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Left Justified: Peace activist hero Kathy Kelly in Rockford Dec. 9

November 30, 2011

Stanley Campbell

By Stanley Campbell

One of my heroes is coming to Rockford. Kathy Kelly is a Catholic worker and school teacher from downtown Chicago. She has a master’s degree in theology, and uses it in her geography. She’ll talk about her latest exploits, which include trips to Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip.

Kathy is a true peace activist. Many times, she put her body between warring factions, and a few times got them to stop fighting. While leading a motley peace crew through war-torn Yugoslavia, they came upon a raging battle between two armies. The soldiers must’ve thought they were hallucinating when they saw a small company waving peace flags walk between them. They stopped shooting.

In 1990, Kathy led another international delegation to Iraq just before the “Shock and Awe” campaign. They were halfway to Baghdad when the first bomb struck, causing most of the peaceniks to turn around — all but Kathy. The group was evacuated to Jordan, but Kathy stayed in the region coordinating medical relief for the next six months.

Kathy Kelly taught in the Chicago school system since 1974, but her opposition to war led her to refuse paying income taxes. She took temporary and part-time work so as to keep her income below the poverty line. Her organization, Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org), sent many peace delegations to the Middle East. Bishops and congressmen have seen the horrors of the war from the ground level, thanks to Kathy.

I half-jokingly tell people that I am “the only paid peace activist in Rockford,” but I just wish I had Kathy Kelly’s fortitude and was able to do half what she has done in her lifetime.

She will speak at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St., four blocks north and east of Alpine and State. The program is free and open to the public.

Since May 2010, Kathy visited Afghanistan four times to learn more about conditions faced by ordinary people in a country afflicted by three decades of warfare. Her organization works closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in search of non-military solutions to end the war.

In 2009, Kathy lived in Gaza during the Operation Cast Lead bombing. Later that year, Voices formed a small delegation to visit Pakistan, to witness the effects of U.S. drone warfare on the civilian population and to better understand consequences of U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan.

From 1996 to 2003, Voices sent 70 delegations that openly defied economic sanctions by bringing medicines to children and families in Iraq. Kathy Kelly and her companions lived in Baghdad throughout the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing.

Ms. Kelly has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times since 2000. We are proud to invite her here.

Rockford Urban Ministries has hosted its annual December peace program since 1985, and brought to Rockford such notable activists as Fr. Daniel Berrigan, musician Holly Near, former Weaver Ronnie Gilbert as well as state and local dignitaries. The program is always free and open to the public, and hosted by one of RUM’s member congregations. Merry Christmas!

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2011, issue

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