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Still standing for the cause of peace

Tina Gianoulis, Women In Black mark two years standing in silent vigils.

The issues haven’t gone away, and neither have the women.

Gathered every Friday evening for two years on the corner of Winslow Way and 305, the Women in Black stand in a silent vigil, demonstrating a peaceful alternative to U.S. anti-terrorist policies in the wake of 9-11 that have included the USA Patriot Act and the war in Iraq.

“After 9-11, we really felt we wanted to have a place to make a presence for peace,” Bainbridge WIB member Tina Gianoulis said. “In some ways, that silence speaks more loudly than words.”

Bainbridge’s WIB is part of a loosely organized international movement of women that formed after groups composed of Israeli and Palestinian women began, in 1988, to stand in protest of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Thompson helped form the Bainbridge branch in March 2002 with Kathy Horsley, Sharon Winn and Annie Strickland, in support of nonviolent resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But while standing is nonviolent, it is far from passive, the women say.

“It is active and powerful,” Gianoulis said. “It gives us a way to disagree. It gives us a way to, literally, stand for peace.”

Besides the weekly vigil, WIB members have held fund-raisers for other organizations that support human rights, like the reading of the play “Lysistrata” that raised money for Hate Free Washington and a performance by a Palestinian dance troupe benefitting the Middle East Children’s Alliance.

WIB members were instrumental in initiating last year’s Peace Parade here and obtaining the Bainbridge City Council’s resolution opposing the USA Patriot Act.

WIB members have reached out to WIB chapters in other countries, as well.

Gianoulis and WIB member Janice Gutman traveled to Italy and Scotland last fall for international conferences and joined a human rights march in Jerusalem last December. Gianoulis said that meeting women from many countries who share similar concerns – including 40 women who’d traveled from the Balkans by bus for the Italian event – was a powerful experience.

“Just meeting all these women working for peace, incredible activists – it was very inspiring,” she said.

Gianoulis found common ground with women from NATO countries like Spain, Italy, England and Australia, all of whom had protested in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

“We shared our frustration because we protested so much and our governments didn’t seem to listen at all,” she said.

And, Gianoulis says, she heard from WIB members from Uganda and the Congo who are frustrated by the attention focused on Iraq, when war has been ongoing for a decade in both African countries.

“They told us that 90 percent of the women in the Congo had been raped,” Gianoulis said. “It was overwhelming, just hearing things like that.”

Gianoulis came away from the international conferences impressed by pragmatic steps being taken by WIB members to promote peace education, including curricula that Italian women are implementing at all levels of the public schools there.

The women Gianoulis met agreed to raise awareness, in their respective countries, about the post-war state of affairs in both Afghanistan and Iraq, “because we (in the United States) tend to go into these things like real rescuers, and then they’re never in the news.”

In December, Gianoulis traveled to Israel to participate in an international human rights march, standing in silent vigil with Israeli and Palestinian women in Jerusalem, where the WIB movement began.

Gianoulis says she came away with a new understanding that standing is a way of publicly pointing out what’s important to women, particularly in countries where they are disenfranchised.

The Bainbridge group will honor its two-year anniversary at this Friday’s vigil.

For many members, standing is both a symbolic act of solidarity with like-minded people and a reminder of world issues.

“In a way, it feels like we’re the conscience of the community,” Gianoulis said. “They see us in the rain, in the dark, and they remember this war is still going on and it’s wrong.”

For Thompson and other members, the companionship of the group, although silent, can be tangible.

“I think we stand because we’ve been distraught about our government’s response to 9-11,” Thompson said. “But there’s also mutual support for things that happen personally to us.”

Thompson found such support when her husband received treatment for cancer. Since his death, many of Tom Thompson’s friends have contributed to WIB, because he supported the group.

His admiration, she says, had roots in his regard for Ghandi, another proponent of nonviolence.

Thompson said, “Tom’s favorite Ghandi quote was: ‘You must be what you want to see in the world.’

“He saw that’s what Women in Black are.”

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