Communicating Across Issues and Cultures

16 October 2005

My friends,

I am sorry it has taken me so long to chime in on this fascinating discussion. I’ve been catching up by reading your postings, and I am finding myself alternately discouraged (Mu Sochua’s bad news about the democracy radio operator’s arrest) and incredibly optimistic (Monique’s report on how far Congolese women have come; Visaka’s description of the rural women’s workshops in Sri Lanka —  I want to hear about those politicians’ workshops!)

I am late because I have been rather overwhelmed with work on behalf of the International Campaign for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma (USA); we are keeping pressure on the UN Security Council nations to put the issue of Burma on the table, and it is a full-time commitment on top of my several other full-time commitments.

On October 4 we ended a three-month series of events that began with demonstrations at the White House, US Capitol, and 12 embassies  in Washington, DC; continued with a “long march for freedom” to New York City (300 miles) over 30 days; and ended with peaceful demonstrations and a 17-day hunger strike.

I have been fortunate to be involved with this small but determined group of people, all political refugees from Burma. Among the core group who engaged in these activities were six men, ranging in age from 20s to early 60s, and two extraordinary women, both in their 60s.

Alas, the women do not speak English and I speak no Burmese, but we are able to communicate in the basic ways in which people who do not share languages do — by using signs and drawings, and allowing our hearts to speak to each other. There is no other way to describe this powerful means of communication; we understand innately the intensity of our mutual desire for freedom of their brave leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and their countrypeople who are suffering under a tyrannical military regime.

With that as a basis we were able to understand each other quite well, even when our able translators were out of range. Like the other Burmese freedom fighters, the women, Nu Nu Aye and Nyunt Nyunt, were at first a little shocked at my own commitment to the cause of a people so far from my own homeland, but they grew to accept me as one of them, and I know they appreciate my contributions to “their” cause.

Which leads me into what I want to talk about here: women worldwide helping each other. I believe that the Burmese women’s cause is every bit as much my cause as is the protection of my neighbour from her abusive former boyfriend, as is keeping US women’s reproductive choices a matter for them to decide on their own, as is ensuring that my Iraqi and Sudanese sisters are represented fairly in all aspects of the economic and social life, as well as the political life, of their devastated countries as they struggle to find a way forward.

The forces that work against peace, justice, equity, the environment, and human rights do so by dividing and conquering. It is easy for those of us engaging in our various struggles to become splintered, fractured. We concentrate on our own most immediately pressing issues. But we must add on to our already over-full plates the task of keeping dialogue open amongst us, of helping our far-flung sisters (and brothers) in the many efforts we are making around the corner and around the world.

This discussion is a fine example of such an endeavour. I am so pleased to be a part of it and hope to be more actively participatory in the next couple of weeks.




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