Morning Call: 03/09/18 – Kathy Kelly

In the Morning Call: March 9, 2018

She has said it for decades: Give peace a chance

Kathy Kelly, shown addressing a rally, will be the keynote speaker at the annual Lepoco dinner March 17. She has spent at least four decades as a peace activist. (Contributed photo/Lepoco )

Daniel Patrick Sheehan

T he swords-to-plowshares people are out there still, laboring in parts of the world where daily life makes our current domestic chaos seem like a blissful daydream. This is Kathy Kelly’s workplace, haunted by drone strike and starvation, forced exodus and death.

“It’s insane and it’s cruel,” the world-renowned peace activist told me by phone the other day after sketching out various instances of geopolitical turmoil: refugee crises, a Saudi-orchestrated war in Yemen, impending famine in the Horn of Africa.

Those stories are obscured by the serial drama of the president and the porn star, but even in slower news cycles, they don’t draw much attention.

I interviewed Kelly, 65, because she is coming to Bethlehem on March 17 to speak at the annual dinner of the Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern, better known as Lepoco .

The group was formed 50 years ago to resist the Vietnam War and has quietly endured, expanding its reach to include racism, poverty, political oppression and other seemingly unquenchable ills.

This will be Kelly’s her second visit. The Chicago native, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence , spoke at the 2007 dinner, said Nancy Tate, who runs the Lepoco office in South Bethlehem.

“One of our members was so impressed that he wanted to bring her back this year,” Tate said. “I do not believe we have had other repeat speakers at our dinner.”

What makes Kelly an engaging speaker, by all accounts, is that she doesn’t lecture — she tells stories, drawn from her travels overseas and around the nation during 40 years of activism.

There is so much to tell. Kelly has been to Afghanistan and Iraq dozens of times, seeing the privations of their endless wars up close. Also Bosnia, when the pieces of the former Yugoslavia descended into war in the 1990s.

She has been arrested more than 60 times and, in 1988, spent nine months in a maximum security prison for planting corn on the grounds of a nuclear missile silo. And she has refused to pay federal taxes for decades, reckoning any coin contributed to a national treasury that pays for disastrous militarism is an assault on the world.

Kelly’s guiding philosophy runs along the lines of anthropologist Margaret Mead’s contention that small groups of committed citizens are the only thing that have ever made a difference in the world.

“It’s our responsibility, not the responsibility of the generals, to say whether we want to continue to live this way,” Kelly said, pointing to Lepoco as a model of the public conscience in action.

I asked how she keeps up her energy and optimism in the fifth decade of resisting what one of her models, Catholic activist Dorothy Day, called “this filthy, rotten system.”

“Gratitude gives me strength,” Kelly said. “There are possibilities for unexpected events to occur and create the kind of change we need.”

The increasing momentum of demands for gun law reform in the wake of the Florida school shooting is a case in point, she said. Perhaps this is the pivot point, a chance to find solutions that have eluded everyone despite the mounting body count of massacres.

“A lot of youngsters are very assertive,” Kelly said, hoping the current solidarity on the gun issue will lead to greater unity among disparate groups seeking positive change, in the U.S. and around the world.

“I have great hopes for that kind of solidarity forming,” she said.

Lepoco’s annual dinner is 5 p.m. March 17 at Wesley United Methodist Church, 2540 Center St., Bethlehem. For information on ordering tickets, contact the Peace Center, 313 W. 4th St, Bethlehem. Phone: 610-691-8730 . Email:

Tickets may also be ordered online at .