ariane brunet shares feminist thoughts about President Obama's inaugural speech

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martin dufresne
ariane brunet shares feminist thoughts about President Obama's inaugural speech

For those of us who meditate, paying attention means to look at the way our mind busies itself with illusions and a plethora of versions of reality. We sit there and watch as our mind flutter about and we are sometime aghast by how distracted and all over the place we tend to be. Slowly over what I presume must be years of practice we start to pay attention and start to appreciate consciousness and peace. And that's how we start to get better at what we do. We pay attention.

Many of us paid attention today as we watched Obama's inauguration. Many listened and took stock of what this may mean for women's rights, for international cooperation, for the continued struggle against racism, fundamentalisms, militarism, social justice and economic rights. I was watching and forgetting again to finish off some boring administrative stuff I need to get done before heading off to Africa for a few months to work on gender and reparation issues in Northern Uganda where a war is still festering. Today I received e-mails of friends working or living in Eastern Congo, the Middle East, Afghanistan. I tried to reach a friend who has her ears to the ground with women's groups in Iran, a friend working in Guatemala, another who continues the watch for the rising signs of fundamentalisms in Europe and North and South Americas.

Today I shared with a few friends how we felt about Obama's inauguration, aware like everyone else on this planet of history in the making. We were moved by some of Obama's speech about choosing hope over fear as this could translate into relational change and a deeper understanding of how feminism can come to play a greater role in our politics. Choosing hope over fear does translate into very concrete political choices and among them a demilitarisation of our world and at the VERY least a demilitarisation of peace.

For some of us this would stand close to how appreciative we are that a president of the United States does acknowledge that nations such as his and ours are made up of "Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers".. Nonbelievers, and I started to feel I could breathe easier so that secular space exist and "creationism" be dropped into the dumpster of history, so that we have the space to dispute the many forms of today's cultural relativism and where there is room for women's rights, for struggling for social justice, for democracy and a possible end to conflicts. And that would certainly indicate that sexual rights, LGTB rights and reproductive rights can have a chance to finally get in the corpus of rights as they are truly what will redefine human rights.

Listening to the part of his speech where roads and bridges, electric grids and digital lines, schools, colleges and universities would be built, I want to add good medical coverage for all, education for all and decent housing for all, well we could hope that collective rights might find a place next to the neo-liberal views we have been entertaining for far too long within the human rights field. Imagine if that could have some influence at the UN, among the G9 and their policies of development aid... I am not overly optimistic; not to worry but harnessing the sun and the winds to get to fuel our sacred cars does allow me to think we may be heading to some common sense here.. and that makes for a good welfare state... smile..

A friend had written to me yesterday telling me how angry and pissed off she was to realize that Israel had planned all along to destroy Gaza. She recalled that this was similar to the fascist ways of the Milosevic days when, in 98, he refused to sign the Rambouillet accord making sure that NATO would then decide to bomb Serbia which would deter the attention on his plan to clean up Albanians from Kosovo without the monitoring of foreigners. As early as October 2007, an article published in Haaretz ( was describing the plan to destroy Gaza, how it would be done. And sure enough it happened the way it was then described.

Now why write to a feminist listserve about these political issues that don't seem to directly address women's rights issues...? Well I have been wary for a while now how we have managed over the years to believe that women's rights are apolitical issues. How we can discuss women's rights in a "neutral" tone but how easy it has been for those fundamentalists, war mongers to use women's rights, to instrumentalize women's rights the way Bush has done to justify war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Then I started to think how Palestinian women in Ramallah have tried to keep communication flowing through hotlines like SAWA, a women's SOS hotline supporting Gazans through this carnage that ended so conveniently two days prior to Obama's inauguration. I refuse to call this a war. This was not a war. How can anyone call this a war when you bomb people in an open air prison, people you have been starving. How can you not call this a massacre. This is bloody murder of a civilian population, this is ethnic cleansing, it is about getting rid of people under the disguise of a war. No this is not war nor was it peace in 1996 with the Oslo Accord. As this has never been about peace. Meantime the horror unfolds in front of our very eyes and we are blinded by this banal occurrence of today's world - a war in the Middle East, well! that's par for the course, isn't it? We need to regroup all the women's movements to support Palestinian and Israeli women working for justice and peace otherwise I feel we will try to figure out how to get away from the daily violence in our lives for ever, allowing the mythologizing of victimhood, how will we shed the domestic cloak of violence...

There's also the Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel which has started an important website called Who Profits?( Their project is about developing a date base about Israeli and international corporations that are directly involved in the occupation, in the construction of Israeli colonies and infrastructure in the occupied territories, in the settlements' economy, in building walls and checkpoints, in the supply of specific equipment used in the control and repression of the civilian population under occupation. To me this is what the women's movement is about: involvement in every which way possible to make sure justice and peace come together right now. As feminism was never meant to be about anything else than bringing a new perspective on things, in being watchful, scrutinizing relentlessly relations. Militarized peace is what we have been living under for quite a while already, as militarized peace is about the normalization of violence and the normalization of violence we know something about.

So I reflected on our collective excitement about the inauguration of the Obama era. I am happy to remember that this presidency was started in a bus with a woman "tired of giving in". She was paying attention and so should we.