of mind: Kathy Kelly.
From the Wilderness
Peace Prize nominee asks Bethlehem crowd what it really means
to counter terror
crowd of about 150 that packed Bethlehem’s Town Hall Saturday
night seemed to hold its collective breath as two-time Nobel
Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly gave her firsthand account
of the United States military’s infamous Shock and Awe campaign
in Iraq—as witnessed from a Baghdad hotel room.
never seen so many adults trying to maintain a poker face,”
laughed the 51-year-old peacemaker as she brushed back graying
curls from bright eyes and a face that looked far younger
than its years.
According to Kelly, the battle raging outside shook the building’s
foundation and the courage of its inhabitants, as she and
fellow Iraqi Peace Team members tried to calm the Iraqi families
holed up with them. When the dull ‘thud’ of explosions faded
and the first group of U.S. Marines arrived in the city, said
Kelly, “this was one relieved pacifist—that’s for sure.”
Kelly explained that her presence in Iraq—when so many people
there were doing whatever possible to get out—was intended
to show the Iraqis and the rest of the world that, despite
the momentum behind America’s rush to war, “there is always
an alternative.” Acting in the name of peace, she said, requires
just as much courage as acting in the name of war.
And, admitted the longtime Catholic Worker and graduate of
the Chicago Theological Seminary, the decision to act in the
name of peace isn’t always an easy one—even for someone who
has received as many national and international humanitarian
awards as she has over the last decade.
simply not wired to always be kind and caring,” said Kelly,
who asked her audience earlier in the night to think about
“what it really means to counter terror.”
would suggest that I’m looking at a room full of counterterror
experts,” she added.
And the cost of her actions—whether measured in dollars or
time—hasn’t been cheap. During the 90-minute speech and the
half-hour question-and-answer session that followed, Kelly
shifted from one life’s lesson to the next, describing the
lessons learned through prison-time served, bombings weathered
and financial standoffs still pending. The process of accumulating
those lessons, said Kelly, gave birth to Voices in the Wilderness,
an international campaign she helped create to encourage nations
to direct more of their resources toward life-affirming goals
rather than life-ending practices.
Changing America’s direction could change America’s image
around the world, said Kelly. And that, she reasoned, is the
best way to make America safe.
It was during a visit to the West Bank’s Jenin camp in 2002,
just after Israeli forces leveled several blocks of homes
as part of Operation Defensive Shield, that Kelly said she
was made painfully aware of the ubiquitous perception of America.
of the two sisters I was walking through the rubble with .
. . she found a piece of her computer,” said Kelly. “She held
it up and pointed to it. Then she said, ‘See? We’re just like
only wish they could connect with a Westerner over something
other than a machine,” she sighed. “But for so many people,
that’s all Americans are about.”
Recently, while being arrested for participation in a nonviolent
protest at a military training school in Fort Benning, Georgia,
Kelly found that the experience provided a unique insight
into the causes of some problems abroad.
According to Kelly, several soldiers seemed to take particular
pleasure in throwing a “107-pound, graying peace activist”
to the ground—nearly choking her—while other soldiers offered
her comforting words or a squeeze on the shoulder during the
arrest procedure. Much like her experiences in Baghdad, where
she met both kind, good-natured soldiers and some who went
out of their way to interfere with peace efforts, soldiers’
confusion about their roles can create undesirable situations
for everyone involved.
This type of scenario, reasoned Kelly, is what made events
like the notorious abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison possible.
this is how soldiers act here in the United States,” she said,
“just imagine what those soldiers will do in a faraway country
where they’re afraid and no one’s watching them.”
According to Kelly, such actions pose a particular threat
in Iraq, where the people remember a time not too long ago
when home invasions, curfews and aggressive police procedures
were part of the daily routine.
soldiers burst into people’s homes, tie up the parents and
hold back the children while their father is interrogated,
it’s just like the old days under Saddam,” she sighed. “We’re
creating terrorists faster than they can be killed.”
But Kelly insisted that the blame for America’s fascination
with war—and the general no-questions-asked military mindset
many Americans currently possess—should not be placed solely
upon the shoulders of soldiers. According to Kelly, accepting
bloated military spending practices and inefficient management
of our taxes ensures that things will never change.
dare we call our young people ‘Generation Kill’ when we allow
ourselves to pay for the largest arsenal in the world year
after year?” asked Kelly.
And that, said Kelly, is the reason why she has refused to
pay federal income tax for the last 23 years. While she doesn’t
normally advocate for others to do the same, she said that
the current trend toward preemptive military action has forced
her to encourage others to take a more active role in determining
the purpose their money serves.
can never reach political maturity until you’re willing to
take a long, hard look in the mirror,” said Kelly.
one belongs in a prison, not even corporate criminals.”
Kelly, founder of Voices in the Wilderness
Stinky in Ohio
For all the worry about Diebold, the latest worrisome
news out of Ohio actually involved Triad Systems,
makers of the systems that read punch-card ballots.
Truthout.org has reported that, according to sworn
affidavits from election workers, Triad representatives
have apparently showed up at at least one election
office and mysteriously tinkered with the computers
involved in recounting, and also suggested posting
a “cheat sheet” to make sure workers could say
that the machine and recount totals matched, even
if they didn’t, in order to stave off a full hand
Oh Yeah, We’re Tech Valley
Researchers from UAlbany and the New York State
Department of Health have made international news
by having four people, two of whom are partially
paralyzed, move a computer cursor with their brainwaves.
The subjects wore a cap with 64 electrodes, and
didn’t require any invasive procedures. Maybe
such a cap could help the partially paralyzed
File Under Shameless
Three weeks after the election, the Office of
Government Ethics relaxed the prohibitions that
kept departing senior Cabinet officials from lobbying
their former colleagues for one year. The office
found the issue to be so “urgent” that it waived
the usual requirements for notice, public comment,
and a 30-day wait. But this couldn’t have anything
to do with all the folks leaving Bush’s Cabinet
could it? How could you think such a thing?
Timing, Man, Timing
In the abstract, it seems quite fair that Schenectady’s
mayor and city council should be paid roughly
what other upstate mayors and city council members
are getting paid, and that the mayor should make
more than the police commissioner. But it doesn’t
take a representatively compensated political
consultant to point out that for a city in the
financial straits of Schenectady, having a handpicked
task force suggesting that the mayor should get
a $44,500 raise, as Mayor Brian Stratton’s task
force did this week, is just not going to make
people very happy. Did you really have that much
extra political capital to spend?
School vs. New School
performance and proliferation of charter schools stirs passions
in Albany and Schenectady
was an educational week here in the Capital Region, but not
all of the lessons learned were the sort you want your kids
On Monday, representatives from various state and local governments
joined with members of Albany’s parent-teacher organizations
and the school board to ask the State University of New York
Board of Trustees to deny the applications of two new charter
schools until the performance of the current schools can be
schools are] a giant experiment being funded with taxpayer
dollars,” announced Albany School Superintendent Eva Joseph
at Monday’s press conference, held in Phillip J. Schuyler
Charter schools, which receive a per- student portion of local
school-district funds but operate independent of local school
boards and certain state regulations, have been the target
of heated criticism since New Covenant, the only one of Albany’s
four charter schools that has operated long enough for evaluation,
was forced to cancel its seventh- and eighth-grade classes
due to poor performance and return students to the public-school
system. In addition to questioning the educational effectiveness
of charter schools, critics contend that the schools’ use
of local school-district funds absent of oversight from a
elected school board amounts to “taxation without representation.”
Advocates, however, insist that the schools offer parents
more choice about their children’s education.
While discussing the financial impact of charter schools upon
local public-school funding, Joseph equated the cost of one
teacher’s salary to that of sending five or six students to
a charter school at $8,000 each. However, Joseph argued that
since the students accepted by charter schools tend to come
from several different classes rather than just a single class,
the loss of funding cannot be handled by simply eliminating
one teaching position.
But the lessons to be learned from Monday’s conference weren’t
only of the raw-data variety, as a representative from the
New York Charter School Resource Center made his presence
known after the assembled state and local groups made their
speeches to the media.
Peter Murphy, vice president of the NYCSRC and a member of
the board of trustees for Albany charter school Brighter Choice,
told reporters that in charter schools, “the money follows
the children,” and that local taxpayers have already shown
their support for the charter-school system by choosing to
take their children out of the public-school system and place
them in charter schools. Murphy once served as vice president
of the Charter School Institute, the SUNY Board of Trustees’
advisory body on charter-school application approval, and
also helped draft the 1998 legislation that opened the door
for charter schools in the state.
What could have been a lesson on civil discourse turned rowdy,
however, when members of the school board and Murphy began
arguing loudly about the accuracy of studies each side commissioned
on the financial and educational impacts of charter schools.
The impromptu point-and- counterpoint discussion quickly degraded
into each side lobbing harsh accusations—of the lies, bribery
and partisan political sort—at the other. At one point, Albany
School Board President Scott Wexler angrily asked Murphy if
he would send his own children to school at New Covenant.
would send my children to any of this city’s charter schools,”
Shaking his head, Wexler asked, “but you’ll be walking right
out of this city right after all this, won’t you? You don’t
have any stake in this besides the money, do you?”
The charter school controversy isn’t confined to the Albany
School District’s borders, either. Just a few hours after
opposing sides of the charter-school debate gave a lesson
on how not to handle a public debate, parents, teachers and
even some students from the International Charter School of
Schenectady arrived en masse at a meeting of the Schenectady
City Council to voice their support for the city’s sole charter
school. ICSS is in the last year of its initial five-year
charter, but since it opened two years late, the school falls
short of the five years of operation necessary for evaluation.
Student performance at ICSS apparently has been on par with
the school’s public counterparts, and ICSS is currently hoping
for a new, short-term charter so that both the school district
and the school’s parent corporation, SABIS Educational Systems,
can have enough information to adequately judge the school’s
performance before making a longer-term decision.
not that we believe the council is opposed to the school,”
said Lillian Turner, director of the ICSS, about Monday night’s
assembly. According to Turner, those who attended the council
meeting simply wanted to remind council members how important
the schools are for those involved with them.
And that’s exactly what they did, as speaker after speaker
became a real-life example of public participation in government.
The speakers also illustrated one of the aspects of this controversial
issue that is often lost among the facts and figures: Many
of the parents involved with charter schools genuinely believe
that the schools have had a positive effect upon their children.
Despite the protestations of Albany’s government representatives
and public-school parents, the SUNY Board of Trustees appeared
to side with the charter schools on Tuesday (Dec. 15), approving
plans for a fifth charter school to be built in the city school
district. The new school, Albany Preparatory, is expected
to draw 300 students—and the equivalent amount of taxpayer
funding—from the city school district, a condition that a
spokesman from the Charter School Institute said could be
remedied by cutting staff and expenses, as well as renting
out space to nearby charter schools.
Yet a question remains, pointed out Bill Ritchie, president
of the Albany Public Schools Teachers Association: Are charter
schools, with their ability to pick and choose their students
and draw funds away from their public school counterparts,
allowing some students to benefit at the expense of others?
Hillary, What’s Up?
Sen. Hillary Clinton breakfasted with the League
of Conservation Voters at Albany’s Desmond Hotel
yesterday morning (Wednesday, Dec. 15), about
a dozen members of Women Against War gathered
outside to let her know that they wanted her to
take stand against the ongoing occupation of Iraq.
Clinton is a member of the Senate Armed Services
board of directors has approved its proposed fare-restructuring
plan, which keeps the base fare at $1, eliminates
zone and express surcharges, reduces the Swiper
discount from 15 to 10 percent, and replaces transfers
with a $3 day pass [“Restructured for Your Convenience,”
Newsfront, Oct. 7]. The new fare structure goes
into effect April 4, 2005. . . . Sebba Rockaway
Ltd., the owner of the Wellington Hotel in downtown
Albany, has been dealt $480,000 in fines for unfixed
code violations [“On First Thought, No,” Newsfront,
Nov. 25]. The city is also hoping to recover $490,000
that it spent in emergency repairs. Sebba’s lawyers
are claiming that the code inspections were illegally
done. . . . Saratoga Springs held its final public
forum last night regarding whether the city should
turn to the Saratoga Lake or the Hudson River
(through a proposed countywide system) when its
current water source runs out [“To the Last Drop,”
Dec. 2]. Opinion is still sharply divided in the
city, but Mayor Michael Lenz is pushing for a
decision on the issue by the end of the year.
. . . Former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik has
withdrawn from the nomination for secretary of
the Department of Homeland Security [What a Week,
Dec. 9], saying he “discovered” that he’d once
employed an undocumented immigrant as a nanny
and “forgotten” to pay taxes for her. (DHS oversees
immigration enforcement.) But according to multiple
news sources, the White House also appears to
have missed a wide range of conflicts of interest,
unreported gifts from potentially mob-connected
companies, and other indiscretions on Kerik’s
part that make the nanny admission seem like the
least of anyone’s worries.