WILPF President's Message

33rd Triennial Congress

Women Organizing for Action
Putting Imagination to Work—Congress 2017

By Mary Hanson Harrison
President, WILPF US Section

Mary Hanson HarrisonA little girl was rushed during the night into a bomb shelter in Israel, near the Syrian border. Cold and scared, she could not sleep. To quiet her fears, her father told her: “Picture a little girl just across the border in Syria who is also in her bed and afraid of the noises, and wish her sweet dreams.” Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of MADRE, was that little girl who imagined the possibility of another little girl just like her, huddled in another cigarette smoke–filled shelter. It was a revelation that night, Susskind tells us in her TEDx talk, “Fighting the Poverty of Imagination: Building a Future That Never Was,” that there actually were children in Syria, that the “other” existed as a human being. This expanding of her imagination guides her work today.

Whatever the reality of the moment—an event, a challenge, an opportunity, a call to action, or a loving suggestion like that of Yifat’s father—how long does it take for that moment of imagining to be realized?

The freedom to imagine and to create is essential to the survival of humankind. As Jane Addams noted more than a century ago, in Democracy and Social Ethics, “much of the insensibility and hardness of the world is due to the lack of imagination which prevents a realization of the experiences of other people.” This is the starting point for changing the system.

Since WILPF’s founding, we have held to creating a world of peace and freedom. Over the decades WILPF US has taken up many issues in our campaigns, issue committees, and branch and member work to do just that: realize this hope, this dream of peace and freedom.

At the end of July 2017, by coming together in Chicago, on the University of Illinois Chicago campus, we have the opportunity to imagine again how we can, in renewed commitment to “next steps,” move closer to this imagined world of peace and freedom. We are faced with the great challenge of building a resilient, creative force to counter the policies being propagated within the new US administration and cabinet, Congress, and the military/industrial/security state complex.

To rise to this challenge and opportunity, this Triennial Congress will offer topic-oriented workshops to complement and strengthen the analysis and focus of the issue committees. There will be blocks of time for all members to meet with the issue committee they wish to work with, and there will be time for branches and at-large members to meet together. There will be skills workshops on diversity and anti-oppression, building effective alliances and networking, storytelling to change the narrative toward peace and freedom, and learning how to use media as a tool to accomplish our mission. This Congress provides the opportunity to move from imagination to creative and effective short- and long-term goals over the next three years, leading toward the 34th Triennial.

This may seem a huge task, but it is the possibilities that imagining can bring to the reality of our world today that give us compassion when we are angered, faith when all around seems darkened, and courage to rise up together!

Let’s not forget that soon after the signing of the egregious Versailles Treaty in 1919, Jane Addams closed the 1919 International Congress of Women with this challenge: “We shall have to learn to use moral energy, to put a new sort of force into the world and believe that it is a vital thing—the only thing, in this moment of sorrow and death and destruction, that will heal the world. . . .”

Come join us in Chicago—to learn from and to talk with one another and to bring forth the energy and creativity to put the power of our imagination to work!