HONOLULU—One of Hawaii’s most outspoken peace activists recently made her return from abroad to bring a message of urgency and action to island residents.
Ann Wright, a former United States Army colonel and retired official of the State Department, spoke about her recent work in Afghanistan though Voices for Creative Nonviolence, as well as her activism in Gaza, at the Honolulu Friends Meeting House on Monday January 10. The forum was free, and sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee Hawaii Peace and Justice.
Wright, a Honolulu resident, is nationally known for her public resignation from the State Department after over 35 years of government service in direct protest of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Today, she continues her work as a diplomat, but as one who works in the interest of peace and protecting the rights of civilians.
While at the State Department, Wright worked for the Foreign Service. She served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassies in Afghanistan, from which she helped open following the 2001 invasion. Before that, she had a long career in the Army, where, ironically, she drew up contingency plans for military invasions, such as that of Iraq.
Since her resignation, she has been involved with numerous peace initiatives. According to Wright’s book, Dissent: Voices of Conscience, these initiatives include fasting for a month in the name of peace, picketing at Guantánamo Bay, serving as a juror in impeachment hearings, traveling to Iran as a citizen diplomat, and getting arrested numerous times for peaceful, nonviolent protest of Bush’s policies, particularly the war on Iraq.
Most recently, in May 2010, Wright was on the Gaza flotilla that was attacked by the Israeli military. She also traveled to Afghanistan in December 2010 to meet with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. During these recent tribulations, Wright has focused on the local youth of these regions who are seeking alternatives to the norm, which has led only to increased killing of civilians in their homelands.
At the Honolulu Friends Meeting House, the former colonel held a commanding presence. An engaging and thoroughly knowledgeable storyteller, Wright successfully weaved statistics with anecdotal observations to make the grim reality of civilian life in these far away and poorly understood regions come to life. Wright tells it straight, not sparing the audience gruesome details of our government’s nefarious activities and the bloodshed they cause.
Apart from the fact that civilians are suffering in both Gaza and Afghanistan, the relationship between the two places may not be immediately apparent. Again, Wright finds a connection, that being the youth fighting for change.
The purpose behind Wright’s most recent trip to Afghanistan was to meet with with the Youth Peace Volunteers. The youths comprise a group of about 15 teenagers in Bamiyan, the site of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, which was a UNESCO World Heritage Site destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The group hosted a Global Day of Listening to Afghans on December 18, during which anyone in the world could call in by telephone or Skype to hear stories told by the Afghan people in their own voices, of what it is like to live now in Afghanistan.
The message behind this group boils down to one message: “Enough already!” Youth Peace Volunteers are adamant in calling an end to the killing.
We are now approaching 10 years of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. The continued construction of military bases and other financial indicators suggest an increased American presence over the next several years. In fact, an accurate count of the current number of bases there is impossible to find, but estimates are as high as 400. An expansion of the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan (making it the largest in the world) as well as two new consulates are coming soon with a price tag of $500 million.
On December 2, the same group sent an open letter to “our world leaders” and asked the world to listen.
In their words, the Afghan people have “nowhere to turn and nowhere to hide.” Several of the teenagers in this group have lost loved ones in the conflict. They too despise the violence of the Taliban, Wright explained. But they have forgiven past wrongdoings and argue that the road to peace is through love.
Upon reading their eloquent document, it is hard to believe it was written by young people, many of whom had not left their hometown until traveling to Kabul with Wright’s group last month. If these youth can look past the bitterness and bloodshed towards a better future in their country, then we owe it to them to listen.
The Youth Peace Volunteers have also reached out to the youth in Gaza. The group made a film in Bamiyan where they flew kites in solidarity with the Gaza youths, one group of oppressed reaching out to another. The kites represent freedom, which can only be achieved by ending the cycle of revenge. The youths remain in communication through Skype.
And so Wright eloquently transitioned from Afghanistan to Gaza, where she is helping to organize a U.S. boat to Gaza, named The Audacity of Hope, which plans to set sail this spring as part of the next Freedom Flotilla—part of an international effort to break the blockade by bringing humanitarian aid and supplies.
The situation in Gaza, where civilians have literally been imprisoned in the devastating quagmire of a conflict between Israel, Egypt, and Hamas, has no real resolution in sight.
Regardless of one’s position with respect to this protracted struggle, one needs to recognize this: For Gaza’s overwhelmingly young population (more than half of the 1.5 million population is under 18 years of age), their daily lives have become a nightmare to a degree that is nearly impossible for an American to fathom. And, as in Afghanistan, they are starting to come forward and speak out about their lives.
Last month, an anonymous group named Gaza Youth Breaks Out issued a manifesto (see it on their Facebook page in the “notes” section)that was later published in the U.K. Guardian, which called it “an extraordinary, impassioned cyberscream.”
The manifesto begins with a “Fuck everyone,” goes on to detail the innumerable miseries of the occupation, and ends with a seemingly basic request:“We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace. Is that too much to ask?”
You might ask yourself, what can you do? Wright recommends contacting these groups directly. Get involved. Show Hawaii is listening. Have extra time or money? Help Wright fundraise for the The Audacity of Hope or sail to Gaza with them (applications due January 15).
For more information on the expedition to Gaza, visit http://ustogaza.org/.