Planting the Seeds of Peace

Last weekend, I treated myself to a San Francisco get-away, reconnecting with friends from my Southern California childhood and even bonding, briefly in a crosswalk near Chinatown, with other tourists -- a lesbian couple in matching "Washington is for gay lovers" t-shirts -- from the state I've called home for the last 20 years.

My friends and I took in the city mostly on foot, walking out from our certified "green" hotel, but the efficient public transportation gave us respite from the rain when we were finally too soggy to walk another step. It also got us back to the airport inexpensively when it was time to go our separate ways.

On my last night, I turned on the television to keep me company while I packed. I paused at a FOX News interview with Rush Limbaugh, but I couldn't stomach that for long. I prefer to take in my right wing politics through the print media; television personalizes the issues for me and provokes me to bark futile retorts at the talking head on the screen.

I welcomed instead the Independent Lens documentary I stumbled across next: a film focusing on one of my heroines, Wangari Maathai. As Africa's first female Nobel Prize recipient and the founder of Kenya's Green Belt movement, this powerful woman's story far better matched my mood.

The essential details of Professor Maathai's life were already familiar to me, of course. Her autobiography, Unbowed, kept me company on a flight to Nairobi two years ago, and I have recommended it to many people since.

Because the children's home I work for in Kenya is in a Kikuyu (Maathai's ethnic group) community, I worked with author Donna Jo Napoli, too, to donate copies of Mama Miti (her book based on Maathai's Green Belt work) to the local library so children there can see themselves in the accomplishments of their collective grandmother.

But hearing and seeing this wise woman speak was a different experience all together -- her accomplishments stretch beyond her tribe, beyond her nationality and beyond her gender.

The Nobel committee recognized her insight, influence and impact in 2004, and toward the beginning of her acceptance lecture, she said:

I am especially mindful of women and the girl child. I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership. I know the honour also gives a deep sense of pride to our men, both old and young. As a mother, I appreciate the inspiration this brings to the youth and urge them to use it to pursue their dreams.

Although this prize comes to me, it acknowledges the work of countless individuals and groups across the globe. They work quietly and often without recognition to protect the environment, promote democracy, defend human rights and ensure equality between women and men. By so doing, they plant seeds of peace.

I recognize many of my priorities in the work she did:

  • The value of relationships, especially among women, in bringing about social change;

  • The emphasis on social justice, civil rights and holding politicians accountable to the people they serve;
  • The admonition that we must all be stewards of our environment if we want our children to inherit a world that can sustain them, too.
  • The daily work we do as parents builds on these values, even when we don't consciously make a political stand. My friends Kim and Jennifer, during our re-connection this weekend in San Francisco, impressed me with the thoughtfulness of their respective motherhood and the models they provide for their children. Having the privilege of knowing their daughters, who are in the same stages of adolescence that we once saw each other through, only intensifies my conviction that women will continue to shape the world in unique and powerful ways.

    I hope that the world our daughters help construct will continue to "plant the seeds of peace" -- from San Francisco to Nairobi and back. I hope they'll build on the values of environmental protection and civil rights, and that they, too, will blow right past Rush's talking head and settle on Professor Maathai's wisdom instead.