My guest today is Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Welcome to OpEdNews, Kathy. You 'ran afoul of the law' recently. What can you tell us about it?
On December 10, 2014, Georgia Walker and I were found guilty of trespass, criminal trespass to a military installation. The charge was based on our June 1, 2014 effort to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander of Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri. We wanted to open a dialogue about use of the base to pilot weaponized drones over Afghanistan and other lands. The judge, a federal magistrate, found us guilty. Georgia was sentenced to one year of probation. The prosecutor recommended six months in prison, for me, and the judge sentenced me to three months.
Let's back up a bit, Kathy. Did you go into this assuming there was a good possibility that you would be apprehended? What were the actual chances of the commander agreeing about the importance of opening a dialogue with you?
I didn't believe I was acting criminally. In fact, I think Whiteman Air Force Base officials have usurped their authority over the land because they are using it to launch attacks against civilians in other lands. But, yes, I was prepared for the likelihood that soldiers at the base would be under orders to arrest us. Regarding the chances of a commander agreeing to open a dialogue with us, of course I maintain the belief that it's possible to meet with people, even commanders, and reason with them. If that possibility is dismissed, what will prevent despair? It may seem outlandish, but I think we must pursue the possibility of persuading people that nonviolence is a preferable alternative to war.
Have you ever successfully fulfilled a mission of this sort? That is, did a commander ever agree to sit down and have a serious conversation?
I want to mention that in the late '80s, I was part of a group of peace activists who were acquitted for a nonviolent trespass at a base conducting psychological operations (psyops) in Arlington Heights, Illinois. We were not able to speak with the commander, but our action helped bring public opinion into the equation which helps, I think, to raise questions with military officials. Along those lines, when I and others planted corn on nuclear missile silos, in Whiteman Air Force Base, in the summer of 1988, we were part of a series of actions protesting the nuclear weapons buried underground. Whiteman AFB, at the time, was one of several bases being considered as a site for the MX Shuttle system, a strategy which would have constantly shuttled nuclear weapons to various parts of a large base. The Whiteman AFB was turned down due to "negative public opinion." We can't help but wonder if the series of protests actions contributed significantly to building negative public opinion. Such a development can help prompt dialogue with officials.
How did you get started with this in the first place?
Idealism about living simply, sharing resources and preferring service to dominance started to sprout during the years when religious women, "nuns," educated me. I felt intense admiration for them and presumed I would join a religious order. I never did, but later in life, in 1979, when I moved into an impoverished neighborhood in Chicago and started chipping in at the soup kitchen, shelter, local house of hospitality and drop-in center for women, I felt a wonderful sense of having finally arrived where I belonged" I could align my lifestyle with deeply held values.
In 1980, Karl Meyer helped me decide to become a war tax refuser. Karl radicalized many young activists in our neighborhood, and we grew familiar with planning actions that included nonviolent civil disobedience. We aimed for radical, uncompromising actions that called for an end to U.S. intervention in Central America. In 1987, a group of us began to plan the Missouri Peace Planting action. We spent a year, meeting and planning. During August of 1988, we planted corn on nuclear weapon silo sites. Several of us did so repeatedly--after we were arrested and released, we went out and did it again. I was facing six criminal trespass charges and was eventually found guilty, sentenced to a year in prison, and incarcerated at a maximum security prison in Lexington, Kentucky --it was one of the most educational years of my life. I emerged with a strong desire to be part of ongoing peace team efforts.
So, you weren't 'rehabilitated' at all and your activism is really all of a piece. Have other actions also landed you behind bars? And does being locked up scare you or does it get easier?
I spent three months in federal prison, in 2005, for crossing the line at Ft. Benning, as part of the School of the Americas Watch annual protest. The judge at our recent trial frowned over a four page, single space listing of other court cases which have landed me in jail. I haven't met "the bad sisters" in jails or prisons. The most onerous aspect of imprisonment is the lengthy sentences imposed on women who should never, ever be punished with long separations from their loved ones. I lived in a world of imprisoned beauty when I was locked up in Lexington prison and Pekin prison.
Agreed. You're the coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. How did that come about and what kinds of things does your organization do?
Voices for Creative Nonviolence has its roots in Voices in the Wilderness which campaigned to end the economic sanctions against Iraq. We failed. We tried hard, and activists who traveled to Iraq, breaking the sanctions, along with their support groups, educated people across the U.S. and the UK, perhaps contributing to the outpouring of protest when the U.S. neared the Shock and Awe war. A number of us formed the Iraq Peace Team and stayed in Iraq throughout that war. Upon return, we continued efforts to stop U.S. supplemental funding for war in Iraq and we began to live alongside refugees who had fled to Jordan. Eventually, we decided to change our name to Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Anyone who decides to work closely with us can become a co-coordinator. Several of the most active members in the group have lived here in Chicago, maintaining an office.