Peace Activist : b. 1953
Three times since 2000, Kathy Kelly has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1996 she helped to found Voices in the Wilderness, a group which bears witness to the suffering which the U.S./U.N.-imposed sanctions have visited upon the people—especially the children—of Iraq.
Profiled by Katie Watson in Hope magazine (May/June, 2003), Kelly traces her activism to her pious childhood on the South Side of Chicago. During high school she began to read about the Holocaust. “I remember thinking,” she told Watson,“that I never ever-ever-ever want to be the person who is trying to be an innocent bystander while something that awful goes on.”
After graduating from Loyola University and while still a graduate student at Chicago Theological Seminary, she volunteered at a soup kitchen run by a Catholic Worker House. This experience enabled her to relate the ideals derived from her studies to action. As a high-school English teacher as well as a committed anti-poverty worker, she encouraged her students to make the same connections between theory and practice.
Kelly moved from neighborhood poverty issues to advocacy of nonviolence on a global scale. For her participation in planting corn in the soil above nuclear missile silos, a symbolic act intended to demonstrate the peaceful use of land, she was sentenced to nine months in federal prison. She said she found her jail term to be a “liberating” experience because it helped her to face the fear of coercion.
Kathy Kelly is no stranger to coercion. For refusing to pay federal income taxes her teaching salary was garnisheed; for repeated visits to Iraq to distribute toys and medicine to children, she and her associates have incurred thousands of dollars in fines, along with threats of imprisonment. When she trespassed at Fort Benning, Georgia to protest the activities of the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2003, she was arrested, physically and verbally abused and sentenced to three months in federal prison. She accepts the consequences of her actions, determined to stand against what Martin Luther king Jr. has called “the violence of desperate men.”