On the Further Invention of Nonviolence

By Roberts, Tom | National Catholic Reporter, September 15, 2000 | Go to article overview

On the Further Invention of Nonviolence


Roberts, Tom, National Catholic Reporter


Kathy Kelly of Chicago just returned home from her summer trip.

It was a six-week getaway to sunny Basra in the South of Iraq.

This vacation package featured 100-plus temperatures for six weeks, electrical outages for 14 hours a day, no air conditioning, no ceiling fans, only occasional phone service and constant water shortages. The nearly daily sorties by low-flying U.S. and British war planes that rattled all the houses in the neighborhood, reminders of the bombs that dropped back in January 1999 just a few houses from where she was staying, kept boredom at bay.

Kelly arrived in mid-July with Lisa Gini of St. Paul, Minn.; Mark McGuire of Winona, Minn., and Tom Jackson and Lauren Cannon, both of Dover, N.H. A sixth member, Ken Hannaford-Ricard of Worcester, Mass., stayed for two weeks. The group stayed in the al-Jumhouriya neighborhood, described in one Associated Press story as "a labyrinth of mostly one-story crumbling brick houses bisected by open sewage and dotted with dumps of uncollected garbage."

Kelly returned Sept. 6 to the United States, and her work at Voices in the Wilderness, a group that has opposed the U.S. sanctions against Iraq since 1995. The work has become her life (See NCR May 21, 1999).

The summer trip was the latest and longest of many visits she has made to Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War, when she and others camped out on the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq in a wild, crazy act of nonviolence. It is difficult to get heard over the roar of the war machine.

But ever so gradually her voice has been magnified. Almost monthly for several years Voices has organized "delegations" that travel to Iraq to see the results of the sanctions, to hear firsthand the sorrow in a country where as many as 5,000 children a month under the age of 5 die because of the sanctions. Hundreds of people have headed off on the unlikely journey to this war-ravaged country. The day she got back from her latest trip she was on the phone with a TV reporter from Brazil who was trying to hook up with a delegation. Little by little the word goes out from the returning delegations: The war in Iraq has not ended.

Somewhere in the early light of human existence folks began to experiment with violence. Since then, the race has spent a staggering amount of will and imagination, not to mention money and re-sources, on war making. Kelly and others like her insist on standing in defiance of all of that history. They experiment with the mad notion of nonviolence.

So what does a summer in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Basra yield for the nonviolence effort?

In a phone interview Kelly kept talking about the details of daily living.

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