Jody Williams On Land Mines And The 1st Amendment

Apr 16, 2014

Jody Williams - 1997 Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Credit Courtesy Nobel Women's Initiative

There are 6 living female recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. One of them, Jody Williams, is from the United States. 

We spent some time with Ms. Williams during her recent visit to the Pine Ridge Reservation to talk about the causes the Vermont native has spent a good portion of her life fighting for: peace, human rights and women’s rights.

To say that Jody Williams is a busy lady is a misnomer at best. If anything, it’s a wonder she has time to sleep. But, then, you can’t have it both ways if you’re going to fight for peace while traveling the globe to visit 75 countries. Not bad for a kid who grew up in small-town Vermont in far from the best conditions.

“Neither of my parents finished high school,” Williams explains. “By the time my Mom was 23 she had four children. My oldest brother was born deaf and became a violent paranoid schizophrenic in adolescence. So, you know, my background is not silver spoon and trust funds. But out of that, I still had incredible love and support from my family to discover who the hell I wanted to be in the world.” 

Yes…Jody Williams is direct and a bit brash. And it’s those qualities, along with that family love and support which led her to protest the Vietnam War and become a life-long advocate of freedom, self-determination and human and civil rights. After seeing the devastation caused by land mines in war-torn El Salvador during her aid work there in the 1980s, Williams began a mission to rid the world of the clandestine killers.

Jody Williams was the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Credit Courtesy Wikipedia

Jody Williams' efforts with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines led to the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, which banned the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. Many in rural areas like South Dakota may question how such a treaty impacts their lives, says Williams, but she notes that no one can live apart from the rest of the world any longer.

“Maybe generations ago that was possible,” Williams comments. “But it really isn’t possible anymore. And the bombs and all of that from World War Two…they’re part of the world in the sense of the Keystone XL pipeline. Right? They may think that they can be safe and secure, you know, here in South Dakota but…what’s happening in the world is affecting the pipeline which may go through their land.”

An outspoken opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, Jody Williams led a delegation of women to the tar sands where oil for the Canadian pipeline is being drilled.

“It’s just not possible to stick your head in a hole like an ostrich and not recognize that even if you don’t want to see what’s happening,” Williams observes. “It’s happening.”

Williams says it doesn’t matter where you live in the world…it’s all about choices.

“You have to make choices about how you want to be,” comments Williams. “You know, how do you want to leave the world. And since people here have a long…but now, confused…tradition of honoring the Earth…you know…standing up and fighting the pipeline…if they’re against it. Recognizing that connects them to the greater world. And it ain’t gonna’ go away.”

And since South Dakota has its own “landmine” area…known as the Badlands Bombing Range, Jody Williams says people here should be quite aware of what causes a situation such as that to develop.

“I find it really interesting that they picked an area that is sacred to Native Americans,” observes Williams. “It’s not dissimilar to putting waste plants in poor sections of cities. Right? The people with access and power and influence can make sure it‘s not in their back yard. But let’s put it where people have no power. And let’s demonstrate in multitudinous ways that they have no power.”

The bottom line according to Williams is that the tradition of creating an “other” exists around the big countries and small, in the cities or in rural America.

“For example, right now we look at The Crimea,” offers Williams. “The ethnic Russians in Ukraine are either on their own or being fomented by Putin against ‘the other’…which is the Ukrainian And they’re against ‘the other’ Ukrainian that wants stronger links to the West. And you have to create ’the other’ in order to destroy them. Right? It’s easy to put waste plants and chemical factories in the lands of ‘the other’ because they are less than we are.”

If she could impart one message to the people of South Dakota, Jody Williams says she’d tell them not to be silent citizens

“I think that people have to understand that not only do we have rights, we have responsibilities to be active citizens in our communities, our states and our country…and, for me, the world,” explains Williams. “That it’s an obligation. It’s an obligation to stand with people who share your view, speak your voice and take a stand on things.”

Failing to do so, adds Jody Williams, gives your power to those who already have it – and they will do with you what they want to.

Her next stop is Paris…for a European-wide meeting on violations of women’s rights. After that, Jody Williams will go wherever she’s needed. 

For more information on Jody Williams:  Nobel Women's Initiative