Voices in Wilderness disbands; new group formed.
"We don't intend to pay the fine," Kelly told NCR, "and we don't want people who support us to have their contributions seized." Instead, a new Kelly-led group, called Voices for Creative Nonviolence, has been formed with a focus different from that of the original Voices.
Between 1996 and 2003, the Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness organized more than 70 illegal delegations to Iraq to protest U.S. sanctions against that country. The visitors carried in medicines and other supplies to help alleviate the suffering of Iraqi children. The sanctions had cut off access to needed medical and hospital supplies, contributing, according to the United Nations, to the deaths of more than 500,000 children during the 1990s. "We brought in mostly antibiotics to fight the deadly parasitical illness caused by contaminated water," said Kelly. "It was a drop in the ocean, considering the need, but we felt something had to be done."
In 2003 the Justice Department fined Voices for carrying "medicine and toys" into the country in blatant disregard for sanction regulations. Last Aug. 12, federal Judge John Bates in Washington upheld the sentence, reminding Voices' leaders of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s admonition that those who engage in illegal protest must be prepared to accept the penalties.
"If we have to go to jail, we will," said Kelly, "but we won't pay and we don't want anyone else to pay the fine for us."
Meanwhile, the newly created organization, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, has three major goals, said Kelly: to muster popular support for a U.S. military pullout from Iraq, to press for cancellation of Iraq's international debt, and to call for reparation payments to the country for the damage, deaths and destruction caused by the coalition-sponsored war and occupation. For several days in late October the group sponsored antiwar demonstrations in scores of cities in the United States, Britain, Switzerland and other countries. Titled" 100,000 Rings," the action involved the ringing of bells once every minute to commemorate the more than 100,000 war-related deaths of Iraqi civilians since the invasion in 2003. The 100,000 figure was an estimate from a study released a year ago by the British medical journal The Lancet.
Buoyed by growing public opposition in the United States to the war and declining public confidence in President Bush's leadership, Kelly said, Voices for Creative Nonviolence is planning a series of activities in the months ahead under the slogan, "The Winter of Our Discontent." She has recently given talks in Ireland and several U.S. cities and has written a book on her experiences titled, Other Lands Have Dreams: From Baghdad to Pekin Prison. In the spring of 2004, Kelly served three months in Pekin federal women's prison in Peoria, Ill., for nonviolent resistance in a protest at Fort Benning, Ga., home to a U.S. Army school that trains Latin American military officers, many of whom have later committed atrocities in their homelands.
[Robert McClory of Chicago is a longtime contributor to NCR.]