What an amazing week I've had.
I secured a last-second invitation to the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting (as press) and scrambled to cobble together childcare (thanks, Mom!) and a substitute teacher to cover my class (thanks, Mark!) so I could attend, and cover a great education story that was embargoed until the last day of the conference. My plan was to show up, shut up, listen, and learn.
Mission accomplished. Well, save for the shut up part, I met some hysterically funny journalists and we had a lovely time tweeting the conference and mocking each other's clothing choices.
Related: you should start reading The Dodo, a "celebration of animals" site - their rights, their value, their stories. I've already retweeted a whole bunch of their posts (Albino orcas? Clouds on weather radar that turn out to be swarms of butterflies? I'm in) and am a new fan, both of The Dodo and a member of their community, David Becker. Follow him, @notadolphin, on Twitter. He's hysterical.
I'm struggling to recount the amazing things I saw and heard this week without sounding braggy or starry-eyed, but trust me, I'm simply in awe that I got to be there and bear witness. There are the obvious things - yes, I spent a lot of time in the same room as Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton (it was a BIG room). President Barack Obama spoke to us immediately after he ordered airstrikes on Syria, and yet managed to create a sense of unity and purpose in a room of people divided on his actions. I looked over to my right during a taping of a CNN segment, noticed Julia Ormond was a couple of seats over from me, and realized she was present not for the star thing, but to learn and advocate for farm workers. Yes, I got to watch Matt Damon rescue a moderator who had allowed a session to go painfully off-schedule with incredible kindness and skill. At one point, Madeleine Albright was just standing there, in the middle of a hallway, as if she did not even know that she's f-ing MADELEINE ALBRIGHT. Aloe Blacc, The Roots, Eva Longoria (her dress wasn't too tight; she was clearly nervous), Jason Mraz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Randy Jackson, Raining Jane, Seth Meyers, Natalie Merchant, Ashley Judd, Tony Blair...yes, I was there for all of that, but here are the highlights of my week, the moments that touched me, challenged me, moved me.
At the top of my list is Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the President of the Gbowee Peace Foundation. To understand the power of this woman, watch the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. You can see it here, on PBS. At the very least, watch her interview on the Daily Show.
Here were my favorite Leymah moments from the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting plenary session, "Equality for Girls & Women: 2034 instead of 2134":
On fear: "It's not that I'm not afraid at times, but I never allow fear to stop me."
On living a life that will have value to the world: "I tell myself always that there are two options in life: to live and die, and everyone will come to that place. You will die at some point. Do you want to die, and there's no one looking around and saying, 'Oh! Did she die?' I want to die, and then that morning, when the announcement is made, everyone will be like, WOAH. This is a loss for the world."
On helping men understand the practical value of educating their daughters: "Ask them, 'How many men in this village have daughters who never went to school?' 'Ten.' 'What is their lifestyle, what is their economic situation?' 'How many men in this community have daughters who went to school?' 'Five.' 'Oh - what is their lifestyle?' 'Oh, that man? He owns a car, he goes on vacation!' That is the value of sending your daughter to school. It's not rocket science."
Here's the video from the session, CGI 2014 Plenary: Equality for Girls & Women: 2034 instead of 2134 (scroll down a bit), if you'd like to watch yourself. Go to 1:36:00-ish. As for me, I've downloaded Leymah's book, Mighty Be Our Powers, and will be listening on the bus ride home today.
Leymah. Sigh. I'm going to be thinking and talking about her a lot in the days to come. I may even use a section of her book tomorrow morning in my English and writing class. Maybe an exercise in writing autobiography... a 'what is your power?' kind of thing. I think Stephen King would approve.
Finally, here's the video of the closing plenary, "Aiming for the Moon and Beyond," which was fantastic. However, if you are short on time, go to 1:23:10, and listen to the last two minutes. I don't think I breathed during the last minute or so, and when I looked over at the journalist next to me, she was weeping. We were tired, on inspirational overload, and yet, that final minute managed to synthesize and articulate everything we'd seen, and everything we'd like to be, in a perfect moment I won't ever forget.