Article 25

Risking All for Peace: Creativity in the Service of Non-Violence

In Uncategorized on 07/21/2011 at 9:17 pm

Creativity in the service of non-violence

By Janice Sevre-Duszynska

Kathy Kelly, an internationally known peace activist, drew concentric circles on the chalkboard.

The outermost circle represented U.S. citizens thoroughly antagonistic toward aims and strategies of the peace movement. In the next circle were people apathetic about wars the United States is waging. In the next circle were citizens whose opinions could be swayed, followed by a circle representing the organizers willing to engage in setting up education and outreach actions. The innermost and smallest circle represented those who risk imprisonment for non-violent direct actions or risk their lives by traveling as peacemakers into war zones.

Kelly suggested that the circle most important to expand is that of the organizers, those who maintain databases, write press releases, arrange speaking events, organize phone banks and accomplish all the tasks necessary to broaden outreach and education.

“How do we make this part of the circle grow?” she asked.

Kelly suggested that many people possess excellent organizing skills but are consumed with arranging sports and entertainment events for their children, e.g. soccer games.

“Can we appeal to the parents’ natural empathy for children and encourage stronger involvement with peace and environmental activism that will build a better future for their children?” she asked.

Peacemakers from all over the United States gathered last year during the July 4 weekend in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for the 30th anniversary of Plowshares, The Nuclear Resister and Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. Kelly suggested engaging people in the anti-nuclear and anti-war movement by seeking common ground.

‘Where you stand’

The Nobel Peace Prize nominee’s peacemaking journey began many years ago. She was persuaded, she said, by Daniel Berrigan, renowned poet, American peace activist and Roman Catholic priest, who said, “We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course continues, because the waging of war by its nature, is total – but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial. So a whole will and a whole heart and a whole national life bent toward war prevail over the mere desire for peace.”

In 1988 Kelly was sentenced to a year in prison for planting corn on nuclear-missile silo sites. She served nine months in a maximum-security prison in Lexington, Ky. In spring 2004 she served three months at Pekin Federal Prison for crossing the line as part of an ongoing effort by School of the Americas Watch to close the combat training school at Fort Benning, Ga.

Kelly went on to help found Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the U.N. and U.S. sanctions against Iraq. For taking medicine to Iraq in open violation of the sanctions, she and other campaign members were notified of a proposed $163,000 penalty. They were threatened with 12 years in prison and eventually fined $20,000 – a sum that they’ve refused to pay. Later they renamed the organization Voices of Creative Nonviolence.

Voices in the Wilderness organized 70 delegations to visit Iraq during the period between 1991 and the beginning of the “Operation Shock and Awe” warfare, which began in 2003. Kelly had visited Iraq 24 times since 1996.

In October 2002, Voices of the Wilderness declared its intent to remain in Baghdad, alongside Iraqi civilians, throughout a war they thought they could still prevent. Kelly and her team stayed in Baghdad throughout the bombardment and invasion and maintained a household in Baghdad until March 2004.

During the first two weeks of the Gulf War, she was part of the Gulf Peace Team, a peace encampment on the Iraqi-Saudi border. Following evacuation to Amman, Jordan, on Feb. 4, 1991, team members stayed in the region for the next six months to help coordinate medical relief convoys and study teams.

Other Lands Have Dreams: From Baghdad to Pekin Prison, published in 2005, is Kelly’s account of her time in Iraq from the first Gulf War of 1991 through the misery of 12 years of economic sanctions to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq that began with Operation Shock and Awe and continues to the present.

“Something that we often said in Iraq was, ‘Where you stand determines what you see.’ We didn’t see ourselves as human shields, but we wanted to stand alongside people and try to understand the war from the perspective of people who are in front of the gun or caught in the crosshairs,” Kelly said. “But, of course, one reality is we had our European passport and could leave, whether it’s Gaza or Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan. They have nowhere to leave. We thought we could amplify the voices of the people whose concerns are often unrepresented or overlooked.

“That’s been one of the motivating energies for a long series of Voices efforts, but we also think we should launch campaigns to affect public opinion here and make the issues political issues so elected officials could know that 70 percent of the public registered disapproval of the war in Afghanistan. Yet at the exit polls at the midterm elections, only 3 per cent said it was a political issue that would affect their voting choices.”

‘Not a cry for war’

In 2007 Voices for Creative Nonviolence launched the Occupation Project, a campaign of sustained non-violent civil disobedience aimed at ending funding for the U.S. war in and occupation of Iraq. CODEPINK, Declaration of Peace, Veterans for Peace and other national organizations joined in organizing the campaign. Between Feb. 5 and April 17, 2007, over 320 arrests occurred in the offices of 39 representatives and senators. The campaign spread nationally, with campaigns in over 25 states from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., and from Fairbanks, Alaska to Huntsville, Ala.

The goal of the campaign was to encourage representatives and senators to commit to voting against any funding for the Iraq War. Voices members aimed to non-violently occupy the offices of elected officials who persisted in voting to fund ongoing war.

“Eighteen congresspersons changed their vote,” Kelly said. “All of them had offices which were occupied by participants in the Occupation Project.”

In 2007 she spent five months in Amman, Jordan, living among Iraqis who had fled their homes and were seeking resettlement.

She visited Gaza during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” assault in 2009 and spent a month in Pakistan in 2009, writing eyewitness accounts of war’s impact on civilians. Kelly traveled to Pakistan once and to Afghanistan three times in 2010, with small delegations intent on learning more about conditions faced by ordinary people in these countries affected by of warfare. This spring she and two dozen peace activists visited Afghanistan, where they worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in search of non-military solutions to end the war.

Kelly spoke of how a journalist recently called to talk about news that the United States had killed Osama Bin Laden. Referring to throngs of young people celebrating outside the White House, the reporter asked what Voices would say if it had a chance to speak with those young people.

“We’d want to tell them about a group of people who in November of 2001 walked from Washington, D.C., to New York City carrying a banner that said, ‘Our Grief is not a Cry for War.’ Several of the walkers had lost their loved ones in the attacks on 9/11. When the walk ended, they founded Families for Peaceful Tomorrows to continually represent the belief that our security is not founded in violence and revenge.

“Often during that walk, participants were asked what we’d suggest as an alternative to invading Afghanistan. One response was that the U.S. and other countries could enact a criminal investigation and rely on police work and intelligence to apprehend the perpetrators of the attack. As it turns out, the U.S. discovered where Osama bin Laden was through those means and not through warfare. How have the past 10 years of aerial bombardments, night raids, death squads, assassinations and drone attacks in Afghanistan benefited the U.S. people? Did the carnage and bloodshed bring the U.S. closer to discovering the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden? Have we defeated terrorism or created greater, deeper hatred toward the U.S.?”

Kelly recounted a 2010 Voices delegation that visited a rural village in the central highlands of Afghanistan. They sat with women who were close in age to the young people who were celebrating at the White House when Bin Laden was killed. Asked if they had ever heard of a time when a large passenger plane had crashed into a tall building in the United States, the young women were puzzled. They had never heard of 9/11.

“They live in a country where 850 children die every day, a country which the U.N. has termed the worst country in the world into which a child can be born, where the average life expectancy is 42 years of age. The UN says that 7.4 million Afghans live with hunger and fear of starvation, while millions more rely on food help, and one in five children die before the age of 5. Each week the U.S. taxpayers spend $2 billion to continue the war in Afghanistan.”

Women who are part of an extended family in a small mountainous village in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan welcome Kathy Kelly (seated) and Jerica Arents for lunch and conversation. Photo by Hakim.

Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and their coordinator join Kathy Kelly on the beach of a glacial lake in Band-i-Amir, in Afghanistan's Bamiyan province. Photo by Jerica Arents.

For more information on Voices for Creative Nonviolence, visit

The author is an ordained Roman Catholic woman priest.


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