REMARKS OF THE FIRST LADY
AT JOYCE MCCARTAN MEMORIAL LECTURE
University of Ulster
Belfast, Northern Ireland
I want to welcome all of you because I feel so very welcome here, but particularly, a special welcome to the family, friends and associates of Joyce McCartan who have joined us today.
It is a great personal pleasure and honor for me to be back in Northern Ireland and to reunite with some of the courageous women and men I first met when I came here two years ago with my husband. The sights and sounds and emotions of that visit, the lighting of the Christmas Tree outside City Hall, our walk from Guild Hall Square to Shipquay Street, Protestants and Catholics working side by side at the Mackey Metal Plant -- all of that and so much more hold special places in my husband's heart and in my own.
And I will always treasure my visit to Ye Olde Lamplighter on Lower Ormeau Road, for it was there that I shared a cup of tea with Joyce McCartan and her colleagues. It is, therefore, a signal honor to give this, first of a series of lectures dedicated in her memory, and in recognition of the important role women have played, are playing and will play in building peace.
I am very delighted that the university, with the support of corporate sponsorship from Cable Tel, will honor Joyce McCartan's work even further by establishing bursaries to assist women who are studying conflict resolution and community reconciliation.
This is a hopeful moment, as it was two years ago. But it is even more promising now. For the first time in more than 25 years, leaders of Northern Ireland's Catholic and Protestant communities are meeting, and the world is watching to see whether they will be able to end a generation of senseless killing and forge a lasting peace.
When the people want peace, it is the obligation of political leaders to find the common ground where it can thrive. That requires compromise and reconciliation. That involves postponing or even giving up one's cherished ideals in the belief that others will do the same to end the conflict and build a better future.
All sides must compromise and seek this common ground in the weeks and months ahead. The United States will continue to do its part to support the peace process, and my husband remains personally committed to this effort and to those who take risks for peace.
Joyce McCartan was one of those risk-takers. I want to pay tribute to her and to the men and women on both sides of the border and the community divide who have worked so hard in recent years to bring about reconciliation in the wake of this bitter conflict. We would never have arrived at this hopeful moment without the countless acts of courage and faith of people like the woman we honor today.
I have many memories of my visit, and I even have a souvenir. I have the teapot. (Laughter and applause.) As you can see, it is a rather ordinary, stainless steel teapot, one easily found in many Belfast kitchens. But as I told Joyce during our conversation, this teapot was so much better at keeping the tea hot from the ones I had back in the White House. So she gave it to me as a present.
I use this teapot every day in my private kitchen on the second floor of the White House. And whenever I look at it, I am reminded of Joyce's ability to warm hearts, to keep alive hope for a better world and a better time, despite tragedy after heart-breaking tragedy.
As we sipped our tea together, the women told me how they had worked over the years, how both Catholic and Protestant, they had realized so much more united than divided them. While they may have attended different churches on Sunday, seven days a week they all said a silent prayer for the safe return of a child from school or a husband from an errand in town. Seven days a week their families struggled with the same deep-rooted causes of the violence -- the terrors of sectarianism, the burdens of poverty, the shackles of limited education, the despair of unemployment.
And while they may have held different views of the past, they had learned that together they could build a better present and hope for an even brighter future, by promoting understanding, saving lives, preserving families, nurturing hope, and defying history. Because, in the end, for them and for so many other women across Northern Ireland, love of family ran deeper than calls to hatred.
I had never met Joyce before we gathered together, but I had seen her compassion, courage and commitment in many other eyes -- her yearning for a more peaceful and democratic world resonates through the ages and stretches across the globe. Mothers, wives, daughters, ordinary citizens -- their insistent voices for peace raised sometimes in a roar, but more often in a whispered prayer, have inspired women and entire societies around the world to build more open, just, democratic and peaceful communities. This chorus of courageous voices can be heard today from Belfast to Bosnia, wherever women are working to end the violence and begin the healing.
Although I have been privileged to travel widely and meet many of the world's leaders, I often find that it is in small groups, sitting around a kitchen table, sipping tea with women like Joyce, sharing concerns and talking about our families, where I've learned the most valuable lessons. And one of those lessons is that an extraordinary power is unleashed when women reach out to their neighbors and find common ground -- when they begin to lift themselves up, and by doing so, lift up their families, their neighbors, and their communities.
I know that Joyce liked to call herself a family feminist because saving families was a the root of all her efforts. This is a brilliant term, and one that I have quoted throughout the globe, because it captures the very important idea that when women are empowered to make the most of their own potential, then their families will thrive, and when families thrive, communities and nations thrive as well. Women who are acting to protect and strengthen their families are playing a central role in the building and sustaining of peace and democracy around the world.
Now, often when we talk about democracy, or when classes and lectures are held about it, we talk about our highest ideals -- freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of speech and of the press, freedom to participate fully in the civic and political life of one's country. But democracy is also about ensuring equal access to quality education, health care, jobs and credit. Democracy is about respecting human dignity and allowing people the opportunity to take responsibility for composing their own lives that will allow them to live up to their God-given promise.
What we've learned over the years is that these lofty ideals can be made real only through the everyday efforts of ordinary citizens. Yes, we need laws and a system of justice to uphold them, but democracy is nurtured and sustained in the hearts of people, in the principles they honor, in the way they live their daily lives and how they treat their fellow citizens, in the lessons they teach their children before they tuck them into bed at night.
One of the great observers of America democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote about what it was that he thought made American democracy work. He talked about the way men and women felt they could participate in making their own lives better, how they formed associations, how they worked for some common good. And he referred to the habits of the heart that are necessary for any democracy to flourish. It is these habits of the heart that must be nurtured, and that countless, unheralded women around the world are quietly doing so every day.
I have tried in my travels to shine a spotlight on their achievements because I stand in awe of women like Joyce McCartan --women who through their own personal tragedies find the strength to go on, but more than that, to reach out and try to prevent the conditions from occurring that caused them such heartbreak. Women, like so many of you here who have endured the loss of loved ones -- fathers, brothers, husbands, sons and others -- to the Troubles, but have refused to give in to bitterness or to dwell in the past.
You have been working through community organizations, such as the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition to break the cycle of hatred and save other people's fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Your efforts to share grief across sectarian lines have blossomed into dynamic alliances to end poverty and the causes of violence. And you have helped to lay a solid foundation for permanent peace.
I want you to know that you should never feel alone in your efforts. You are part of a powerful movement of family feminists, working to strengthen democracy across the globe. Your partners are everywhere. They're the women in South Africa who lost loved ones and were victimized by apartheid. But they have been willing to participate in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to find in their hearts the capacity for forgiveness of those who did violence to them -- because what does freedom mean if people remain imprisoned by their own bitterness?
They are women who are starting small community banks in poor rural villages or inner city neighborhoods from Chile to Chicago -- because what does freedom mean if people don't have the opportunity and the income to help them gain independence and self-sufficiency?
They are women in countries like Pakistan who have agitated against domestic violence -- because what does freedom mean if a woman is afraid to sleep in her own home or protect her children because of a violent husband?
They are women in Zimbabwe and Bolivia who are running rural health clinics and are working in the inner cities to immunize children and provide services -- because what does freedom mean if families are denied access to basic health care, and women are denied the right to plan their own families?
They are the women in Romania and Estonia who are leading voter education projects -- because what does freedom mean if people do not know how to exercise their right to choose their own leaders?
They are women from the Philippines to Paraguay who are campaigning for the rights of girls to receive the same education as their brothers -- because what does freedom mean if women do not gain the skills and knowledge to make the most of their God-given gifts?
Women are not only critical to advancing peace and freedom, they are redefining the very notion of what we mean by a democratic society. Democracy cannot flourish if women are not full partners in the social, economic, political and civic lives of their communities and nations. Societies will only address the issues closest to the hearts of women when women themselves claim their rights as citizens.
That message has come to life in my own country. Suddenly, the debates about politics and our future are not only about defense or diplomacy. They are also about how to balance work and family, about improving public schools, about keeping health insurance after leaving a job or sending a child off to college for an education.
These issues have become central to our political life because thousands of American women have become organized and demanded changes, and insisted that our democracy respond to their concerns. They've helped all Americans understand that strengthening families and cherishing children are not just women's issues, but issues of vital importance to everyone concerned about our common future.
Now, there were some observers who were perplexed that during the last presidential campaign, these kitchen table issues had become so important. They, in fact, derided the phenomenon as the feminization of politics. I prefer to think of it as the humanization of politics -- because how we raise our children, care for our sick, train our workers will determine the strength and prosperity of all our people in the days to come. And how we learn to live together across religious, ethnic and racial lines will determine the peace and security of our children's lives.
That's why I believe encouraging more women's voices to be heard is important for the overall effort that many of you are making to assure that your children, your grandchildren, these young people in this audience will be able to live out their lives in a peaceful, secure Northern Ireland. It is important that these women's issues that affect our deepest concerns as human beings are part of the political debate.
Most women, like Joyce McCartan, don't become involved in politics because they have any grand philosophy about how they intend to strengthen democracy. Instead, they see how politics -- especially politics practiced by those who are engendering conflict between people -- are hurting their families. They get fed up with the posturing; they get fed up with the speech making. When jobs are scarce and hope is in very short supply, they take matters into their own hands. They decide, as Joyce memorably said, "You can't fry flags in a pan." And they get to work on setting things right.
I am told that years ago, Joyce borrowed a couple of cows from a farmer and led a group of women to City Hall to protest the removal of free school milk for children. Another time, she attended a city council meeting and refused to leave until they discussed an increase in the bus fare. And while she had to be carried out of that meeting, she eventually forced the council to hear her grievance and convinced them to introduce a lower fare for children. It is the stuff of life. It is those issues we talk about around our kitchen tables that help to develop those habits of the heart that sustain democracy.
I thought often about the Troubles here as I have thought about Joyce McCartan and the women I met as I have fixed myself a pot of tea. I don't know whether a Catholic or a Protestant made this teapot. I don't know whether a Catholic or a Protestant sold this teapot. I only know that this teapot serves me very well. And this teapot stands for all those conversations around those thousands of kitchen tables where mothers and fathers look at one another with despair because they cannot imagine that the future will be any better for their children. But this teapot also is on the kitchen table where mothers and fathers look at one another and say, we have to do better. We cannot permit this to go on. We have to take a stand for our children.
There is no room for illusion in the difficulty that confronts the peace process. The President and all of us who support you in this effort know how difficult it will be to overcome the past when the wounds still seem so raw. But the children deserve all the work, all the prayers, all the strength, courage and commitment that can be brought to bear.
There will be more bumps on the road. There will be those who would rather smash the teapot than to fill it with piping hot tea to sit down to have a conversation. And the women and the men who believe, as Joyce McCartan believed with all her heart, that there is a better way, who saw as she sat around so many kitchen tables talking across the division that everyone was concerned about the same issues deep down, that we all worried about our lives, our relationships, our jobs, our education, our children, our health -- she understood that if we could just get enough people around some great kitchen table, where they'd have to sit down and look at one another honestly, share their fears, their hopes, their dreams, that we could make progress.
Well, now, finally, we have men and women around a table. I hope they have lots of tea. I hope that they are not only talking about all of the difficult political issues, but in quiet asides, sharing some of what is in their heart with one another. And as they do so, I hope the faces of so many women and men who have given all they could give over the years to bring this moment to pass, will be seen in the mind's eye.
Joyce McCartan deserves as her real legacy that the peace process move forward. She and all the brave women who, for more than 20 years, marched, begged, prayed, cried, shouted that they wanted peace deserve to be heard.
It is no longer in Joyce's hands. The burden has been passed to others. And I hope and I pray that those to whom it has been entrusted will pick up that burden and carry it forward. Joyce's work is done. But to honor her memory, we should all press forward with her work -- to build peace here and around the world.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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