Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Kathy Kelly visits Kalona, IA & speaks on “Yemen, Afghanistan, and the War Against the Poor”

By Verna Zook

Forty-five persons were in attendance at the JPOG (Just Peace Outreach Group) meeting on December 10, 2017, at Kalona Mennonite Church (Kalona, IA)  to hear Kathy Kelly address the topic, "Yemen, Afghanistan, and the War against the Poor."   
            Our speaker, Kathy Kelly, is the coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a peace organization organized in 2005 and based in Chicago that invites us to join with them as they engage in nonviolent actions of peaceful resistance to challenge U.S. economic and military warfare waged in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Their latest efforts have focused on the war in Yemen and the accompanying humanitarian crisis in that country.  Although Kathy did not speak about this, her actions, and the acts of civil disobedience of others in the organization have resulted in periods of incarceration.
            An unapologetic pacifist, Kathy took us back to her early years as a young teacher in Chicago in the mid 1970’s.  By the end of the year, three of the students she taught would be dead.  She decided that ultimately the cause of death was poverty.  In 1988, she was part of a group that decided to plant corn in the soil covering an Inter- Continental Ballistic Missile silo in Missouri, one of a thousand scattered throughout the Midwest.  On a hot summer day, she managed to climb the barb wire fence with her packet of seed corn and plant the seeds.  Shortly, four fully armed military policemen approached; then three of them disappeared, leaving one, who promptly arrested and handcuffed her.  In the ensuing conversation, Kathy asked him if he would like her to pray.  He said “Yes”.  So she prayed St. Francis Prayer…Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love…….. It was a typical hot humid Missouri summer day, and as she continued to kneel on the ground, handcuffed, the soldier asked her if she would like a drink of water, and then proceeded to pour water into her mouth, while she gratefully drank.  At no point could she look into his face, and she has no idea what he did with his rifle.  A last memory of their interchange remains with her….”I sure hope the corn grows”, he said.  In those few moments of time, “enemies” cared for each other in their common humanity.
            Kathy noted that the current US Defense Budget stands at 700 billion dollars a year, and there are no signs of reduction.  Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke out against the war in Vietnam in a speech a year before his assassination, likened the US Military to a giant suction tube, repeating  the now famous 1963 classic Dwight D. Eisenhower quote, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. ….”
            Kathy also recalled her recent visit to Ireland as a guest of the Sisters of St. Brigid, who embrace numerous projects to protect the environment, welcome refugees and nonviolently resist wars.  She talked to high school students who met in the field building of an 1845 workhouse and graveyard.  During those years, one million Irish died and another one and a half million left Ireland for North America and Australia.

Yemen and US Involvement
            The situation in Yemen is complicated; civil unrest and instability have existed in varying degrees since 2004.  Beginning in 2011, the conflict escalated and is now an all-out civil war within the country.  Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have also become involved.  The relationship of the US and Saudi Arabia is full of complexity, but the short of it is that we are presently at war in Yemen, fully supporting Saudi Arabia.  In 2015, the US sold the Saudis a huge military package.  According to The Washington Post, the US is providing “intelligence, maritime support, airborne intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, aerial refueling, and medical aid” to forces loyal to the Saudi-backed government in Yemen, as well as Saudi and Emirati forces.  Drone strikes are now routine.  This war has not been debated in Congress.  Kathy urged us to contact our representatives to support House Bill #81, which would demand a debate under the War Resolution Act.
            Kathy’s take on the situation in Yemen is that a prolonged war is in the best interests of the Saudis.  With a steady flow of money and weapons from the US, the hope is that the Houthi rebel forces will be worn down over time.   However, as long as the resources for fighting keep coming, the hope for a peace settlement is dim indeed.
            Meanwhile, as a result of the war, and our part in it, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has reached epic proportions.  In addition to large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries, including children, there is wide spread hunger and the threat of starvation and famine.  The country’s infrastructure has been devastated and an estimated 2,750,000 persons are internally displaced.  Thousands more are fleeing the country.  At the same time, climate change and desertification of Eastern Africa is forcing millions to flee into Yemen and neighboring countries along the Gulf.  It is estimated that currently there are 225,000 Somalis in Yemen who have fled starvation in their own country.  Four African countries, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, face a credible threat of famine in the coming year, as described at:

Four Famines in Africa threaten 20 million people, caused in part by Saudi airstrikes (written by Kathy Kelly)

            Kathy Kelly’s involvement in Afghanistan began very soon after the US Armed Forces invaded the country in 2001, and continues until the present.  Her primary work now is with Afghan young people in the organization Afghan Peace Volunteers.  Although the war continues unabated, these young people are an inspiration in their tireless efforts to work for peace.  This war is now the longest in US history.  The bombings, even of civilian non-military targets, continue to devastate the country.  Kathy described in vivid detail the October 2015 bombing of a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Kunduz by US military forces.  Forty-two people were killed: hospital staff, patients, and family members, and dozens injured, some as they were fleeing the scene.  Kathy has spoken with several survivors.  This hospital was the only medical facility providing health services to a large area.  The bombing left it completely inoperable and unusable.  Sadly, similar incidents continue to happen in other countries where we are at war.
            The mission of the Afghan Peace Volunteers is to build a critical mass of nonviolent relationships for a green, equal and nonviolent world without war.  They distribute food and blankets to those in need, cross ethnic  boundaries to listen to people’s stories, conduct workshops to teach nonviolent strategies to resolve conflict, and educate their peers in peace-making .
            Kathy had a supply of lovely blue scarves for sale, hand made and embroidered by the young women of the organization.

Closing Comments – Quotes
“Put the guns away, bring the soldiers home, and extend the same care to Mother Earth that we should be extending to each other in the human family.”
“Our main crop (in the Midwest) is no longer corn, it’s weapons of destruction.”

It was a privilege to hear Kathy Kelly speak with passion, warmth, and humility.  The day she was with us was also her 65th birthday.  Thanks to Kay Fleming and Jane Yoder-Short for supplying the birthday treats to celebrate with her.  Thanks also to Ed Flaherty and the local Veterans For Peace groups for arranging for her to speak to us.

 Verna Zook is officially "retired", but keeps busy with volunteer work and church involvement, as well as her role as farm wife to husband Donald.  They are parents of four adult children and grandparents to two.  In recent years, she’s become more interested in how current issues of peace and social justice intersect with the Biblical mandate to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God", especially as revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus.  Her congregation, East Union Mennonite, Kalona, Iowa, is one of several that support JPOG (Just Peace Outreach Group) by hosting them among other things.

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