Discussion with Luisa Morgantini
The Power of International Women’s Politics: Bodies Creating Peace
“Mister President, I cried in front of the Israeli Army that prohibited us from rushing to help wounded Palestinian people. I cried because Ahmed, who is our friend and is almost motionless, called for help by barely moving his arm. I cried – I must say – because of my and our powerlessness. I cried because of one Israeli soldier’s loss of humanity.”
Last April, through the words of Luisa Morgantini, a scene of everyday war and death in Palestine penetrated the everyday peace of a session of the European Parliament. Luisa is closely tied to only one thing, peace. She is the founder of The Italian Association for Peace, part of the Women in Black movement, and an independent European Parliamentarian on the list of the Communist Refoundation Party. Luisa is a constant and tireless reference point for all of this work. In spite of this, she is not a media star. She is closely and sincerely in contact with the insanity of war, with its victims and their pain, and the destruction and absurdity that war produces. For the past decade, she has been working to prevent violent conflicts, primarily in the Middle East and the Balkans and engaging in women’s international diplomacy and politics. The theoretical basis of these beliefs follows:
“Crossing borders is a political challenge; it confirms the capability of women to be citizens of the world and to offer political alternatives and an alternate future. Especially where there are violent conflicts, we must understand women’s reality; we must become conscious of those who pay the highest price for war and share the burden of their everyday, miserable existence. This act implies association with women who are capable, even in their dramatic and violent surroundings, of creating nonviolent political opposition to war. We cannot work only in the streets and squares, the demonstrations or war zones; we must influence ways of thinking and the culture as a whole. This capability is built when we see the relationships between war, conflict, and the nonviolent way.”
What is nonviolence to you?
“It is the capability to consider others’ situations, listening to each other, and having the curiosity to learn another way of thinking and working. Since childhood, I have followed this path. To me, nonviolence does not mean hiding or repressing rage, bitterness, and anger, which we often feel. We must accept these emotions and let them motivate us are we strive for our goals. Understanding that violence does not bring anything good, we must confront it and reshape it. Through that confrontation, it becomes possible to change even the most difficult things. Nonviolence is in its essence kindness, but it might appear that it does not have any connection to justice. To understand that nonviolence and justice are connected is difficult work and ought to be undertaken, not avoided because it is too difficult. The problem is that we must create a nonviolent culture. Sometimes, I ask myself how it is possible that in the same place where I was born (Lombardy, northern Italy), where I firmly believe that immigrants have the right to asylum and equal conditions, there are many people, Minister Bossi among them, who think that immigrants should be persecuted, even humiliated. How is it possible not to acknowledge other people’s pain? I think that nothing motivates us to respond to these situations because we have not yet created a culture of nonviolence.”
What is the connection between women and nonviolence?
“I am certain that we are women. Having women’s bodies does not necessarily mean that we stick together and are tender, because among women there are those who participate in victimization and aggression. However, unless women are conscious of their own differences, it appears that they all see things differently than men. I do not have children, I am missing that experience, but I think that women’s relationships with the everyday are very important. Women’s relationships and their suffering, even in the most difficult conflicts, can prevent war. This contact with reality is the key to creating new relations and a nonviolent way where there is war. With effort, they will join in the struggle that Women in Black believes illustrates building diplomacy from below. In this process, the presence of women is necessary and precious.
“Because of this, we insist that women be present in discussions between fighting parties. Women are capable of creating relationships and projects, not by overlooking differences, but by enriching their own identity and the identity of others. In the struggle for their own freedom, women did not resort to weapons: because we spoke about freedom and because we were free, weapons were silent. Through careful reading and seeking alternatives to the essence of war, the women’s movement establishes the patriarchy’s clear responsibility for war – and the patriarchal system is the source of everything that has created society until now. Changing the culture it is not at all a modest job. Gender is not a biological given; it is a historical category. It is the lens through which we understand reality. Analyzing men’s responsibility for supporting and creating conflicts does not mean automatically excluding women from this responsibility.
“A multitude of questions arise in the analysis of women’s responsibility. We must think about the possibility that power can be used in another way, a way that we influence, and that does not reproduce the current model. We must take over the places of institutional power, while not losing contact with reality and with other women. I think that I succeeded in keeping that contact; I work in institutions, while simultaneously maintaining constant contact with political movements. I always tried to maintain two-way relations between these two levels. I am connected to forces that express the will for change and I transmit their voices and demands to places of power. For example, in the European Parliament, we organized a photography exhibit entitled “I, a Woman, Am Going to Palestine.” In this project, there were women who worked on the exhibit and women from Palestine. We promoted the idea of valuing specific real life experiences. I think that it is very important that we introduce our politics in institutions.”
What is the third way of Women in Black?
“I think that the left does not understand our concept and that even a large part of the feminist movement does not understand it. The prevailing culture is based on antagonism. To me, working violently implicitly cancels all demands for peace and justice; we think that the way that we relate to each other is important. For me and for Women in Black generally, the deconstruction of the categories of ‘the enemy’ presents a fundamental question. It is not always easy to dress in black, which—for me—is not only the color of mourning, but also the color of fascism. Every thing that we do and every element was an accomplishment, a process, and a path towards clearer understanding. Consequently, for us, alignment is useless, because there is no victory. There exists an effort to not use the language of war, cancellation, and destruction. It is an effort to invent another language, one purified of violence. For example, for a long time, I have not used the word ‘peace’ because for me it has a different meaning than that it has for the majority. Repeated conquest of words and repeated careful reading is a process that appears useless. However, I think that this is the beginning of building a different movement, a different worldview which will cause things to change. To me, young generations appear more nonviolent than the generations of the left that preceded them. It is difficult to maintain our spirit of nonviolence in our present militant surroundings. I search for and I will always search for women who recognize the rights of others. It does not work to align ourselves with just one side. I am for a just peace; it cannot be won by one side or another. For example, in Palestine, we must make a distinction between responsibility of the occupiers and the responsibility of those occupied and we must take on our part of the responsibility because we do not want death, pain, suffering and injustice to be fixtures life in Palestine or in Israel.”
Source: "Fare la pace con i corpi", Donne disarmanti, ed. Monica Lanfranco - Maria G. Di Rienzo, Napoli: Intra Moenia, 2003.