Illustration by Kenny Srivijittakar.
Illustration by Kenny Srivijittakar.

The phrase “stand up for what you believe in” may have never before proved so true.

Last Sunday, March 7 at 3 p.m., a group of about 100 people gathered to march across the Water Street Bridge in Santa Cruz in the name of peace for women across the globe.

On International Women’s Day, at 80 locations around the world stretching from San Francisco to London, supporters gathered to advocate for women in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They participated in a global campaign led by Women for Women International called “Join me on the Bridge.”

Women for Women International announced the event in a blog last January. They called for women to “stand together on a bridge between Congo and neighboring Rwanda to demand peace and development … collectively saying no to war and yes to peace and hope.”

In the last 10 years in the Congo, there have been 5 million deaths and hundreds of thousands of rapes. Women for Women International and other organizations are pushing for peace in the region.

Santa Cruzans joined the campaign locally, garnering support and organization from local groups such as Women with Wings, a local ensemble whose members helped with the music for the event.

Heather Houston, director of Women with Wings, participated in the event because Michelle Stroet, the event coordinator for Join me on the Bridge, is part of her ensemble and also sponsors three women internationally — two from Bosnia and one from Rwanda.

Houston said both she and Stroet are very passionate about the organization.

“I am really a believer in the power of women coming together,” Houston said. “That prayerful energy really uplifts the planet in many different ways. That’s why I wanted to get involved.”

Stroet also had personal reasons for being a part of Women for Women International and organizing this event. She and her mother are both victims of sexual abuse.

“Watching my mother suffer after being raped has definitely shaped my life view on women’s societal roles,” Stroet said. “My mother never really recovered her life. Although my mother’s and my story might seem sensational here, it is rampant in war-torn countries. How can anyone in freedom not reach out to help?”

The group of marchers met in San Lorenzo Park and then walked to the Water Street Bridge, where the marchers split off onto either side. As the scene commenced, the two groups began walking to the center, singing a gathering song from Ghana and banging on various percussion instruments.

As they met in the middle, they threw a sign over the side of the bridge for everyone to see. The sign said, “Building a Bridge to Peace in Santa Cruz.”

The group then marched back to the park and began singing and dancing in a drum circle led by Women with Wings. One man carried a sign that read, “War is expensive. Peace is priceless.”

After the march, people gathered in the park to hear from the event’s guest speaker, Reverend Deborah L. Johnson of Inner Light Ministries. Johnson believes greatly in the importance of women gathering around the world.

“We are standing in solidarity,” she said. “What happens to women and children during war is unspeakable, which is probably why we don’t hear about it. Women are standing up around the world to say, ‘I am somebody. I am somebody.’”

She went on to say that 45 cents of every dollar spent on war globally is spent by the United States, while the nation only makes up 5 to 6 percent of the world’s population. Johnson added that she does not believe in power being shown through the ability of destruction.

“All war is a crime against humanity,” she said. “War is obscene. I have the audacity to believe in peace.”