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Simmons: Women’s voices key to peace

Barbara Simmons

The screen displayed images of ice-blue mountains towering over a small white city built precariously along the steep incline. Other photos showed brightly-colored prayer flags flying over a market place, and long cylindrical prayer wheels spinning under the fingers of a faithful follower of Buddha.

These were glimpses of Dharamsala, India, the home of the Dalai Lama and the location of the fourth gathering of the International Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. On Thursday evening in Sinclair Auditorium, Barbara Simmons described the spiritual and physical journey she undertook in Dharamsala, India, where she attended the gathering and met the Dali Lama.

Her presentation was sponsored by the Lehigh University Women’s Center and Robin and Warren Heydenberk, both of whom teach in Lehigh’s College of Education. Warren Heydenberk is professor emeritus in the department of education and human services.

Simmons is the executive producer of PEACETALKS, a series of radio programs hosted by Walter Cronkite and actress Blair Brown, about people finding unique and inspiring ways of moving beyond violence. She also is the former executive director of The Peace Center in Langhorne, Pa.

During her presentation, Simmons said she wanted to speak as a representative and spokeswoman for the Indigenous Grandmothers to the group of 35 students, teachers, and local residents who braved the frigid weather to attend the lecture.

“I am their messenger,” she said.

”We are in the eleventh hour”

Simmons described the 13 influential women who are urging others to seek peace. These elderly and revered women represent indigenous people from the Arctic Circle to Africa and Asia.

Their bi-annual meetings were foretold by a prophecy, Simmons said.

“These grandmothers found each other because each had a prophecy that there will be 13 gray-haired women coming together at the eleventh hour,” she said. “This is their message to us. We are in the eleventh hour.”

As further testament to the prophecy, Simmons and the other women looked to the sky. “At any given time there were 13 eagles flying overhead, apparently that was part of the prophecy,” she said.

The grandmothers believe that peace cannot be achieved until women and men are equally involved in the decision-making process, Simmons said.

“Women’s voices are not at the table,” she said. “Women’s voices help balance out the male energy. Until we do that, we are not going to have peace in the world.”

Simmons, however, said the answer is not to silence men’s voices. “It’s truly about you standing in your power alongside of your brothers. It means that men get in touch with their feminine side. We are not operating in that balance of power, and we are in trouble. The message from the grandmothers is that we have to change that.”

Standing up against violence

During their stay in Dharamsala, the grandmothers and Simmons met the Dali Lama, who supported their cause.

“He said, ‘Without women at the table to teach us all compassion, we will not find peace,’” Simmons told the audience. She described the Dali Lama as a man who gave out “beautiful energy” and was “filled with love.” Her interaction with him inspired her to seek a life of prayer—to whatever God she chooses to trust—and a life of action. She then challenged the audience to also consider what action they might take.

If people condemned acts of hate and cruelty, these acts would be reduced, Simmons said. But few people are willing to speak out, she added.

“How many men step up to say violence against women is wrong, and here’s what I have done about it?” she asked.

A male student responded, “I’ll stand up and say it,” and he rose from his chair saying: “Violence against women is wrong.” Simmons laughed, and a few members of the audience applauded.

“But we don’t have that really,” Simmons said. “We will stand up and talk about how wrong it is to have crime, but when it comes to sex, violence against women, not many men stand up and say how can we be part of the solution?”

It’s not enough to say violence is wrong, Simmons said. People must also act on that belief.

Simmons’ lecture, “Is Peace Possible?” launched V-Week, the week of events preceding Lehigh’s seventh annual production of The Vagina Monologues on Feb. 23, 24 and 25. All proceeds from the benefit performances will be donated to Turning Point of the Lehigh Valley, the local domestic violence shelter, and the Bethlehem YWCA.

Simmons came to speak through the recommendation of Robin Heydenberk, who has worked with Simmons for many years on peace issues. Robin Heydenberk heard of Simmons’ experience in India and suggested that the Women’s Center sponsor a lecture by her. The event fit perfectly into V-Week, the theme of which is “Reclaiming Peace.”

Kristin Handler, the director of the Women’s Center, explained how women are natural and necessary players in the quest for peace.

“War and the crimes of war affect women in particular ways,” she said. But women are not only victims of war, Handler said: “Women have historically played and continue to play a major role in movements for peace.”

--Becky Straw

Posted on Friday, February 16, 2007

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