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Special Guest

Nobel Laureat Jody Williams

On Friday morning, September 25, more than 300 people filled the Driscoll Ballroom on the University campus for an informal discussion with 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Jody Williams. Ms. Williams was at the University of Denver to participate in the largest gathering of Nobel Laureates ever to occur outside of the Nobel Peace Prize Foundation in Norway, as PeaceJam celebrated its 10th Anniversary. PeaceJam is an Arvada, Colorado based organization that brings together Nobel Peace Prize winners to work with the youth of the world.
The ninety-minute session, hosted by the Conflict Resolution Institute, was moderated by Karen Feste, director of the Conflict Resolution Institute Graduate Program. The discussion was guided by questions posed by four student panelists, all M.A. candidates in Conflict Resolution - Babikir Babikir, Mikaela-Ladwig Williams, Tammy Rubenstein, and Adam Christopher. Topics under discussion ranged from international peace-building to civil society, from causes of terrorism and revolution, to domestic violence. Ms. Williams' responses provided not only rich commentary but often, specific recommendations for individual actions. She believes strongly that grassroots movements and public campaigns are important to changing policies and bringing peace.
Williams received the Nobel Peace prize as a result of her efforts to ban the production and use of "anti-personnel" landmines. Through her work, 122 foreign governments signed a Mine Ban Treaty that covers victim assistance, mine clearing and destroying stockpiled landmines.
Babikir Babikir opened the discussion with the subject of anti- Arab sentiments that have swept the U.S. post-9/11 and then asked, "If you were Dr. Condoleezza Rice, would you be willing to head a team to negotiate with al Qaeda?" Noticeably surprised by this question, Ms.Williams replied that yes, she would most definitely attempt to negotiate with the terrorist group, and went on to highlight the role that negotiation plays in the resolution of conflict and terrorism.
Mikaela Ladwig-Williams, a second-year master's student and president of the Conflict Resolution Graduate Student Association (CRGSA), asked Ms. Williams about the role of the United Nations in maintaining international peace and security, suggesting that since its inception over sixty years ago, the UN's efforts have been plagued by politics, a lack of funding, and lack of global support, its future impact is uncertain. She wanted to know specifically what role the UN should have in our international peace-making efforts and what steps and/or changes are necessary to strengthen the organization. In response, Jody Williams, recognizing the importance and potential of the United Nations, noted that many of the UN's flaws stem from its origins as a post-World War II creation of the self-proclaimed victors. She added
that as long as the members of the Security Council, especially the United States, have veto power and general control of UN decisions and forces, it will remain plagued by politics. She noted, in addition, the gross under-representation of women in the UN as symptomatic of its structural flaws.
Tammy Rubenstein, in her questions, pursued the issue of gender equality on a community level, asking Jody Williams about the mission of the recently established Nobel Woman's Initiative to improve global justice. What major problems did the group confront with various cultures and beliefs about gender and equality? The Nobel Laureate's response emphasized the importance of sensitizing movements for change to local cultural conditions in order to pursue appropriate, realistic programs for improving equality for women. She believes strongly that progress is possible, but needs to be calibrated and understood within a cultural context. Projecting an optimistic outlook, she said that careful planning and appropriate action will help individual countries in the transition process.
Adam Christopher took the discussion in another direction, raising a philosophical point about transitioning societies: "The specter of revolution and terrorism alike have plagued civil societies for generations," he said, adding that the United States itself has a rich tradition of political and social upheaval, such that its national identity even idolizes the revolutionary in some ways. "With political revolt being not only a core value, but as Thomas Jefferson said, a duty of the American citizen, how does that fit in with your conception of peaceful civil society?" Ms. Williams reminded the audience that revolution need not necessitate violence. She noted that there are many examples of political revolution that have been carried out peacefully, one example being the movement led by Gandhi.
"Ms. Williams was hilarious and provocative, and I think she is an excellent person to inspire others to action," Christina Nobel Laureate Jody Williams and CRI Graduate Program Director Karen Feste react to a question from the audience. Farnsworth, a first year Conflict Resolution M.A. student said. "I don't think anyone could have walked away without being challenged."
"My personal politics are different from Ms. Williams', but because she spoke the way she did, it forced me to open up a little and hear very real thoughts and extremely focused ideals," Joseph Gary, a first year Conflict Resolution M.A. student said.
During the final 30 minutes, Ms. Williams engaged audience members by addressing their questions, telling personal stories that led to her Nobel Peace Prize award, and urging audience members to take action to bring about change. When the session ended, the audience seemed energized and gave Ms. Williams a standing ovation.
- K. Feste, M. Pilz, and K. Zimmerly all contributed to this story