A Life Committed to Peace: Scott Kennedy
Scott Kennedy is the recipient of the 2010 Pfeffer Peace Prize, an honor for international human rights, justice, and peace work which has been awarded by the Fellowship of Reconciliation since 1989.
Kennedy co-founded the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, California, in 1976. He continues to coordinate RCNV’s Middle East program. His long and varied contributions to the peace movement includes chairing and serving several terms on FOR’s National Council, establishing the national steering committee of Witness for Peace in Nicaragua, and helping to found the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence in Jerusalem.
Kennedy served for many years on Santa Cruz’s city council and for two terms as the city’s mayor. He was interviewed by George Houser, co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942 and long-time FOR staffer during the 1940s and 1950s.
FOR: Did your religious background have anything to do with your pacifism?
SK: Yes. I grew up in the Methodist Church in San Jose, California, and was active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship. Through the Methodist youth leadership network I met conscientious objectors around the same time that I experienced a “call” to the ministry. Convinced that the Christian faith and violence are incompatible, when I turned 18 in 1966 and registered for the draft, I filed as a conscientious objector.
FOR: When did you make contact with FOR?
SK: My application for C.O. status was rejected. Just before appealing my status before my local Selective Service (draft) board, I met with George L. “Shorty” Collins, the campus minister at San Jose State University and a regional representative of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Shorty explained that affiliation with a pacifist organization sometimes strengthened one’s case by demonstrating the sincerity of one’s convictions, and showed me FOR’s Statement of Purpose (SOP). I agreed wholeheartedly with FOR’s mission, signed the SOP, and became a member.
Later that same day, among the other questions the draft board asked me was whether I belonged to any pacifist organizations. I said, “Yes, the Fellowship of Reconciliation.” Unlike me, the draft board had definitely heard about FOR! Thankfully, they didn’t ask me how long I had been a member as the ink on my membership form was scarcely dry.
Looking back on it, my C.O. application was a rather straightforward or even simplistic statement of Christian pacifism. While I am still active in the Methodist Church, my commitment to nonviolence has been broadened and strengthened by exposure to other secular and non-Christian sources, such as Gandhi and anarchist thought, as well as an economic and geo-political critique of the war-making state. Much of that exposure was a consequence of my ongoing membership and involvement with and within FOR.
FOR: How did you become actively involved in FOR-USA at a national level?
SK: After joining FOR, I received Fellowship magazine and other FOR materials. Local groups with which I worked hosted FOR speakers and many contacts were made through FOR’s network.
I was first elected to serve on FOR’s National Council (NC) in 1975 and continued to serve on the NC on and off over the next three decades, concluding my service with two years as chair from 2002-2004. I also helped start and co-chaired the FOR Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean (TFLAC) in 1983 after President Reagan’s invasion of Granada, and established and co-chaired the FOR Middle East Task Force (METF) for many years.
During the 1980s, I worked closely with Don Mosley, Richard Deats, Ursula Scott, and others oin the NC’s decision to place “racial and economic justice” on an equal footing with “peace and disarmament” as program foci for the work of FOR. I think this twofold commitment brought FOR into a much closer alignment with the active nonviolence of Gandhi and King and others working for systemic change and to challenge institutionalized violence. I also was privileged to accompany a plane load of humanitarian supplies to Iraq on behalf of FOR immediately before the start of the first Gulf war in December 1990.
FOR: You were instrumental in forming the Resource Center for Nonviolence. How important has this been in your life?
SK: While doing my alternative civilian service for the draft in 1971-73, several friends and I formed an intentional community and started a nonviolence center called the Thomas Merton Unity Center. We sponsored a lot of activities, started a war tax resistance alternative fund, and started several community organizations. When the group decided to dissolve the community and close the Merton Center in 1975, half of our community, eight of us, relocated to Santa Cruz. In the spring of 1976 we formed the Redwood Nonviolence Community (a group that continues to this day, though my wife Kris and I left the community in 1998). That same year, members of the Redwood Community joined an equal number of others from Santa Cruz — along with Joan Baez and Ira Sandperl from the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in Palo Alto — to found the Resource Center for Nonviolence (RCNV), a small nonprofit for which I continue to work to this day.
FOR: What has been the outreach and significance of the Resource Center?
SK: The Resource Center has been an extraordinary base for my own work and the locus of a lot of good organizing. RCNV actively supported me in my work for FOR and other organizations, such as Witness for Peace in Nicaragua, the American Friends Service Committee, Middle East Witness, and National Youth Advocates.
In the late ”˜70s into the mid-”˜80s, RCNV played an active role in anti-nuclear work in California. We had major responsibilities for strategizing and training for mass nonviolent action, and were instrumental in organizing a ballot measure that sought to outlaw production of nuclear weapons parts in Santa Cruz County. While defeated by an opposition heavily funded by Lockheed, our local electoral initiative was a forerunner to the nationwide Nuclear Freeze campaign.
RCNV staff worked closely with Witness for Peace from its founding in 1983 until 1988. We hosted the first national office of WFP and recruited and trained the first long-term volunteers into the war zones of Nicaragua. Then, RCNV mobilized broad-based local opposition to the two Gulf wars. We trained more than 300 draft counselors throughout the Central and Northern California region during the first Gulf war, and still have a very active G.I. Rights Hotline and work with others on counter-recruiting.
FOR: When did your concern about the Middle East conflict begin?
SK: My involvement in Middle East issues began when I traveled to the region as a freshman in college in 1968 with my sister Diane Kennedy Pike and her husband, the late Episcopal bishop, James Pike. Bishop Pike died in the desert between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea in the fall of 1969. My sister and I lived in Jerusalem for several months in 1970, finishing a book that Pike had been writing at the time of his death (The Wilderness Revolt, Doubleday, 1972). While living in Jerusalem from 1970-71, my interests shifted from the religion and history of the region to contemporary politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Since the mid-1970s, I have attempted to amplify the voices of those Palestinians and Israelis that are committed to waging nonviolent struggle to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, as well as the Golan Heights. In 1974 I met Allan Solomonow, who worked with FOR’s affiliated Jewish Peace Fellowship and the Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East. Allan invited me in 1975 to participate in the first inter-religious peace delegation to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Allan and I have since continued to travel to and organize delegations to the region nearly every year from 1979 to the present. We have worked under different organizational umbrellas, such as FOR’s METF, Middle East Witness, and now Interfaith Peace-Builders, which started as one of FOR’s programs (www.ifpb.org). I have been to the region more than 40 times and have led three-dozen delegations.
FOR: You have been very involved in local politics in Santa Cruz. What led you to this involvement, and what developments would you highlight from your tenure in leadership?
SK: Santa Cruz suffered severe damage during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Forty percent of our downtown commercial district buildings were destroyed or had to be demolished. I was recruited to run for council by several affordable housing activists, who were afraid that reconstruction and gentrification would result in a loss of affordable housing. I was elected in 1990 and again in 1994 and 2000, then defeated in a reelection bid in 2004. I was elected by fellow council members to serve as mayor of Santa Cruz in 1993-1994 and again in 2003-2004.
In all of my work, including with FOR’s NC, I have always enjoyed the challenge and opportunities of problem solving and the nitty-gritty work that helps make an organization, or a city, work. Despite the mixed results of these forays into elected office, I have been challenged by Gandhi’s admonition, “no principle exists without its concrete application” (my paraphrase).
I think I was able to make a difference, by working closely with other council members and building or sustaining a majority to construct low-income housing, extend youth services, expand funding for homeless services and the emerging Latino population, rebuild our downtown after the earthquake, strengthen cooperation with local schools, and permanently preserve through public acquisition several greenbelt properties on the city’s perimeter. Also, I authored — and Santa Cruz was the first local government to adopt — a resolution opposing the second Gulf war.
FOR: How has your family responded to your professional life and commitments?
SK: My parents, brothers, and sisters have always supported my decisions. My wife Kris has been the moral and emotional bedrock of my life and work as well as the main bread-winner for our family during our 36 years of marriage. All three of my children have been actively involved, joining me for door-to-door canvassing from their early elementary school years to traveling to Israel and Palestine with me. But there is no doubt that I could not have lived the life I’ve lived without Kris’ active support.
FOR: What does it mean to you to receive the Pfeffer Peace Prize?
SK: I am deeply indebted to FOR for exposing me to many of the extraordinarily diverse and vital nonviolent activists and movements, in the USA today as well as throughout history and the world. That certainly includes the FOR-affiliated Palestinians and Israelis whom I first met in 1975 (including Joseph Abileah, Elias Chakour, and Yeshayauu Toma Sik) and those with whom we continue to closely work through Interfaith Peace-Builders and other groups, such as Jeremy Milgrom, Jonathan Kuttab, Zoughbi Zoughbi, Sami Awad, and Jean Zaru. It’s a great honor to be singled out for recognition, especially by people whom you consider your mentors. I’m also keenly aware of the many others with whom I’ve had the privilege of working that deserve recognition as well.
Past Recipients, International Pfeffer Peace Prize
The Pfeffer Peace Prize
Don Mosley (founder of Jubilee Partners, Corner, GA)
Hildegard Goss-Mayr (Austria); Diana Francis (England)
Anita Kromberg & Richard Steele (South Africa)
Jose Gomez Izquierdo (Ecuador)
Dorothy Granada (co-founder of the Maria Luisa Ortiz Cooperative, Nicaragua)
San José de Apartadó, Colombia
Kathy Kelly (founder of Voices in the Wilderness, now Voices for Creative Nonviolence)
Pierre Marchand (Thailand & France)
Wanida Tantiwittayappitak; Muslim Peace Fellowship
George Houser (co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and the America Committee on Africa)
|2006||Caribbean Project for Peace and Justice (Puerto Rico)|
|2007||Mel Duncan & the Nonviolent Peaceforce|
|2008||Ricardo Esquivia (founder of SembrandoPaz, Colombia); Guillermo Mateus-Corredor (Colombia); Serpaj Morelos, Mexico|
|2009||La’Onf network of Iraqi nonviolence communities (accepted by Abdulsattar Younus from Erbil, Iraq)|
Scott Kennedy (co-founder of the Resource Center for Nonviolence)