10/27/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
WHEN JODY WILLIAMS, THE second of five kids, was growing up in Brattleboro, Vt., it made her so angry when kids would tease her older brother, Stephen, who is deaf, that she took it upon herself to stick up for him. Later in life, she says, "anybody who didn't know how to speak for themselves, I thought, 'I know how. I'll speak for you.' "
Those she has spoken for since 1991 include the estimated 26,000 people, primarily civilians, who are killed or maimed by mines each year. As coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Williams, 47, has raised the once-obscure cause to such prominence that last week she and her group were named co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps more significant, more than 90 nations will gather in December in Ottawa to sign a treaty aimed at outlawing the weapons.
It is a heady achievement for the little-known antiwar activist. Williams was recruited by a Vietnam vets' group six years ago to run the campaign to halt the placement of hundreds of thousands of landmines worldwide each year and remove those already planted. "We were just three people sitting in a room," she says of those early days. "None of us thought we would ever ban landmines."
But Williams—daughter of a Vermont county judge and a mother who works with public housing projects—quickly fashioned a coalition of more than 1,000 groups. Still, President Clinton, citing a danger to U.S. troops, has refused to sign the treaty unless, among other conditions, U.S. mines along the North-South Korean border are exempted. Williams chastised Clinton for missing "an opportunity to be a world leader...." As her Nobel attests, that's a chance she didn't pass up.