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Yes, That Nobel Peace Prize

Local activist Barbara Smith nominated for a Nobel as part of 1,000 Peace Women

Barbara Smith has known this might be coming for a couple of years, ever since a professor at Rhode Island College began working on her nomination form. But there’s still a sense of wonderment and emotion in her voice. “I wish to God my mother was alive so she would know she had a daughter who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize,” she said.

Smith was nominated as part of a project started in Switzerland to recognize the kinds of contributions women at the grassroots level make to the struggle for peace. “Millions of women work day in day out to promote peace,” explains the 1,000 Women for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Web site. “As their work is taken for granted and is usually unspectacular, it is neither acknowledged nor remunerated.”

Since the prize’s inception in 1901, only 12 women have received it—and it often goes to heads of state who have been involved in war but then brokered peace treaties. This is perhaps not surprising, given the criteria Nobel laid out in his will: people working for “fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Smith’s definition of working for peace is much more varied. “There’s the obvious—working to abolish war as a way for humans to solve their problems,” she says. “There’s also working to create living conditions and opportunity for all people to maximize their highest human potential and dreams. . . . That multilevel comprehension . . . that’s a characteristically women’s way of looking at the world.”

The fact that women have created a clinic to respond to rape as tool of political power struggles in Haiti, for example, is unlikely to rise to the level of attention that would get someone a Nobel Prize, explained Smith. But these practical, daily, grassroots things carried out by people who bear “the brunt of warmongering” is perfect example of working for peace.

Smith has worked in the Civil Rights Movement, antiwar organizing in the Vietnam era, anti-apartheid work, and anti-police-brutality organizing, to name a few. She has been a leading activist and scholar around the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and was a founder of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. She is considered a pioneer in the field of black feminist literary criticism. Since 9/11 she has been active in Black Voices for Peace and the local Stand for Peace Antiracism Committee.

Recently, Smith has immersed herself in neighborhood-level organizing, founding a neighborhood watch in her section of Arbor Hill, working with the Coalition for Accountable Police and Government, working in an after-school program at Philip Livingston Magnet Academy, and organizing concerned residents to meet Livingston students after school to reduce after-school violence. She is currently a candidate for the Ward 4 Common Council seat.

What keeps Smith going as she juggles all of these various projects is a memory of her family, and their commitment to giving back, and of her history as an African-American. “I know the history of struggle that had to happen for me to exist,” she explains. “Twenty million Africans were lost in the Middle Passage. . . . Because I don’t know how many millions of people died for me to live, I feel that I have responsibilities.” Of course, she notes, though she thinks about it in terms of her own background, “these values I’m talking about really apply to everybody.”

The 1,000 women being nominated were chosen from 2,000 submissions. And, said Smith, that’s still just the “tip of the iceberg,” symbolizing the millions of women working on similar projects around the world. She lists civil-rights leaders Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker; Graciela I. Sanchez, founder of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San Antonio; and Vivian Stromberg, executive director of the international women’s peace and human-rights organization Madre, as people she might have added to the list. The list contains 40 women from the United States and five women from New York state. It also includes 10 from Uzbekistan who can’t be named because doing so would place them in serious danger.

The goal of the 1,000 Women project is to have the 1,000 women awarded the prize collectively. It’s a serious nomination, they say, but it remains to be seen if the Nobel Committee will consider it as such. Though the prize has been awarded to organizations in the past, the rules state that it may not be split between more than three individuals. The committee, based in Norway, also requests that the nominations not be made public—something that the project, with its widespread publicity campaign and plans for a book, clearly is not heeding.

Whatever happens as the committee meets this summer, Smith hopes that the project will mean a “worldwide spotlight turned upon the deep need we have to achieve peace for humankind; how important it is to find peaceful nonviolent solutions to human conflicts, from warfare to street confrontations.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

maxel-lute@metroland.net


What a Week

Familiar Faces, Questionable Places

David Lust, a 43-year-old from Herkimer County, is suing several members of the Albany Police Department for an incident of police brutality that allegedly occurred during the September 2004 Kid Rock concert at the Pepsi Arena. Officer James Olsen, already named in a police-brutality lawsuit filed earlier this year, was one of two officers Lust says beat him with fists, boots and nightsticks before and after he was handcuffed. All of the criminal charges against Lust were dismissed in December by a grand jury. Officer Greg Krikorian, who burned down a large portion of his apartment complex in October 2004 when he backed his car into it while driving under the influence, was listed as one of the arresting officers on Lust’s police report.

Captor-elect

Five former American hostages claim that Iran’s President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of the main spokesmen for the hostage takers in the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis. The hostage takers deny that Ahmadinejad took part in the incident, but he wouldn’t be the first prominent Iranian official to have played a part in the 1979 crisis. Massoumeh Ebtekar, the current Iranian vice president, was the kidnappers’ chief translator.

If At First You Don’t Offend

After Mexico’s president, Vicente Fox, angered blacks on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border by saying Mexican immigrants took jobs that “not even blacks” wanted, the Mexican government announced that it would be issuing stamps commemorating a black cartoon character with exaggerated stereotypical features. The character, Memin Pinguin, has black skin, huge white lips and mannerisms ridiculed by white characters in the 1940s comic book he comes from. Fox insists that critics are overreacting and that the stamp will not be withdrawn. “All Mexico loves the character,” said Fox, adding that he is also a fan of the comic. Members of the country’s African-descended communities, which once outnumbered their counterparts of Spanish descent, disagree.

Same Propaganda, Different Day

President Bush’s June 28 speech on the war in Iraq garnered the lowest ratings for any televised speech he has given during his time in office. The speech, designed to bolster support for the increasingly unpopular war, drew 23 million viewers—less than half of the viewers who tuned in to watch Bush’s May 2003 declaration of victory on the deck of an aircraft carrier.



Overheard

Overheard:

"So I gave him $50 for 'cheese' from Vermont, and he brought back $50 worth of actual cheese! It was damn good cheese though."

—late night at the Old Songs Festival campground



Metroland Wins Five Awards

Local alternative weekly cited in NYPA, AAN contests

Metroland received five editorial awards from two different newspaper contests whose winners were announced in recent months.

At the annual conference of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, held June 16-18 in San Diego, Metroland received two awards in its circulation category (under 50,000). The paper was awarded a Second Place in the Arts Feature category for John Rodat’s “The Conversation Artist,” a story on Greenwich author-interviewer-publisher David Greenberger. The weekly also received a Third Place in the Feature Story category for Travis Durfee’s “Sight for Sore Eyes,” an account of Delmar optician Tom Little’s work and travels in Afghanistan, helping restore vision to people living in some of the country’s poorest and most remote regions.

At the New York Press Association annual conference in April, held here in Albany, Metroland notched three awards in the association’s Better Newspaper Contest (largest circulation category). The weekly received a Second Place in Coverage of Health, Health Care & Science: Included in the submission were Miriam Axel-Lute’s stories on the aftershocks of a popular doctor’s death, and hospitals’ poor response in cases of death by medical error; Darryl McGrath’s story on the risks of disclosing HIV-positive status; and Rick Marshall’s piece on the questionable content of abstinence-only curricula. The newspaper also garnered Third Place for Coverage of the Environment, for Geraldean Hourigan’s account of the toxic legacy left by NL Industries in Colonie, and Marshall’s story on the looming potential of water scarcity. Metroland also received a Second Place for Online Excellence.


Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week



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