Everyone wants to be happy and to fulfill their dreams. For many who live in war zones, prisons, and places of poverty, those dreams aren’t likely to come true. While it’s a reality that gives rise to fear and despair, Kathy Kelly offers antidotes of courage and compassionate action in her new book Other Lands Have Dreams.
Kelly has been bringing to life Jesus’ teachings of love and nonviolence for more than 20 years through radical activism, teaching, and writing. Walking in the footsteps of Dorothy Day, David Dellinger, Daniel Berrigan, and Martin Luther King Jr., Kelly has served the poor, comforted the wounded, and led international efforts to noncooperate with systems of violence.
Written mostly in small hotels in Iraq and Jordan and in U.S. prisons, the book chronicles Kelly’s tireless journey of noncooperation with injustice and war. She has been arrested numerous times for nonviolent direct actions, including planting corn on nuclear missile silos in Missouri, protesting draft registration, and opposing U.S. military violence in Central America and Iraq.
Kelly has participated in and helped organize nonviolent direct action teams in Iraq (1991), Bosnia (1992 and 1993), and Haiti (1994), and has been a war tax resister for 23 years. She has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize—in 2000 (with Dennis Halliday, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq), 2001, and 2003 (with Voices in the Wilderness).
Other Lands Have Dreams highlights the motives of punishment and revenge that lie underneath both U.S. military violence abroad and domestic poverty and imprisonment at home. “Military and prison structures don’t train recruits to view ‘the enemy’ or ‘the inmate’ as precious and valuable humans deserving forgiveness, mercy, and respect, even if they have trespassed against us,” Kelly writes.
THE BOOK IS an authentic, personal portrait of the self-transformation and social change that comes about by confronting fear and obstructing injustice. It is divided into four sections—Catching Courage, Letters from Iraq, Letters from Prison, and Horizons and Hopes—and brings us into Kelly’s life of compassion-based activism. Love, forgiveness, and taking responsibility for the violence caused by the U.S. government are some of the powerful tools that have fueled Kelly’s experiments with nonviolence.
Kelly co-founded Voices in the Wilderness in 1995 to nonviolently challenge the U.S. and U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq. By 1999, the United Nations reported that half a million Iraqi children had died as a result of 10 years of sanctions. VITW has organized 70 delegations to Iraq, and Kelly has been to Iraq 27 times since 1996, delivering medicine in open violation of the sanctions.
She was in Baghdad during the March 2003 “shock and awe” bombing campaign that began the current war. When U.S. soldiers arrived in Baghdad, Kelly and others greeted them with banners hanging from their hotel balcony that read, “Courage for Peace, Not for War,” “War=Terror,” and “Life is Sacred.” “I feel ready to insist with passion that war is never an answer,” she writes.
Other Lands Have Dreams is a reminder that each of us has a responsibility to bring not only our own dreams to life, but to use our courage and intelligence to contribute to the peace and freedom of people in other lands. “All of us need to take advantage of our own opportunities to be agents of change,” writes Kelly. “For some it may mean walking away from cruel, wrongful, or dishonest work. For others it may mean becoming whistle-blowers. Still others can announce the truth as they see it in spite of risks to their pensions or job security.” n
John Malkin is a musician and author of Songs of Freedom. He also hosts a weekly radio program on Free Radio Santa Cruz (Calif.), a commercial-free, collectively run radio station.