Jody Williams' life as a globetrotting activist began in a small town in rural Vermont in 1950. "We had more cows than people and liked it that way! We [meaning] the whole state."
Williams was the second oldest of five children. She spent summers making sandwiches to help stock the vending machines her father owned. She says it was an ideal life, with few worries. "I grew up believing all the myths that were taught about the U.S., the fight for democracy, self-determination, all the good things. And I didn't realize that part of that was true and part of that wasn't [true]."
As a student at the University of Vermont in the late 1960s, Williams became active in the civil rights movement and took part in campus demonstrations against the U.S. war in Vietnam. She says that involvement taught her to stand up for what she believed in. "I had had my first protest in my life when I went down to a mobilization in the state capital in Montpelier calling on the U.S. to stop the war in Vietnam."
After college, Williams taught English at a grade school in Mexico, where she developed a passion for Latin American culture, but not for teaching. In the early 1980s – a period of political turmoil in Central America – Williams led civilian groups on fact-finding trips to the region.
She also helped to organize medical relief missions during the civil war in El Salvador. She became outspoken in her opposition to U.S. policy in Central America. That wasn't easy, she says, considering the politics of the day. "[President] Reagan and [Secretary of State] Alexander Haig drew the line against communism in Central America. So if you were doing any kind of relief work, human rights work, anything that didn't support U.S. policy in the region, you were labeled a communist."
It was in Latin America that Williams learned first-hand about landmines and the threat of injury or death they pose long after war has left a battlefield. In 1992 she started a global campaign to ban them.
Five years later – in December 1997 – 121 nations met in Ottawa, Canada, to sign the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction.
That same year Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But her efforts didn't stop there. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines has grown to include 1,200 groups worldwide, which Williams credits for getting the work done. "There has been no major trading in the weapons since the mid-1990s. There used to be 54 producer countries and now there are about a dozen and not even all of those are producing."
Every year more mines are taken out of the ground. Williams says 42 million mines have been destroyed in stockpile. "We call that preventative mine action, because if they are destroyed before they ever get in the ground that is 42 million lives and limbs we won't have to worry about."
Through her work Williams has learned that peace is not some utopian vision, but a responsibility that requires hard work to fulfill. "You have a strategy, a plan. You apply it. You follow up. You follow through, and you work hard to make a different world. That is what working for peace is. That is hard work every day."
As for getting started, Williams says sister Nobel Laureate Betty Williams, Founder of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement, offers the best advice. "She says, don't come and whine to me about the things you are worried about unless you tell me what you are doing to make a difference."
William no longer heads the landmine campaign, but still serves as its ambassador. She supports an effort to ban cluster bombs.
These weapons, although dropped from the air, present the same danger as landmines when unexploded shells remain on the ground. Williams says that happened during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon in 2006. "In the last 72 hours [before] the ceasefire that had already been agreed to, Israel dumped 4 million [cluster bombs] on the villages of southern Lebanon, one million that did not go off."
Williams says that danger spurred the world into action. A global treaty banning cluster bombs will be negotiated in Dublin in May . Jody Williams believes the effort will bring the world another step closer to peace.
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