Living Peacefully in a Violent World

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      
 in 2000, again in 2001 with
Dennis Halliday, and also in 2003 with
Voices in the Wilderness; she is one of the
founders and coordinators of Voices in
the Wilderness, a Chicago-based campaign
since 1996 to end the United
Nations sanctions against Iraq; she was a
member of the Iraq Peace Team, spending
October 2002 through April 2003
(except for a break of several weeks in
January 2003) in Iraq, and was therefore
present when the American bombs started
falling in Baghdad in March of 2003;
she has traveled to
Haiti, Bosnia, and
Jenin on the occupied
West Bank, and she
was part of a peace
team located on the
Iraq-Saudi border
during the 1991 Gulf
War; and she has spoken
in Champaign-
Urbana on many occasions.
What is clear
when seeing her speak,
conversing with her in
interviews, and in listening
to others sing
nothing but praises
about her is that she
embodies – and puts a
face to – activism.
I had the pleasure
and honor of speaking with Kelly on February
24th to discuss her work as well as
some of the fundamental questions in
our current world when it comes to peace
and justice. Through anecdotes and evidence
of her commitment to pacifism
and especially the plight of children
worldwide, we gain a picture of world
politics and social activism that is devastatingly
real, yet persistently hopeful.
Kelly’s treatment upon her most
recent arrest and her impending sentence
indeed punctuate a lifetime of peaceful
protest and leave a question mark lingering
over the state of civil liberties in this
country. She will serve a 90-day term in
federal prison this spring, probably starting
in late March, for trespassing onto
military property at Fort Benning, Georgia
to protest the School of the Americas
(SOA, now WHISC) last fall. Each year
thousands of nonviolent protesters gather
at the gates of Ft. Benning and ask that
the SOA be shut down. Names of the
murdered Latin American innocents are
read in a funeral procession, after each of
which the word presenté is spoken in
solemn remembrance of the hundreds of
thousands murdered by SOA graduates.
This is not the first year Kelly has participated
in actions at Ft. Benning. In
1990, she did a water-only fast for 28
days, an action she says was “commensurate
with the crimes being committed” in
Latin America and in the Middle East,
where people lack basic necessities and
live in constant fear. Late at night, soldiers
would come to the gate and talk
with Kelly and the other protesters, asking
questions about where El Salvador
was, or why they might be sent to protect
a small country like Kuwait.
Kelly sees the annual protest at Ft.
Benning as an opportune place to participate
in nonviolent resistance, because
there is predictability in the consequences
for “crossing the line,” or stepping
beyond the (literal) strip of white
paint marking the beginning of military
property. In the past, arrests have been
made and widespread citations for trespassing
issued. The arrests in 2003, however,
make Kelly part of the SOA 28, a
group harshly prosecuted for their
actions on November 23rd, when some
14,000 people gathered at Ft. Benning,
now facing a police
force funded by the
federal defense budget
and a military engaging
in trans-Atlantic
training with the U.K.
on how to deal with
large groups of protesters.
While normally,
Kelly says, white,
middle-class, educated
peace activists are
treated with kid gloves,
those arrested this time
suffered the kind of
brutal treatment by
authorities more typically
seen when cops
confront urban people
of color.
Kelly was pushed to
the floor and called “fucker” by four
angst-filled soldiers who held her on the
ground by kneeling on her back. In her
words, she was “hogtied,” with her wrists
and ankles cuffed and chained together,
and dragged around the jail. She claims,
in a widely-distributed editorial entitled
Hogtied and Abused at Fort Benning,
“We now live in a country where Homeland
Security funds pay for exercises
which train military and police units to
control and intimidate crowds, detainees,
and arrestees using threat and force.”
Kelly now faces 90-plus days in federal
prison, with another month possibly
tacked on for a different direct action in
Wisconsin; she has chosen to self-report
when it comes time for her incarceration,
spending her remaining weeks on speaking
tours and doing interviews such as
this one.
Kelly, perhaps best known for her
work in Iraq, spoke at a rally at the U of I
as well as the Champaign Public Library
in September 2003 at a “Town Meeting”
regarding on the War on Iraq. She retold
her experience of “A-Day” in Baghdad,
the third day of War during which the
U.S. dropped 1000 bombs on the city,
costing $1 million apiece; that’s one billion
dollars worth of murder and
destruction in one day in a war that continues,
with the U.S. spending $4 billion
each month to finance its occupation of
Iraq.What would Kelly have done with a
billion dollars to spend in 24 hours in
Baghdad? “Lift the economic sanctions,”
she says, “so people could go to work and
have purchasing power and strengthen
their own infrastructures, including education,
social services, and communication,”
so they could realize their collective
As a result of 12 years of sanctions,
Iraq was left with a starving, oppressed,
and dying citizenry, whose story Kelly
worked tirelessly to bring to the attention
of American media.With Voices, she was
instrumental in making the anti-sanctions
campaign into a national conversation
here in the U.S. But mainstream
media repeatedly refused to cover the
story, much less dare walk into a hospital
or school in Iraq. It is estimated that tens
of thousands of Iraqis died each month –
many of them children and elderly people,
from malnourishment and diseases
caused by unsanitary water and living
conditions – during the sanctions period
between the Gulf War and War on Iraq.
Some estimate 1 million deaths attributable
to the sanctions – half of them children.
Moreover, the sanctions only
worked to strengthen Hussein’s regime,
making him richer and giving his Baathist
regime more power and leverage while
sacrificing an impoverished citizenry.
After September 11th, 2001, as the
War against Terrorism began in
Afghanistan and the Iraq War was sold to
the American public via falsified claims
of weapons of mass destruction, Voices
decided to change its agenda from antisanctions
to anti-war, launching a new
project called the Iraq Peace Team that
has sent approximately 150 “ordinary”
people to Iraq so that they could return
home to tell their neighbors and friends
about what they witnessed. In late summer
and fall of 2002, members of the
Iraq Peace Team visited hospitals and
schools, bannered electric facilities,
bridges, and other infrastructural sites,
and experienced the terror of war for
themselves. Upon returning to the U.S.,
the volunteers toured widely, sharing
experiences and reiterating that Iraqis are
just like us, that they need the same
resources and depend on the same facilities
as we do.
In March, the bombs started falling.
Housed in the Al Fanar hotel in Baghdad,
Kelly saw the city transformed almost
instantly into a “deserted ghost town.”
People who had only hours before
roamed streets and visited markets were
afraid to go anywhere. As she puts it, the
constant barrage of “earsplitting blasts
and sickening thuds” on A-Day signaled
“a defeat before it was even spoken of as a
victory.” An ironic victory indeed, as the
occupation continues with daily attacks
and slayings, sewage seeping into hospitals,
and an infant mortality rate that has
doubled in less than one year, according
to the most recent reports. Kelly calls the
sanctions and War on Iraq the “most
egregious instance of child abuse on the
planet.” While prior to 1990 obesity was
the number-one killer of children in Iraq,
since then there has been a five-fold
increase in cancer and massive deaths
due to malnutrition and poor sanitation,
and to the sanctions as well as U.S.
bombings throughout the decade that
used arms tipped with depleted uranium.
“Democracy is based on information,”
she says, yet mainstream media
refused to report on the consequences of
the sanctions in the 1990s, and the
beloved journalistic embeds were overwhelmingly
hawkish during the Iraq
War and months leading up to it. For
example, corporate media was quick to
report that Colin Powell’s speech before
the U.N. in February of 2003 cinched the
cause, and we know now that his fancy
visually-enhanced presentation relied on
false evidence. And while the Peace Team
relentlessly invited journalists into hospitals
and schools during the sanctions
and prior to the war, America refused to
listen. During the GulfWar of 1991, Kelly joined a group
of pacifists who stationed themselves along the Iraq-
Saudi border, hoping to bring attention to the violence
of war, with little result. But hope was not lost.
By 2001 the peace movement was renewed, educated,
and highly aware of the situation in the Middle East
and Iraq. Kelly is proud that although we didn’t stop
the war, “the international movement came closer
than ever,” and “should be heartened.” We need to
keep telling people about this war, to “refuse to be
fearbound and further bamboozled.”
Local librarian and community member Carol
Inskeep has known Kelly for 20 years. They worked
together at a Catholic Worker house on the north
side of Chicago that served as a soup kitchen, drop-in
center for women, house of hospitality, and alternative
school.What impresses Inskeep most about Kelly
is that she “lives her life by her deep convictions;” she
is compelled to speak out against injustice and in the
name of peace in any manner possible, including illegal
acts of civil disobedience, yet “she is personally
modest and warm, and she has a wonderful sense of
“Don’t make a virtue out of necessity,” Kelly told
me when I asked her how she prevents herself from
the despair that would succumb most of us if we
were to devote our lives as she has to peace, nonviolence,
and simplicity. She is truly happy–happy to
always be thinking about and finding ways to build a
better world, happy to see fresh voices and renewed
commitments to peace and justice, happy to live
without the burden of corporations, institutions, and
taxes (she refuses “war taxes,” and thus does not own
a car or home nor earn an annual salary – the IRS
serves, in other words, as her “spiritual director”).
“The grass doesn’t look greener elsewhere,” she says,
and she looks forward to a world where people stop
racing around and keeping up with the demands of a
consumer society.
The burden of consumerism in America is especially
poignant for young people who don’t feel loved
or accepted unless they have the right things. To
Kelly, this is a form of terrorism, the inescapable pollution
and waste that we are creating every day with
our shopping, consumption, transportation, and
pollution. To her, peace begins with a change in selfperception,
a recognition that what is best for the
future begins with taking care of ourselves and our
environment right now, working toward sustainability
and resisting the “terrific antagonism of having to
acquire goods at the lowest possible prices.” She is
not a victim, but an advocate, a woman who, as she is
shuffled off to prison, says with optimism and sincerity
that this is an “extraordinarily opportune time to
make a change in human history.”
On the SOA/WHISC, see; on Iraq,
see and; on
the sanctions, see Amnesty International and Unicef;
on the Catholic Worker, see

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