Activist Kathy Kelly stresses pacifist message in uncertain times

Focus on American flag in a diverse crowd of people. Supporters are cheering for a local candidate at a campaign rally or political town hall meeting.

In welcoming Kathy Kelly to a sympathetic audience Monday, July 16, the Rev. Fred Daley described the peace activist as a source of hope during “such a critical moment in our nation.” 

Kelly’s speech came hours after President Trump stunned much of the world by exonerating Russia from meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and amid nationwide outrage over immigration policies that have resulted in separating more than 3,000 children from their families. Kelly’s calls for justice suggest that “light will eventually overcome dark, that good will eventually overcome evil,” Daley said. 

Kelly, who has spoken numerous times in Syracuse, began with a quote by Pope Francis: “Indifference kills.” The pope recently made the comment and blamed the “complicit silence” of Western powers and their weapons trade for violence in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and other Middle East nations. 

Although nominally on the war in Yemen, Kelly’s talk to about 75 people at Syracuse’s All Saints Church outlined U.S. indifference and complicity in numerous conflicts that create orphans and refugees. “There are many forces that would like us to believe war is normal, that caging children is normal, that people fleeing drought can find no food or water and the elders are eating the trees” is normal, Kelly said. 

She recalled Trump’s 2017 address to Congress, during which the president singled out Navy SEAL Ryan Owens. The SEAL “died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” Trump said. But that Jan. 29, 2017, a U.S.-led raid in Yemen also killed up to 30 civilians and uncovered “no actionable intelligence,” according to news accounts. 

“The only life that seemed to matter was Ryan’s,” Kelly said. 

Between the beginning of the conflict in Yemen in March 2015 and August 2017, at least 5,144 civilians, including more than 1,184 children, have been killed and more than 8,749 civilians wounded, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. At least 2.9 million people have fled their homes, according to the United Nations. 

More than 1 million suspected cases of cholera have been reported in Yemen since 2016, killing more than 2,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. Aid organizations say it’s the largest cholera outbreak in world history. 

Kelly explained the link between the Yemeni civil war and cholera: “One of the first bombings the Saudis undertook was on a sewage and sanitation center.” The United States is complicit in that suffering, she added, because of the “billions and billions of dollars in weaponry” in Yemen. 

Kelly is one of the founding members of the now-defunct Voices in the Wilderness and a coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She spent several months in 2003 in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness’ Iraq Peace Team, meeting with Iraqis and witnessing the U.S.- led war. Ed Kinane, a longtime Syracuse activist, was part of that peacemaking team. Kelly has been arrested and jailed numerous times for civil disobedience, including a conviction in the April 2011 symbolic die-in outside the New York Air National Guard Base at Hancock Field. 

The 174th Fighter Wing of the National Guard has flown MQ-9 Reaper drones from Syracuse since late 2009. 

U.S. drone strikes have killed between 7,715 and 11,067 people, including up to 1,555 civilians, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based organization that has tracked drone killings since 2010. 

“Drones will never fundamentally secure the trust that comes with treating other people fairly,” Kelly said. She urged the audience not to be indifferent to the children killed, injured or orphaned by drone strikes in Yemen and elsewhere. The violence and destruction makes her “want to beat the pillow, weep and shout to the skies,” she said. 

The event was sponsored by the Beyond War and Militarism committee of the Syracuse Peace Council and CNY Solidarity Coalition. Kelly also spoke at All Saints’ Masses this weekend. 

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