As the group discussed future meeting topics, we found we could not let go of the discussion of civil liberties. We broke into three groups to continue the conversation more intimately. We were able to introduce ourselves more personally to each other as we continued to talk about what we see happening to civil liberties in the U.S. in the wake of September 11. As you can imagine, our conversations were quite similar, yet different because we are an extremely diverse group of women.
Group 1: concerns about whittling away of civil liberties in U.S. in aftermath of 9/11; non-caring and judgmental attitudes of those who have no knowledge of Islam; we need to listen, communicate and not stereotype; we need to get rid of our negative feelings and be positive about the good we see around us; having the opportunity to know one Muslim can change your mind about many; there is a difference between accepting a person, but not necessarily their ideas; there seem to be fewer places to meet people of diversity because of the sociological and economic situation; we need to find really good models of tolerance; Youth-at-Risk can transform children’s circumstances based on listening and not interrupting; current teaching techniques in our schools do not emphasize the diversity of person; and common gender facilitates understanding.
Group 2: shared personal experiences with intimidation and surveillance from the government from the 1950s up to now; how does one maintain a normal way of life in the face of surveillance?; government protection can be as intrusive as surveillance; experiencing tension when speaking up for our beliefs and the need to feel careful about what we say to our children to protect ourselves and families; the irony of being children of immigrants who came to this country seeking freedom from oppressive governments; why are so many Americans seemingly unaware of the threats to our freedom?; use of circumstantial evidence against Arabs; the growth of hate groups; the declaration of martial law by Bush; local news is not as informative as British and Canadian news; one must think for oneself about the information one is getting.
Group 3: concerns about restrictions of speech as a response to 9/ll, particularly faculty at universities criticizing our nation’s military response in Afghanistan; erosion of separation of church and state; U.S. response from fear (not well thought out because we are a “soft” country, one that has not experienced terrorism on native soil); fear experienced by a WTB member’s Arabic son to go out of his apartment after 9/11; American confusion about being hated because of our “freedom” countered with the challenge to examine previous and current foreign policy decisions involving military and economic support.
Questions: Believing that grassroots Americans are good people with common concerns, how do we mobilize? How do we connect with other groups? Do we, as a group, want to contact our members of Congress? How do we inform ourselves about what is going on in the world outside of the U.S. media? How do we, as a group, affirm that the value of all human life is equal, regardless of nationality? Do we want to make public statements as a group about issues that concern WTB? Is there some area in the women’s museum at Seneca Falls where we could research the history of women’s action groups, and is it possible to use that facility as a ground for our own action, i.e., Women as Peace Makers?
It is a challenge to truly hear what we say to one another from meeting to meeting, as a large group or in small break-out meeting. The voices of our members raise our social and religious consciousness. The voices of WTB compel further dialogue, soul-searching, and perhaps action as a group to address common concerns.