Nobel laureate urges students to be activists

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(Host) Nobel Laureate and Poultney native Jody Williams returned to Vermont Tuesday. Speaking at Saint Michael’s College, Williams described the 12-year effort to ban land mines that made her a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. And she encouraged students to devote themselves to a cause.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) In 1992 the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines had one staff member. From her home in Vermont, Jody Williams undertook an effort to convince the world’s governments that a century-old weapon used by every army in the world was actually a weapon of terror, and that the use of anti-personnel land mines was illegal.

In 1997 Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. Photographs of her in front of her Vermont home were beamed around the world. Of her work and the Nobel Prize, Williams told the students at Saint Michael’s, “If I can do it, anybody can.”

She says she has no sympathy for people who simply talk about the problems of the world without dedicating themselves to ways to improve it.

(Williams) “Peace is not merely the absence of war. Peace is socio-economic justice. Peace is equality. Peace is trying to make sure that the two billion people on the planet today who do not even have clean drinking water, have clean drinking water. Peace means giving the majority of the inhabitants of this planet hope for the future, so that they do not want to strap bombs on their bodies and die because they have nothing to live for.”

(Zind) To date, 142 nations have signed an international treaty banning anti-personnel mines. But Williams says there is more work to do. Mines have to be cleared, victims helped and more nations urged to sign the agreement – among them the United States.

The U.S. under the last two administrations has refused to join the treaty. Williams says one of the keys to the success of the land mine ban was recognizing that governments could be partners in the effort.

(Williams) “I think sometimes activists forget that you’re supposed to congratulate governments when they do good things. They do do good things. And if you congratulate them when they do a good thing, they have a tendency to want to do more good things. If you only denounce them when they don’t do the right thing, what’s the incentive for working with you?”

(Zind) The 53-year old Williams now lives in Virginia. She is a visiting professor this year at the University of Houston.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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