Creating Change from the Grassroots
(Photos by Robin Holland)
This week, the JOURNAL examined the inspiring story of Leymah Gbowee and the extraordinary Liberian women’s movement chronicled in the documentary PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL.
The film documents how Gbowee courageously and organized the women of Liberia to demand a peaceful resolution to the bloody civil war that for years had torn the country asunder. Risking rape and outright slaughter to protest non-violently, the women became a key force that helped to achieve a tentative peace, the exile of the brutal President Charles Taylor, and the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female president of an African country.
Reflecting on the women’s movement that helped transform Liberia, Leymah Gbowee said:
“With these women, one of the things I realized was the untapped power that they had. These were the people who knew when the fighters were going to attack. These were the people who just knew, by sitting at their market tables, strange movements, and they would go to people they trust and say, “Pack your things and leave because danger is imminent.” These are the people that could talk to the fighters. Then again, on the negative front, these were the women who were moving weapons from one community to the other in their bundles, so they knew when the war was coming, they knew how it was going to be, and they knew the fighters. They could stop whatever was happening in the different communities, [but] no one – not the UN, not all of the consulates and the analysts – none of them ever figured that this group of people had what it took.”
Film producer Abigail Disney said that the story of Gbowee and the Liberian women is consistent with historical non-violent movements and a potent inspiration for those seeking change today.
“It is really, in effect, a classic example of non-violent resistance in the vein of everything that Gandhi and Martin Luther King ever planned... All they were asking for was something that was essentially kind of conservative, which was “let’s just make these systems work, let’s just hold these systems accountable to the promises they made.” They were just asking people to do their jobs... This classic Gandhi non-violence, where the power equation is flipped in a moment, is so extraordinary, and we’ve seen it in so many places. The more we see it, the more often we’ll see it – making it visible [and] making it available to people will bring it out in places we can’t even begin to imagine.”
What do you think?
What lessons can American grassroots movements take from the Liberian women’s movement documented in the film PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL?