February 17, 2003
Paris Photo: Lydie Lecarpentier/SIPA 2/15/03
Big Bend TX Photo: Alice Stevens 2/5/03
Land O'Lakes FL Photo: Marcia Stone 2/15/03
Hong Kong Photo: Maryann King 2/8/03
Paris and Land O' Lakes, Big Bend and Hong Kong. What do these places have in common? Each has been a protest site in the "global spelling bee" known as Baring Witness, in which people’s bodies are arranged into peace symbols and words.
What began as a striking way for a small-town group of California women to express their feelings has inspired many others to do the same. Women and men, naked and clothed, in several US states and in other countries are exposing their vulnerability to protest for peace.
On February 8th, 750 women in Byron Bay (Australia) shed their clothes to spell NO WAR inside a heart. In New York City, Helena, and Champaign-Urbana, women and men have shed their clothes in the snow to spell out their views. In dozens of locations from Los Angeles to Derbyshire (England), from Cape Town to Salt Lake City, beautiful formations of living bodies have appeared, dramatizing the stark contrast between them and the body bags and bloody remains that are the inevitable result of war.
For all its global reach, Baring Witness remains a grassroots organization. As Zhenya Nichols, organizer of the Land o’ Lakes, FL action said, "The women here today represent the mainstream of this country. They’ve never been in a ‘protest’ before, ever. They cared enough today to send the message that the human body is not created to bear violence and war. We women in particular are created to bear life, the future, peace. If we must bare our bodies in order to send this message clearly, then so be it."
The photographs produced by the many groups have created a new iconography for peace. Spelling words with naked bodies has become part of the political vernacular. Donna Sheehan believes the power of the images lies in the startling vulnerability of the bodies. "It is a poignant sight, which cannot be ignored. These are not Baywatch dolls pumped full of silicone, posing for centerfolds, but real women, mothers, grandmothers doing the unfamiliar to prevent the unthinkable. We cannot stand by and watch our children and Iraq’s children, who are 51% of the Iraqi population, being slaughtered to make arms merchants and oil men richer. We women especially must speak out. We want Laura Bush, Cherie Blair, and Lynne Cheney to stand up proudly and tell us either, "Yes, I do want children to die for my luxuries," or "My husband is only human, and humans make mistakes. After all, only real men can admit when they’re wrong."
All the photos can be seen at www.baringwitness.org/photos.htm
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