Walking across Wisconsin, witnessing against war

(7:15PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

In some ways, much of Kathy Kelly’s adult life has been a walk against war. So it was completely in character for her to be walking through Milwaukee Monday, on a 450-mile trek to St. Paul and the Republican national convention.

Kelly, (left) a high school and community college teacher, has repeatedly risked her life and her freedom as an advocate for non-violence.  She is now affiliated with Voices for Creative Nonviolence, based in her hometown of Chicago, which organized Witness Against War now making its way across Wisconsin.

A three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work , Kelly is a longtime pacifist who refuses to pay war taxes.  She’s served prison time for  planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites and for crossing the line as part of an ongoing effort to close the School of the Americas, an Army military combat training school at Fort Benning, GA.

She helped initiate Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign which brought medicine and toys to Iraq in open violation of UN/US sanctions against Iraq. Voices in the Wilderness organized 70 delegations to visit Iraq in the period between 1996 and the beginning of “Shock and Awe” warfare in 2003. Kelly has been to Iraq 24 times since January 1996, when the campaign began.

In October 2002, Voices in the Wilderness declared their intent to remain in Baghdad, alongside Iraqi civilians, throughout a war they still hoped they could prevent. Kelly and the team stayed in Baghdad throughout the bombardment and invasion and maintained a household in Baghdad until March, 2004. During 2007, she spent five months in Amman, Jordan, living amongst Iraqis who’ve fled their homes and are seeking resettlement.

The 450 mile Witness Against War walk is a continuation of the effort to challenge and nonviolently resist our country’s continuing war in and occupation of Iraq.

The walk left Chicago on July 12 and had logged 108 miles, nearly one-fourth of the total distance, when it left Milwaukee on Monday morning, after a potluck and program at the Friends Meeting House that drew more than 100 people on Sunday night.

The core group of walkers numbered eight on Monday (it’s an accordion-like group that expands and shrinks as some members drop out to take care of personal business, then drop back in).  An equal number of local folks joined them for the day and the 10-mile hike from Zeidler Park in downtown Milwaukee to the Unitarian Univeralist church across the Waukesha County line in suburban, conservative Brookfield.

The group included Kelly’s co-workers at Voices for Creative Nonviolence. an Iraq veteran from Minnesota, a young woman from Sweden, Helene Hedberg (with mileage sign) who met Kelly at a human rights conference, and others who were attracted to the cause and were able to make the time commitment for much or all of the walk.  They are joined every day by local supporters who want the war and occupation to end; in Milwaukee that included members of Peace Action, a staff member from Casa Maria, a Catholic Worker hospitality house, and one young man who just joined us as we walked along Wisconsin Avenue. (I’m hesitant to try to name too many names, because I didn’t ask everyone and took few notes.  The ones I do mention I’m sure of.)

Two television cameras, the local NBC and ABC affiliates, showed at Zeidler Park for a brief informal news conference before the walk kicked off, with a colorful bus, provided by the Anathoth community in Luck, WI.  That is major media for antiwar event, as any organizer who’s tried to get coverage will attest.  Monday morning’s daily paper carried a photo of the group with supporters who greeted them when they arrived on Sunday.  But no story accompanied it, and no reporters went along for the day, although it seemed to me, as a former reporter and editor, that it would have offered enough grist for an interesting feature story or column.

To walk with them for a day is energizing.  It offers a chance to walk with different people for a stretch at a time, hear some of their stories, and get an idea about what motivates them.  That helps the time pass, and the walk moves at a pretty good clip of 2 to 2.5 miles an hour.  Monday’s walk took five hours, including a lunch stop (Subway box lunches and healthy snacks) along the road.

Paul Melling, the Iraq veteran, (pictured giving his feet a break at the end of the day) has just finished an associate degree in computer networking at a St. Cloud, MN technical college and decided to do the seven-week walk before starting a new job.  He spent 14 months in Iraq as an artillery crew member, in 2004-05.  Melling said he was somewhat conflicted for a time about whether to speak out on the war while others were still fighting it, but decided the best way to support those troops still in Iraq is to work to get them home.  

Unfortunately, Melling was taking a break in the bus to prepare a talk he was to give that night when we encountered an Army recruiter on Blue Mound Road, who pulled across the crosswalk and confronted our small band of sign-carriers.  He challenged us on whether any of us had served, so I stepped forward, wearing my Vietnam Veterans Against the War T-shirt, and assured him there were some veterans in the group.  He said he was an Afghanistan vet and said what we were doing was undermining the troops.  The US military is in Iraq to keep the Iraqi sects from killing each other, he said — seemingly unaware, as we pointed out, that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died because we are there.  After he threatened to break my camera if I took a photo, I put him down as unpersuadable and let others take up the debate. (I had signed a non-violence pledge in order to join the walk, and tend to be nonviolent by nature anyway, although it was tempting to take another photo and see what developed.  Maybe we would have actually made the newspaper; violence seems to get covered.  He apparently didn’t know I had already taken the one that appears here.)

Other than that, the walk was uneventful, although the walkers got a nice reception from a group awaiting them at Marquette.  All of the walkers carried signs, whch promoted some friendly horn-blowing, waves and yells of encouragement from drivers along  Wisconsin Avenue, Blue Mound Road, Highway 100 and North Avenue.  The Chicago crew also leafleted when there was an opportunity.

The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, a statewide coalition of local organizations, is helping coordinate the walk and find lodging and meals and arrange programs along the route.

Anyone’s welcome to join the walk for a day or more if you can. There are some stretches across rural Wisconsin where there may not be any organized groups, so company and support might be especially welcome. Here’s the schedule for the rest of July:  

7/22 Tues 7 pm Witness Against War – The Iraqi Refugee Crisis – Waukesha. 1st Congregational Church, 100 E. Broadway. Contact: Judith Williams of the Waukesha Catholic Worker House at 262-524-8278.

7/24 Thurs 5:30 – 8:15 pm ‘Witness Against War’ speaks at ‘Democrats of Jefferson County’ Picnic – Lake Mills. Commons Park in downtown; Main and Madison. Schedule: 5:30 pm a kids parade around the park, 6 pm dinner, 7-8:15 speakers, including Jeff Leys of Voices for Creative Nonviolence – followed by video cast of Obama speech. Contact: Anne Johnson amjlakemills(at)yahoo.com 608.576.0498 or Ray Murawski of the Watertown peace group.

7/27 Sun 8 am – 3 pm WITNESS TO WAR WALK- Madison.- We are inviting members of the community to join VCNV, walking 8 miles from Cottage Grove into Madison. The walk will end up at Olbrich Park. (early-morning car-pools for community walkers- leaving  from Olbrich Park to Cottage Grove – at 8 am) Check out (www.wnpj.org ) for a form to sign from VCNV if you are interested in participating in the walk. Contact: Joy at  [email protected]

7/27 Sun 5 – 9 pm ‘Witness Against War’ – Dinner and Presentation by Kathy Kelly – Madison. St. Bernard’s on Atwood Ave- Everyone welcome! Raging Grannies and Will and Dot Williams sing…..and more! Contact: Joy First at [email protected] WNPJ is co-hosting the event today – Contact [email protected]  o call 608-250-9240

7/28 Mon 12 noon SPECIAL Vigil for Peace with ‘Witness Against War’ – Madison. In front of the Post Office on MLK Blvd. Contact: Mary Beth Schlagheck at [email protected] .

7/29 Tues 3:30 – 5:30 pm Witness Against War  – Waunakee. At the Village Park.  There will be an informal conversation and/or a talk.  A welcome of the marchers by concerned residents of Waunakee and surrounding towns would be most appreciated.  For further information, contact  Hildegard Dorrer, 608-849-4219

7/30 Wed 3:30 – 4 pm (flexible – when the Walkers arrive)  WAW Vigil with Women in Black – Sauk City. Meet on the Bridge. We gather to silently mourn ALL that is lost to war – wherever this occurs. We stand in solidarity with those throughout the world who suffer from oppression, violence, and injustice. Contact – Mary Ann Novascone at [email protected]  

7/30 Wed 7 pm Spaghetti Dinner with the WAW Walkers – Sauk City. At Park Hall, 307 Polk Street. www.freecongregation.org. Bring a dish to share. Contact: Maggie McGlone at [email protected] or Sally Dahir at [email protected]

And here is the map and schedule for the whole thing.


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  1. thanks for sharing this with us – I hadn’t even heard of Kathy Kelly and her group.  I’ll bet there are some folks here that would consider joining for at least a few days (myself included!).


  2. a Wisconsin native, Madison, participates in our Iraq Moratorium vigils.  She’s going to Wisc in a few days and plans to meet-up with the walk.  Look for her, Jane.  

    • kj on July 23, 2008 at 2:00 pm

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