Jody Williams – Righteous Indignation with Sparkle

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams discusses what has fueled her activism for over 30 years and her latest passions around stopping gender violence and killer robots. 

Tell me how you got started. My first protest was against US involvement in Vietnam and it awakened me to a different understanding of my country, the US. Then I floundered for a decade after university trying to figure out what to do with myself, knowing I wanted to do something that would change US policy. Finally, when I was 30 years old, in February of 1981, I was handed a leaflet about the US intervention in El Salvador and the title was “El Salvador—Another Vietnam.” If it hadn’t had the word “Vietnam” on it, I would have thrown it away and who knows where my life would have gone. But it did, and I read it, and I was horrified that we were intervening again. Not with “boots on the ground” as they say, but we were spending millions and millions and millions of dollars in Central America to support dictatorships and/or to overthrow the Sandinistas. And it made me angry. I started volunteering and 32 years later, here I am, still a grassroots activist.

What interests you most about what you’re doing now? I’m the chairwoman of the Nobel Women’s Initiative which is six of us who received the Nobel Peace Prize and we have come together to use whatever influence and access we have by virtue of the prize to promote and spotlight the work of women around the world working for sustainable peace with justice and equality. Within that effort, we launched in May 2012 a campaign to stop rape and gender violence in conflict which obviously is a very difficult endeavor. And then in April 2013, I was part of the launch of a campaign to stop killer robots which would be fully autonomous (operating on their own), lethal, offensive (attacking, not just defending) robots that would be able to go out on their own and kill you. And I want to know what are the morality and ethics of people who think it is OK to cede the power of life and death in war to a machine.

What keeps you going? What has taken me through my “career” as an activist is a fundamental righteous indignation at injustice. It really bothers me that people think it’s OK to take advantage of others. It makes me righteously indignant, not angry. I’m not an angry peace activist. I’m a righteously indignant and sexy peace activist. [Interviewer: “You’re especially sexy in your sparkly top.”] I fell in love with sparkles when I was four. I took tap dancing and I had a tutu and it had blue sparkles around it and since then I have been a sucker for sparkles.

What’s been your biggest accomplishment? Certainly the Mine Ban Treaty which happened with others. All of us who worked so diligently to help governments and militaries recognize the illegality of that weapon and ban it.  Along with that, another part of that accomplishment has been the example of ordinary people seeing a problem, not waiting for anyone to tell them it needed to be taken care of, and coming together and creating a campaign and working together toward an objective and succeeding. I think that accomplishment really inspired and emboldened people who want to make a difference to see that it can be done. But it has to be “we” not “me.” If it’s “me” it ain’t going anywhere. If it’s “we working together,” I absolutely believe we can change the world.

Biggest challenge? Sometimes keeping my mouth shut! I can be pretty aggressive. But I’ve gotten a little less aggressive in my older age.

Who or what inspires you? Ordinary people who get up off their ass and work for change. The famous ones, the ones who it’s expected of, usually they fail because they are about “I” instead of “we.” I care about all the people who no one will ever know who are struggling to survive and are also working with other people to make the situation better for everybody. That amazes me—that there is that much fortitude and human resilience. I don’t know how I would be in that circumstance. I’m privileged, coming from the US with a loving family with all the things I’ve had in life. I don’t know what I’d be if I lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo or any other of a gajillion other places where I’ve been but where I would not want to live.

Jody WilliamsWhy is peace sexy to you?  What does “Peace is Sexy” evoke for you? Because peace is about changing our world. It’s not about just stopping war. People who think that peace is just about stopping war are fairly clueless about what it takes to create sustainable peace. And creating sustainable peace with other people who share that idea is exhilarating. When you work with people that really believe that there is such a thing as human security, as opposed to national security, which is just the security of the state apparatus and are willing to work for that, how hot is that? Rather than going to a 9 to 5 job that you can’t stomach and waiting until 5 o’clock to go home and have a cosmo (the drink, not the magazine). By the way, have you ever had a ginger cosmo? I’ve only had one and it was outstanding. You have to make your own ginger vodka though.

What is a simple thing you do to create peace? What is something you do everyday? I’m a peace activist, so I communicate with people all the time. Maybe what I post on my Facebook page is how I create peace everyday. I don’t post things like “Oh, last night I had a magnificent dinner and now I’m having a mani-pedi.” I post articles about the things that are fundamentally important to deal with. I sometimes post pictures of animals that I think are gorgeous. But everyday trying to help people look beyond the bullshit media that they see and understand that a lot of serious work is going on in the world and it’s not about “Oh my god! They got divorced!” I don’t know who “they” are, since I don’t watch TV. It’s like “Oh my god, Angelina Jolie just adopted all of Africa! Again!” So what? And pretending that crap is news makes me crazy.

Where would you like to see your passion go in the next 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? I want to be able to ban killer robots before they even hit the planet. I want our campaign to stop gender violence to make a significant contribution to diminishing violence against women in all walks of life.

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