Food Community Builder, Union Organizer, Writer: b. 1946
- Participated in the 1965 Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
- Organizer and strategist for the 1987-88 paper workers' strike in Jay, Maine.
- Co-Founder of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy
- Authored Building Unions: Past, Present and Future.
- Currently produces more than 60% of his own food for personal consumption.
Since the 1960’s, Peter Kellman has been a participant in and leader of many American social justice movements, including civil rights, labor, anti-nuclear, and now, agriculture. Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1946, Kellman began his activist life as his mother pushed his baby carriage along a picket line to support a bank workers’ union, fighting for fair treatment by the owners. Throughout his childhood, Kellman learned about activism from his parents and their friends, listening at the dinner table to adults talk about what it would take to create a fair and stable world.
When Kellman was seven years old, his family left Brooklyn and moved to Salem, New Hampshire. Then, when he was thirteen, the family moved again to Sanford, Maine, where he completed high school and went on to the University of Maine to study and play football. After one year, he moved to Harbourside, Maine to work at Helen and Scott Nearing’s homestead and learn how to live self-sufficiently on the land. During this time, the Nearings taught him about their Socialist politics, vegetarian diet and how to run a homestead.
As the Vietnam War escalated, Kellman got involved in anti-war activism. In early 1965, he went to work for the Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA) in Voluntown, Connecticut, where he organized and participated in demonstrations against the war. When the US started bombing North Vietnam, the CNVA sent Kellman to Washington, DC to organize more demonstrations against the military operation.
Shortly after he returned from DC, the CNVA sent Kellman to represent them on what would be an historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis. The goal of the 1965 march was to dramatize the fact that African Americans in Alabama were denied the right to vote. Kellman's crew of 50 seminarians set up the tents before the marchers arrived at their stopping point each evening during the five day protest. After the march, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Kellman stayed on in Selma to help build a Free Library. Later in 1965, he volunteered with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Sumter County, Alabama to help organize independent political parties.
Kellman then returned north to resist the Vietnam War by helping to organize the anti-draft movement and the Assembly of Unrepresented People in Washington, DC, the first mass arrest demonstration against the war. In 1967, he went into exile in Canada to avoid being drafted into the war in Vietnam. When he returned to the United States in 1973, he was arrested for violation of the Selective Service Act, but charges against him were later dropped by the Federal Attorney prosecuting Kellman’s case.
During the 1970s, Kellman joined people on the coast of New Hampshire and southern Maine to build the Clamshell Alliance, which set the agenda for the anti-nuclear movement at that time. Also in the 1970s, he got involved in the labor movement. He became President of Shoe Workers Local 82 in Sanford, Maine, monitoring the company’s compliance with their contractual obligation to pay the workers fair wages and provide regular hours and safe working conditions.
Kellman spent most of the 1980s in Maine working within organized labor on political and strike-related activity, including a high profile turn as a strategist and organizer of the paper workers’ strike in Jay, Maine during 1987-88. The strike was a national story; Jesse Jackson traveled to Maine to support the workers during his run for president in 1988. In his book, The Betrayal of Local 14, Jack Getman documents Kellman’s role in the strike.
Peter Kellman is a member of the National Writers Union, is President of the Southern Maine Labor Council AFL-CIO, and sits on the Executive Board of the Maine AFL-CIO.
For eight years he worked with Richard Grossman, researching, writing and speaking on the history of corporate power, the struggle to build a democracy, and the contradictions between the two for the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy.
After a diverse career, Kellman has found a new cause in the twenty-first century: the New Agriculture Movement. He and his wife Rebekah Yonan are attempting to grow all their food using only human labor and no machines. According to Kellman, the persistence of any counter-culture movement depends on its ability to establish real culture—community, arts, identity, coherent ideas, etc., and he hopes to make this happen in the agricultural community. In a way, he has come full circle from 1964 when he worked for Helen and Scott Nearing, who helped inspire the 1960s back-to-the-land movement.
Kellman is also a writer. His books include Building Unions: Past, Present & Future; Divided We Fall: The Story of the Paperworkers' Union and the Future of Labor; and Pain On Their Faces: Testimonies on the Paper Mill Strike. He is currently writing a book about the different theories labor unions have used to promote workers’ rights.