By Rae Abileah and Medea Benjamin
On Friday, March 30, First Lady Michelle Obama received an unusual request at her San Francisco fundraiser. Instead of “Can I have a picture with you?,” one major donor asked, “Will you use your leadership to prevent an attack on Iran?” Kristin Hull hand delivered to Ms. Obama a petition against war on Iran that was signed by prominent women including Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, and Eve Ensler, and over 20,000 American women and allies. Hull implored the First Lady to think of the military families and veterans who have paid the price of war. Ms. Obama has championed veterans’ issues while in office and for this reason, in addition to her obvious proximity to the President, women’s groups have made her a focus of their peace efforts.
Ms. Obama thanked Hull for her advocacy and said, “Keep up the great work.” As Hull was walking away after her photo with the First Lady, Michelle Obama grabbed her hand, squeezed it and said, “We really need you.”
The petition implores three powerful American female politicians—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ambassador Susan Rice and First Lady Michelle Obama—to use their influence to push for diplomacy, not bombing, in US relations with Iran. The next step will be to hand-deliver the petition to Clinton. CODEPINK launched this petition online on March 20th, the 9th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq (coincidentally also on the Iranian New Year, Norooz), with a call from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. “Nine years ago, I joined CODEPINK in front of the White House in an act of civil disobedience to try to stop our government from bombing Iraq,” said Alice Walker. “None of us could live with ourselves if we sat by idly while a country filled with children was blown to bits using money we needed in the United States to build hospitals, housing and schools. We must not let another tragic war begin.”
Indeed, the writing on the wall looks eerily similar to the lead up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, with the government using crippling sanctions and the media stirring up fear among the public. The millions who marched against war in 2003 did not succeed in preventing an attack on Iraq, but the American public is now war weary and more interested in fixing our tattered economy than getting involved in another draining military adventure overseas. While one recent poll showed that if Israel attacks Iran, 47 percent thought the United States should support Israel vs. 42 percent who said we should not get involved, another poll found that the public overwhelmingly favors a diplomatic solution—69 percent preferred negotiations while 24 percent wanted an Israeli strike.
The CODEPINK petition is designed to increase the visibility of that anti-war sentiment. It was created at the request of an Israeli group, the Coalition of Women for Peace, who modeled their own petition after a call to action from a group of women inside Iran. “I thought it was so beautiful that women from Iran, Israel and the United States were coming together across borders to stop war,” said Alice Walker.
“This petition reminds us that governments don’t always represent their people,” said Dr. Dalit Baum, a founding member of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace. “With all the war mongering between the leaders of Israel, the US and Iran, it is the voice of women that reminds us that people will try to avoid war and seek out humanity.”
U.S. feminist author Gloria Steinem has also lent her voice to this effort to stop a new war. “Before the U.S. military attacked Iraq, I joined many activists, writers and artists in signing a call opposing a preemptive military invasion of Iraq,” said Steinem. “We feared such a war would increase human suffering, arouse animosity toward our country, damage the economy and undermine our moral standing in the world. Our fears turned out to be right. Once again we are calling on people to stop another devastating war, and we’re especially calling on women—as we’ve seen from Ireland to Libya, women often have a peacemaking advantage. Let’s hope this time our government listens.”
Another cross-border phenomenon erupted recently on Facebook when Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edri posted a photo of himself with his daughter and the message “Iranians We Love You. We will never bomb your country.” Edri and his partner Michal Tamir invited others to make similar images, and were soon flooded with responses by Israelis posting their photos with heartfelt messages. Within 48 hours, Iranians responded with similar expressions of love for Israelis, highlighting images of Jewish historic landmarks in Iran and Iranians who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
Responding to a photo of a worried-looking Israeli mother with her son, one Iranian wrote, “I had experience with war. I was just 10 years old when I went to defend my country from Iraq. Many of my friends died and disappeared. I cannot forget that time in my life. I can understand why you worry about your kids. Your photo reminds me of my mother’s face. I respect you very much. I hope war never happens between our countries. God bless you and all of the mothers in the world.”
Maryam Howe, an Iranian living in England, believes the Iranian response would be ever greater were it not for government restrictions and fear. “I know my people don’t have access to Facebook because of the government filtering and even if they did manage to have access, they may get into trouble for liking these pages,” she wrote. “I promise they would support this 100%. We want peace and freedom. We ♥ Israelis and all other nations. I adore you for doing such a beautiful thing by starting this page. It’s amazing to see how love spreads across our borders.”
Despite restrictions, the Israeli organizers say that in one week, 33,000 Iranians visited the new website they created, Israel Loves Iran., and the facebook page is peppered with comments from Iranians.
This exchange has now gone global, with people around the world—including many Americans—sending in heartwarming videos, photos and messages. CODEPINK is contributing to this campaign by launching a new site, www.weloveiran.org, that allows people toupload their own photo and superimpose a message on the picture, post it to their Facebook, tweet it, and share it with friends. Some of the images will become larger than life when projected on the Capital and State Department buildings later this month.
Faced with the specter of a catastrophic war, groups like CODEPINK are putting pressure on politicians—and their wives—to use diplomacy. But ordinary folks are also going around the politicians by reaching out to each other. As one American wrote on the facebook page, “Politicians and weapons makers cultivate hate to yield more power and earn more money. We, the people, must be the countervailing force that cultivates love for humanity and prevents them from taking us to war.”