A crusader for the worldwide ban on landmines tells her amazing, unlikely journey to winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.
Out of a regular Everywoman’s life, Vermont native Williams emerged as an effective activist, both in working for the democratic movement in Central America during the 1980s and spearheading the international push for the ban on landmines in the ’90s. The author’s early years were marked by her father’s struggles to find steady work as a salesman and her older brother Steve’s deafness and undiagnosed mental illness. Steve grew increasingly violent and eventually had to be hospitalized, a source of guilt and sadness for Williams. Nonetheless, she managed to get through the University of Vermont during the turbulent late-1960s, and she became increasingly drawn to social upheaval, like the debates over the Vietnam War and racism. Teaching English in Mexico opened her eyes to the enormous disparity in wealth between the rich and poor. After relocating to Washington, D.C., she began to raise awareness about the harmful U.S. intervention in the politics of El Salvador and Nicaragua. From an unhappy stint at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, with a focus on Latin America, she longed to get into the trenches and help people, not just theorize about them. In 1991, humanitarian leaders and veterans tapped Williams to build a political movement to ban landmines, which were an active peril in places like Cambodia long after the wars were over. Galvanizing the help of NGOs around the globe and leaders like Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, she organized the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, meeting with officials and speaking at international conferences, all of which culminated in a Mine Ban Treaty hammered out in 1996.
Williams’ work ably demonstrates how a single person can make a great difference.