is primarily the masculine that destroys human life through war, aggression and greed and the feminine which counterbalances the tendency to dominate, conquer and exterminate.

Without a feminine perspective, the masculine gender regrettably seem to ‘misplace’ their humanity. Often times it is in the presence of the feminine that the masculine remembers itself-as a member of the human family.

Whether sitting in the back of the bus or refusing to give up their seat to intimidation, women in history have always been the stalwart shepherds of movements to ensure civil rights, human rights, women’s rights and workers rights. Harriett Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells and the list goes on. And quite often it is the feminine perspective that has pricked the national conscience and forced politicians and policy makers to adopt more reasonable policies regarding human rights violations in war.

This could be the very reason why feminine voices are so often absent or marginalized in discussions involving politics and war. Because the value placed on human life might interfere with a war-for-profit agenda.

If you are skeptical about the lack of feminine perspective or influence, pick up a daily newspaper or tune into television news. How many images feature women negotiating with world leaders or women signing bills that violate civil rights or target immigrants for the greater good?

Many argue Condoleeza Rice is proof that the feminine perspective is represented on the world stage. Let’s keep in mind that Ms. Rice is a double minority in an organization that does not tolerate dissent. She has by all accounts obeyed this administration to the letter without faltering in support of her boss in the U.S. led Iraqi invasion. She would certainly not be there if she did otherwise-as is evidenced in the recent White House indictments.

And now this administration would like us to somehow believe that women have been fully and seriously considered in the quest for a supreme court judge to replace Sandra Day O’Connor by the absurd nomination of the underwhelmingly qualified Harriet Myers-a long time friend and crony of the president.

Are we really to accept that Harriet Myers is the best and only female candidate we can come up with and that because she was nominated that the president did his best to ‘balance’ the Supreme Court?

Both conservatives and liberals have made it clear that believing the president to be the smartest man Myers has ever met hardly ensures a Supreme Court nomination. In fact, that statement alone probably prompted both parties to further question her qualifications.

There are many worthy women who are appropriate nominees for the conservative male-heavy Supreme Court.

And now, after combing through and exhausting all the possibilities from his senior year book, the president has moved on to a considerably more qualified candidate, A man. A conservative white man from New Jersey named Samuel Alito-often referred to as “Scolito.”

The very week of Rosa Parks death, the president nominates a man who might very well undermine and undo the heroic efforts of this woman-a black woman-who risked her life and challenged the nation. Ms. Parks act demanded that the nation look deep within ourselves and root out the racist precepts that have dictated and dominated governmental policies that have supported racial oppression and discrimination for several hundred years.

Although Ms. Parks actions were considered dangerous in the 1950’s, we have discovered in the last several years of terror, that disruptive voices of dissent are still roundly criticized, discredited and dismissed. It takes a lot of courage–and maybe a death wish–to stand up and confront U.S. leadership about the current crisis–especially if you are black and a woman like Barbara Lee.

Ms. Parks faced it all. Although she is now acknowledged as a heroine, during the 50’s Ms. Parks, like Dr. King, was considered dangerous, was spit on and hated for insisting on receiving equal treatment under the law.

The voices and actions of woman like Rosa Parks are needed as much in 2005 as they were in the 1950’s. And they are needed in high places, like the Supreme Court.

In a democracy, the voices of dissent are imperative. Without them we are doomed to lapse into an unconscious sleepy obedience that ultimately results in domination and usually death and destruction.

Thank God for the Rosa Parks of the world and the many voices of reason and dissent who shed light on wars and injustice.

They are certainly present, we just don’t get to hear from them very often.

Molly Secours is a writer/filmmaker speaker and frequent co-host of Behind The Headlines on WFSK 88.1 FM. She can be reached at www.mollysecours.com

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