On courage and strength


Terre de Femmes Filmfestival, Tübingen, November 2016

The November sun lights the stark grey sky and the last leaves on the trees which turns the whole view experience out of the window into a passing by of a continuous surreal painting. It is Saturday, a full train, people seem relaxed, chat away about mundanities. I am on my way back from Tübingen, where ‘Why Women Need to Climb Mountains’ was shown at the Terre de Femmes Film Festival. I have seen and met some incredible women – activists, film makers, and the organisers are all fantastic… here is the programme Since the presidential elections in the USA two weeks ago, I have shown the film now twice in two different cinemas in Germany. And I am a surprised to see how the reaction to the film, and my own perception of it have changed. Where only a few weeks ago some scenes were showing ‘historical events’ (Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria in 1938, McCarthyism, sexism and racism) from where we are supposed to have evolved and gained certain freedoms, we suddenly watch these scenes with different eyes. We are eerily reminded, that we cannot take for granted anymore the freedoms that we believe we ‘all’ (?) are standing on. As we see how the growing populism, sexism, racism and authoritarianism is taking hold in people’s heads and hearts in the Western world and beyond, it somehow feels strangely that history waves from a certain corner of the past century saying: do not repeat me! Many articles and talk shows are covering in very analytical and thoughtful ways the situation we are finding ourselves which I am sure many of you are following, thinking about and discussing in earnestness with your friends and family. As I digest, like all of you, every day the stream of news that are coming at us fast and thick, I realise how crucial it is in these times to make space for silence and reflection so that we can also develop our independent way of thinking, so we develop a deep strength to bear that what we cannot understand (yet). There is a hell of a lot of complexity that is surrounding our lives faster than we like it and it keeps us almost breathless. At least that is often my experience and I am learning to develop an openness to others and other views that I was often lazy about. And I have to question where I want to avoid and close my eyes from the realities that are facing us.  We hear about the fake news, we glance at some other news and wonder if we should be concerned or not, some of the news are so bad that everything in us would like to recoil and pretend we have not heard it. We are just not sure about anything anymore. We literally don’t know if the new president in the US was elected by legal means, or if the results were manipulated by Russia or maybe even by his own party…  We don’t know anymore what is true, things become a murky soup of speculations and forecastings of different future scenarios and everyone seems to be be screaming his (less her, I am afraid) opinion more loudly. I am surprised, as I tour with the film, how much strength and inspiration people take from getting to know Gerda Lerner. How both, men and women, young and old, want to speak of hope and of vision, and how to build a better future together. It makes me realise again how important it is to have heroines and heros and to tell their stories of struggle and resilience. They show us that working for a better world is worth fighting the fight because it is the ultimate affirmation of life. And it is important that in our times we become our own heroines and heros, that we learn to think independently, realistically and develop our deep intuition that cares for life and dignity. Whatever we need to do, to have resilience, vision and a healthy way to deal with stress and not knowing – this is what the world needs from us right now. We deeply have a sense of what it means to respect, to support others human beings, also in their suffering. And we had the time luxury over the past decades to admire and learn from people like Gerda Lerner and take a lot of strength, inspiration and vision from them. But now we have to get clear about our own visions, our own values and where we stand as a human being, when things get tough. These times ask for discernment, independent and rigorous analysis of what is true and what is false and what serves the whole and the earth and what not. There are no more easy answers. And it also asks for our heart and intuition and for a kind of empathy that we probably never had to exercise as a human race before – an empathy that holds all the reactions, including the irrational contractions into fear and anger in our heart, and let the answers come from another place than our own ,knowing it all’. At the same time I realize that I need the humility to know and not pretend that – as a privileged white woman who has the luxury to live in such a civilized country like Germany – I  can imagine, but not totally understand, the suffering of the destitute, the war refugees, the desperation of millions of poors all over the world, the women who are being raped and tortured. And I can somewhat, but not fully understand or relate to the fears that lead people in my country to having fundamentalist and populist attitudes. So I have to start to listen and face my own fears and limited ideas and grow inwardly to embrace more and more of the truth that is appearing in front of me. It takes a certain courage – and that courage, yes, Gerda embodied. It is an enormously creative courage that is totally life- and freedom-affirming. There is no other choice. So, I wish you all, dear friends, all the strength and courage you need in your life, and let’s also take courage from our joint visions – let’s share them, question them, refine them and make them so. There is lots to do… As Gerda said: ‘All human beings are practising historians.’ (Why History Matters, 1998) Some information about the screenings of the film: There will be another couple of screenings in Germany (see schedule) and screenings and country premieres are being organized for March in Germany, Austria, Netherland and in the USA. In the summer the film will be going to Canada as well. The English version of the film will be available after the first Premiere in the USA and the German version (and soon the international version) of the DVD can be purchased on www.absolutmedien.de For interests in other screenings, talks and workshops, please contact me here.  
  1. The impact of learning about Gerda Lerner through your film has been very strong here on Denman Island, BC, Canada. We had two days of history collection in 2016 and have started an archive and a timeline. We are continuing with our collection of local women’s history in the new year and are developing a friendly relationship with the local history museum.

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