Nobel Prize winner to speak tonight | AspenTimes.com

Nobel Prize winner to speak tonight

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Jody Williams doesn’t like the bumper sticker that says “visualize world peace.”

“You can’t visualize it; it is hard work,” she said. “You have to work every single day to bring about change.”

Williams, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to rid the world of land mines, is a blunt “get off your ass” person.

And she’ll be standing tonight in Paepcke Auditorium at 6:30 to give the last free public lecture in this summer’s Aspen Institute lecture series.

Williams is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (www.icbl.org), and her work has lead to 144 countries adopting a treaty to stop making, using and distributing land mines.

In the Western Hemisphere, the only two countries that have not signed the treaty are the United States and Cuba.

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Williams hopes the United States will someday sign the treaty, especially as the country has not used land mines since 1991, hasn’t exported them since 1992 and hasn’t produced them since 1997.

“I’m sorry the U.S. doesn’t get it,” Williams said.

She said while the Pentagon is not so concerned about agreeing to never use land mines, the problem is that the military brass are afraid that the next thing you know, some other hard-headed woman from Vermont will want to ban tanks or missiles.

“But we deal specifically and only with anti-personnel land mines,” Williams said.

And because of that focus, the number of global land-mine casualties has dropped from 26,000 to between 15,000 and 20,000, still a tragically high number.

So Williams keeps traveling and talking and cajoling and pressuring governments to step away from land mines.

“I believe in it,” she said. “It makes me happy to get up and do what I do.”

And based on a phone conversation last week, Williams gets out of bed happy, but a bit cranky. She explained she has a lot of her grandfather Ralph in her. He must have been a stubborn Vermonter, too, and had a simple take on life.

“This is it,” Williams said. “This is not a dress rehearsal. I want to be pleased to get up and embrace my day. I don’t want to get up and say, ‘What the hell am I doing with my life?'”

Williams earned a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and was an activist in Central America before being asked to work on the land-mine issue.

And the Nobel Peace Prize was not on her mind. But while she has been shrewd enough to capitalize on the recognition and leverage the prize has brought, she keeps the medal in her closet.

“I know who I am,” she said.

And she knows how to give a speech. She doesn’t work from a text. She gets up, checks out the vibe in the audience and lets it fly.

She can talk about international law and the Bush administration’s attitude that the United States is above it.

She can talk about her recent trip to Afghanistan and about how perhaps we should fulfill our promises to rebuild that country before we go and destroy Iraq.

She can talk about how the same company that “brings good things to life” also made land mines, and she can talk about the growth of nongovernment organizations and how they are playing an increasingly important role in making the world a better place.

“There is nothing magical about this,” Williams said of her efforts to change the world. “It is just getting up off your ass.”

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]