Peace activists convene at Oakwood University for Adventist Peace Education Week

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Dr. Keith Augustus Burton (one of the APF’s founding Advisory Board members and the director of the Adventist-Muslim Center at Oakwood University) presents the 2015 Adventist Peace Fellowship Peace and Justice Calendar to internationally known peace activist Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

(Republished by permission of Kay Campbell writing for the Huntsville Times)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Want to feel less discouraged about the disarray and violence in the world? Then join a protest movement, say Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, a pro-peace group originally organized by mothers against war.

During the evening presentation on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, marking Adventist Peace Education Week at Oakwood University, Kelly and Benjamin took questions from the audience of about 30 about what their protests and demonstrations do. Kelly has just been sentenced and will report on Jan. 23 to a federal prison for a three-month sentence for walking into Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri with a loaf of bread and letters from Afghan teenagers she was trying to deliver to the commander of the base from which drones are controlled that are killing people in Afghanistan.

“You always feel like a fool out there,” said Benjamin, who recently participated in a“die-in” in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office to bring attention to the civilian deaths in Gaza from Israel’s strong-handed response to Hamas. “But that’s how a movement starts. That’s how it gets built up. That’s how it gets talked about.”

But it’s been 13 years, with no end in sight, that the U.S. has been at war in the Middle East. When will that stop? Given the money involved in the military-industrial-congressional complex, Kelly and Benjamin said, perhaps never unless American citizens become more active in protesting the growing militarism abroad – and at home, for that matter, as local police departments become a dumping ground for excess military supplies. Despite the horrors in the world, both activists said they see signs of progress.

“People who do these actions tend to be more optimistic than people just sitting at home, getting more and more disgusted with how things are,” Benjamin said. “When you’re on the front lines, you do find those little victories.”

Career of action

Kathy Kelly has spent most of her adult life on the frontlines. Kelly holds a master’s in religion, but has spent most of her adult life traveling to the heart of dangerous and pained places. During the embargo on Iraq, she helped to take medication and other humanitarian supplies – in violation of the United Nations embargo – to people who were dying.

“It was a death row for children,” Kelly said, quoting a British aid worker she talked to in Iraq when she delivered the supplies.

She was living in Baghdad at the time of the American invasion as a living example of how pro-peace actions involve simplicity and direct service. In Afghanistan, where she has also lived for years, she helped set up a woman’s cooperative to make blankets to give to people who are freezing, sometimes to death, with the war-caused disruption of electricity in the cities. To make sure she in no way contributes to America’s wars, since the early 1980s, Kelly has voluntarily limited her income to below the taxable level of income tax.

“The IRS became my spiritual director in living in solidarity with the poor,” Kelly said.

“Blood will not wash away blood,” Kelly said, summing up why she is against war. The connection between America’s actions in Iraq and the recent escalation of ISIS and even the massacre in France is clear: Most of the leaders of ISIS were held as teenagers in cruel circumstances in the same American prison in Iraq, where they met and began pledging their lives to fighting together. The gunmen in France were trained in the camps in Yemen that also have direct connections to people formerly held in American camps in Iraq.

“Please don’t hear me make excuses for anyone anywhere who decides to put up a gun and kill, but let us be aware of the consequences, let us see the context in which evil is going to exist,” Kelly said.

Huntsville’s bloody hands

Like several of the Huntsville-area peace activists who welcomed the crowd, both Kelly and Medea Benjamin made reference to the reliance that the Huntsville area has on the machinations of war, including being a center for development and testing of the drone bombers and surveillance machines. Those instruments of death could be turned to good, Medea said.

“These could be used for good – to fight forest fires, to track endangered wildlife, to help farmers or realtors or as hobbies,” Medea said. “Let’s develop technology for positive uses, and let’s quit using drones for killing.”

Medea has been part of protests that have flown surveillance drones over the homes of those making decisions about military uses of drones to let them see how it feels to have that impersonal monitoring. They don’t like it.

“They usually have us arrested,” Medea said, shrugging.

Only peace activists can introduce new solutions to global disruptions, both Kelly and Medea said. Otherwise, those in power will hear only from people who think the way to solve problems of violence is with a stronger counter-violence. And citizens also have push the government to quit supporting repressive governments – like that in Saudi Arabia – and encourage patient negotiations, which, so far, is what is happening with Iran despite some pressuring for military action there, too.

“We’ve just concluded the biggest arms deal in the history of humanity with Saudi Arabia – the center of this radical Muslim teaching and a terribly repressive government,” Medea said. “How do you think that looks to people in the Muslim world who are trying to build democracies?”

Keeping the long arc of justice in mind is crucial to peace work, Kelly said.

“Just think – if this meeting were held 100 years ago, how many people in this room wouldn’t be able to vote, to own land, to marry,” Kelly said. “Some things that seem unthinkable, even impossible, can be closer than we think. Let us not despair. We are all part of one another – and that way peace lies.”

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