Category Archives: tolerance

creating change


From Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize speech (1986)–

[A boy] asked his father: “Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”

And now the boy is turning to me. “Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”


Lately I’ve found myself explaining to people the latest thinkpeace focus:  the One Million Bones project.  The first reaction is one of total confusion.  “Bones?  Why are you making bones?”  When I talk about genocide, the expressions become ones of concern but also of only of distant recognition.  The fact is, most people I talk to have no idea that genocide has occurred in their lifetime.  Most believe that such atrocities have not happened since World War II.  If you ask most teenagers, they truly have no idea.   Yes, we know that wars have happened and still are… and we know that there is suffering in the world.  But genocide and displacement?  These concepts seem to go undiscussed at school and at the family dinner table.  The fact is, as a whole, we seem to have tuned out this news:  genocide and displacement are CURRENT events.

At our thinkGIRLUP monthly meetings, we’ve been discussing why these atrocities are still occurring, why world governments are not taking a stronger stand, why these issues are not talked about in social studies classes and more.  We talk about intolerance and acceptance.  From the school bus to the mall to our neighborhoods and communities and on into the world, intolerance is what creates conflict.  We talk about raising awareness and using the power of our voices and the creativity of our hands to enact change.  And we make bones.  Why bones?  The bones  are symbols of a couple of things.  First, we know this:  when you take away the things that make people different, the color of their skin, hair, eyes, their religious and cultural differences, etc., you see that we are all the same.  We are bones.  We all have the same ones, with the same shape, tone and texture.  We are one and the same.  Second, the bones signify the bodies of all those who have fallen victim to genocides around the world.  We have joined the One Million Bones campaign, in partnership with StudentsRebuild and CARE, to raise awareness and funds (for survivors and victims of ongoing displacement in Sudan, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo) through art activism.  This is our way to spread our voices, combined with others, to create change, to insist on tolerance and to take a stand against genocide.

“It’s often too easy to feel that the problems of others who live far away in circumstances we cannot imagine are not ‘ours,’” said Leslie Thomas, curator and co-director of “Congo/Women” and the founding executive director of Art Works Projects. “But if we do our job right, the arts can help us come together and take that next step to support those with whom we share this earth.”  We are all connected on this planet, but so often we seem to forget our global brothers and sisters, making us accomplices to the crimes against humanity.  As a photographer, Marcus Bleasdale believes art is an empowering medium for activism. His photos  highlight the most extreme human rights abuses around the world.  He believes that “artists partnering with NGOs, advocacy groups, and individuals that lobby organizations and governments can learn about abuses, including sexualized violence used in conflict.”  The visual image goes a long way in illustrating the issues facing humanity.

Naomi Natale, founder of the One Million Bones project said, “is important to recognize that these atrocities are occurring today, and that intolerance is at the root of these conflicts. Equally important, however, is the message that there is hope for a better future, and through working together to learn about the mistake of intolerance and actively contributing to a collective movement, students can deal with genocide in a manner which allows them to be empowered.”  Students CAN learn.  Youth CAN be heard.  And collective action can make a real difference.

“At the end of the day, the job of all of us working in human rights is to let the story of individuals shine through our chosen mediums as storytellers,” said Leslie Thomas.  At thinkpeace workshop for girls, we believe the impact of one million bones being displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC will open minds and hearts and get people talking… and ACTING.  thinkpeace girls are taking action.  They are talking to friends, neighbors, and family members, raising awareness and asking for action.  They are telling the stories of the victims and survivors with every bone they make, so that no one is forgotten.

“When we make something with our hands it changes the way we think; which changes the way we feel; which changes the way we act.” —Carl Wilkens

on girls, gloria, and a global equal rights amendment

When my daughter was in 3rd grade she did her biography report on Gloria Steinem.  She stood up on a soap box in front of her class with her long, blonde hair and 70s style aviator glasses demanding equal rights for all.  As she practiced her speech in front of me, I remember wondering: who is the Gloria Steinem of this generation and where is the feminist cry for equality that was such a big part of my childhood?

In 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, “In the new code of laws, remember the ladies and do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.”  Ah, a feminist voice from the beginning of our country’s development.  Still, nearly 75 years later, women were still not being heard, valued, or counted by the U.S. Constitution.  In general they could not vote, own property, keep their own wages, or even have custody of their children. Public demand for equality first became known in 1848, at the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott  held a meeting of 300 women and men to call for justice for women in a society where they were across the board barred from the rights and privileges of citizens. A “Declaration of Sentiments” and eleven other resolutions were adopted, but the right to vote was still too hot of an issue for most Americans.

To Susan B. Anthony, this was unacceptable. In 1872, she went to the polls in Rochester, NY, and cast a ballot in the presidential election, citing her citizenship under the 14th Amendment. She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $100, which she refused to pay. In 1875, the Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett said that while women may be citizens, all citizens were not necessarily voters, and states were not required to allow women to vote.  Until the end of their lives, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony campaigned for a constitutional amendment affirming that women had the right to vote.  Feminists of their generation who fought a good fight but left so much work to be done.

The 1900s saw more women take on the issue of equal rights as women joined the workforce and led the movement for progressive social reform.  Finally there was enough support nationally to win the vote. Carrie Chapman Catt and the National American Woman Suffrage Association were the new voices being heard throughout the country. Together with progressive voters, they finally won the first specific written guarantee of women’s equal rights in the Constitution, the 19th Amendment, which declared, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It had been 150 years from Abigail Adams’ advice to President Adams to this victory for American women.

In the 1960s, over a century after the fight to end slavery fostered the first wave of the women’s rights movement, the civil rights battles of the time provided an impetus for the second wave. Women organized to demand their birthright as citizens with the call for an Equal Rights Amendment.  The Equal Rights Amendment passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on March 22, 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification.  Arguments by ERA opponents played on the same fears that had generated opposition to woman suffrage. Anti-ERA organizers claimed that the ERA would deny a woman’s right to be supported by her husband, the overturning of privacy rights would be overturned, women would be sent into combat, and abortion rights and homosexual marriages would be upheld.

Although we’ve made strides and have won several battles, women still face many challenges.  Our work isn’t done.  When I was in 3rd grade I marched with my mom and the National Organization for Women.  When my daughter was in 3rd grade she seemed poised to be the next Gloria Steinem!  5 years later she’s just really coming into her own voice and realizing that it needs to be heard.  Louder.  Louder,  Louder.  And her voice needs to join with mine and yours and hers and theirs.  The voices of the women before us, from Abigail Adams to the National American Woman  Suffrage Association to Susan B. Anthony to Gloria Steinem to Hillary Clinton are calling us to use OUR voices to continue to demand change.

A recent New York Times article reflecting on Gloria Steinem’s pivotal role in the women’s rights movement, quoted the author Susan Faludi, “We’ve not seen another Gloria Steinem because there is only one Gloria, and someone with her combination of conviction, wit, smarts and grace under fire doesn’t come along every day.”  I beg to differ.  I see it every day.  I see it in girls.  They’ve got grit.  They have great voices.  I agree with Sarah Hepola, “Ms. Steinem’s DNA has been scattered into a million cells — in the blogs, as well as in the work of women whose labors do not land them on cable shows: Ai-jen Poo, the organizer of Domestic Workers United, or Navi Pillay, head of the Commission on Human Rights at the United Nations.”  They’re in Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Tawakkol Karman.  They’re in Lady Gaga, Emily-Anne Rigal and thinkpeace girls!   It’s not about one specific thing anymore, one specific issue, and one specific leader.  It’s about teaching girls to collectively use their voices for humanity and join ours as women.  “We often have a cultural fantasy about individuals,” said Emily Nussbaum, the television critic for The New Yorker and a longtime feminist reporter. “But collaboration is just as frequently the source of great things, and it’s less rarely recognized. Change doesn’t always happen because of one person.” Together we are the fourth wave of feminism.  Feminisms.  Plural.  Our isms embrace humanity:  tolerance, justice, equality.   It’s time for a Global Equal Rights Amendment.  As Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “Human rights are women’s rights… And women’s rights are human rights.” Let’s get these great girl voices going!  The next Gloria Steinem is in us all.




on tolerance

Oh… I started to write a long post about anger management and tolerance but then I realized something:  I have to stop!  I’ve been holding on to some pretty negative feelings for a couple of days and it’s time to just stop!  That doesn’t mean that I’m not still upset or that I’m not going to do something about it!  It just means that, POOF! like that, I am sending the negative energy away!

What a relief.  Now I can deal with what made me angry in the first place.  I feel so much more in control and can now be productive.  Ah, I’m breathing!

This morning I had a note from the Universe:

“Guidance, attention, help, maybe.  Love, always.  Criticism, never.                                           What to give others.”



who are you, who who?

Without self knowledge, the understanding of the universe remains incomplete. -Deepak Chopra

You probably think you know exactly who you are right now, today.  It’s easy enough to define yourself with labels.  When I was in high school I would have said:  I am a blonde girl.  I am a cheerleader.  I am a good student.  I am sensitive.   I am creative.  I am somebody’s girlfriend.  I am a sister.  I am a daughter.  If you asked me to go deeper I might have said:  I am messy. I am overweight.  I am afraid.  I am confused.  That would have stopped me right there; I wouldn’t have wanted to go any further down that road.  The negative attributes I assigned myself would have made me realize that I preferred to identify myself as a bubbly blonde cheerleader.  That felt better.

The problem with not really knowing ourselves is that until we do, we can’t really understand others.  So how do we get there?  I have to tell you:  it’s hard.  It’s especially hard when you’re trying to fit in.  I was talking to a high school guidance counselor the other day who told me that 9th grade is the hardest year, in her opinion, for girls in high school.  “They so desperately want to fit in somewhere that they will define themselves just to fit the characteristics of a group– so they feel that they belong somewhere.”  The result is that girls will often change who they really are deep inside just to fit this idea of what they should look like, act like, be like… They will suddenly change their hair color or start smoking.  They’ll carry the same tote bag as every other girl in the group and wear the same clothes, no matter how it looks on them.  They’ll get a boyfriend, because everyone has one.  They’ll pick on other kids in the cafeteria, because that’s how to look cool.  They’ll join teams, not because they love the sport, but because it gives them an identity– and an established group.  It’s understandable.  It feels better to belong than to walk alone.

If we stop and ask ourselves, do I want to dress like everyone else…  If we ask ourselves, how did I feel inside when I saw that girl getting teased at lunch and I said nothing to stop it… If we ask ourselves, do I like myself better when I’m in a posse, with a boyfriend, smoking on the corner… what would the answers be?  Where and when in our lives do we get to be our true selves?  How would it feel to JUST BE YOU?

At thinkpeace workshops we often ask girls, what stirs your soul??  Too often we are met with blank stares or hung heads and “I don’t knows”.  We want you to ask yourself questions, constantly.  Are you creative?  Are you a people person?  Do you get absorbed by a good book?  Does performing light a fire in you?  Do you feel outrage at social injustices?  Do you feel lonely sometimes?  Do you love to create masterpieces in the kitchen?  Is a soccer goal the best feeling in the world to you?  Does your pet soothe you and make you giggle?  Does music make you emotional?  Do you want to dress like a hippie or a rebel or super comfy or all blinged out or all of the above?  Do you want to sit at lunch with the kid being picked on?  Are you living the life YOU want to live?  WHO are YOU?  Really, people are like snowflakes:  no two are exactly alike.  So why do we try so hard to BE alike?

The thing is, when you truly know yourself (remembering that you are always a work in progress and always changing!), you’ll see that there is so much to like and that there are things that will frustrate you or make you sad.  None of us are perfect; we are all flawed.  That’s actually what makes us more interesting.   And it’s how we tap into our compassionate selves.  The girl who knows her passions and her goals and what makes her giddy can reach out to another and say, try this!  The girl who knows her sadnesses and anxieties and insecurities can reach out to another and say, you are not alone.  It’s the girl who knows herself who will change the world, because she understands it and sees herself in it.


Imagine a world where every girl believes she has a unique gift…

Imagine a world where every girl feels heard and valued…

Imagine a world where every girl believes, deep in her heart, that she matters…

Imagine a world where every girl has access to an education, health care and equal opportunity…


For so long our world has been divided into categories:  nations, religions, ethnicities, genders, and economic boundaries. These lines have divided us for so long that we struggle to come together, even at the peace table.  What if there was another way?  Last night I followed a disturbing thread on a friend’s Facebook wall which began with a peaceful message of hope for the people of Turkey (following the news of the devastating earthquake there) and ended with judgement and negativity.  It was an interesting “conversation” about national borders, why we have them, their importance and limitations, etc.  It made me wonder about the different types of borders that exist all around us.

By definition, border means a dividing line.  For humanity it means that there are edges, or sides.  It separates us from our neighbors, friends and enemies, and creates an egocentric society.  What if, instead, we created a society based on our deep interconnectedness, and the common thread of the Golden Rule of mutual respect.  Today is the Global Day of Oneness, which asks us all to share our greatest gifts which will lead to peace and creativity, prosperity and joy.  It asks us to embrace humanity as good and see that the only way to change the world really, is to change ourselves; believe in ourselves and in others.  Global Oneness requires us to step over the borders in our lives and practice tolerance and acceptance.

If we recognize that human beings need each other to survive on this planet, then we see that we are all in this together.   Our communities will flourish as we learn about each other and celebrate our differences.   To place a border where there could be a simple understanding and appreciation for uniqueness seems so rigid, so final.  A border establishes a line between people that says, I must protect what is mine and you can have what is yours…unless, of course, I want what you have…then I want to fight over that border.  We expect our children to share.  Is it so hard for us to share as adults?  If we are all in this together, we must continue to honor that core value of mutual respect.

The time for change is now.  The people who wrote on my friend’s wall last night about protecting our borders weren’t interested in an open dialogue.  They believed that hatred justified nationalism and the necessity of borders.  If only they could open their hearts and minds for a moment and see that we all breathe the same air and want our children and animals and environment to grow and be healthy.  We are in fact, one family on this planet. As a family, the time has come to discuss openly, celebrate joyfully, and fully accept ourselves and one another.