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Susan Estrich: Girl Rising Is Exactly the Message We Need to Hear Right Now

Last week was a very tough week. Limbs flying in Boston. Ricin in the mail to President Barack Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. The Newtown families, bewildered in the White House, unable to understand how a bill that 90 percent of the public supports, that no one has offered a coherent reason to oppose, that was drafted by two of the National Rifle Association’s strongest supporters in the Senate could go down in an exercise of petty politics at its worst. Enough. What more can I say? This.

There is a wonderful and important movie that will be playing in theaters near you for one week, this one. The name of the movie is Girl Rising. It’s about nine girls in nine countries telling stories (with the help of women writers from their own countries with whom they were paired) of their own lives, which is to say lives of tragedy and hopelessness rescued by courage and determination — and school.

You cannot make a better investment in the developing world than educating a girl. It is that simple. If you don’t understand this, or if you do and you want to feel that there is more to the world than bombs exploding and ricin in envelopes and petty politicians playing parliamentary games, go to your local theater and let them touch your heart.

“I feel as though I have power. ... I can do anything. And I have important things to do.” — Suma, Nepal

Last week was a week when I didn’t feel that way.

I remember, years ago, attending a talk by Mavis Leno, who was way ahead of the curve on how women were being treated by the Taliban. It must have been the late 1990s, and she was trying to get the world to focus on the oppression of Afghan girls and women and how you could and should judge a country based on how it treats its women. And its girls. She was right. Sadly, it took us a while to figure that out.

Kayce F. Jennings, senior producer of The Documentary Group (which she founded with her late husband, ABC anchor Peter Jennings), gets it. She produced the movie, believed in it and has been reaching out to old friends like me to get the message out. Peter would be so proud. This is so right — and it’s especially so right now.

Two of the nine girls in the movie do not themselves portray their life stories. Too dangerous. That is the world. There is no escaping it. But their eyes — you can see their eyes — burn with hope.

You can’t help but feel lucky in every way watching an orphaned girl picking plastic bags from the trash and dreaming not of Hollywood or stardom or of a prince on a white horse, but of a crisp white shirt and a school jumper and shelves full of books.

But there is a moment, too, when you may start thinking: When did I give up believing the world is a place I can change? When did I stop hoping and start hiding? I feel like that, too often, watching videos like those from last week. The only time I do not regret the march of time — the wrinkles on my face, the arthritis in my hands — is when I think of the monumental challenges my children and yours will face as they try to make their way, peacefully and safely, in this dangerous and often evil world.

There has got to be a better answer than squinting to try to figure out the nationalities of the two Boston bombing suspects whose pictures were released late last week so we can focus on whom to hate right now or figure out who could hate us that much.

Choose life, we say. Choose hope. Nine girls are rising at your local theater. Millions more could be following them. If they have the courage and the hope, so should we.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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