Report on 2024 Spring Assembly by David Lambert

2024 Spring Assembly

by David Lambert

While experiencing a deep emotional response listening to Holly Gwinn Graham’s song leading up to the official beginning of this annual event, I found myself wanting to savor the moment listening to the music, but I had to focus on preparing myself to give the upcoming welcome to the Assembly participants. The Assembly planners decided to honor Holly during this year’s event, for her songs and even more as a person and advocate for justice and peace. It didn’t take long into the program to experience another emotional pull as Larry Kerschner, during his introduction of Kathy Kelly, read the poem, Blessed Are the Peacemakers, from his experience in Iraq. Larry had spent time with Kathy and WWFOR member, Bert Sacks, during the Iraq war, providing humanitarian goods to Iraqi people at a time when the U.S. government had sanctions against such actions. Larry’s poem was to me a stark depiction of the horror, the folly, the doublespeak, and the evils of war. His introduction of Kathy was heartfelt and genuine. 

Kathy Kelly began her slide presentation with a short segment of Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem from which the lyrics “Ring the Bells That Still Can Ring” came which was the first part of her talk. The full title was: “Ring the Bells That Still Can Ring. Supporting Movements Worldwide, to End the Scourge of War.” Her presentation was acutely informative, powerful, personal, and I loved her “out of the box” thinking when she spoke of a vision that each of the 500+ U.S. military bases around the planet be transformed into health, education, and humanitarian service entities. She told of a project she was involved in after spending time with young Afghan people in Leiria, Portugal, working in an Afghan resettlement project of InPulsar (InPulsar is accepting donations (checks) to the A. J. Muste Foundation and sent to AJ Muste Foundation, 55 Exchange Place, suite 405, NY, NY 10005. Donations can also be made online designating InPulsar when you specify “in honor.”)

Photo by Abdulhai Darya of Kathy with a child taken in a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, the day after their tents had been destroyed by a fire.

Kathy described how 17 young Afghan youth were involved in occupational, educational, social, gardening, group discussions and other activities where they could share with one another, helping each other to find a greater sense of inner stability and peace. She presented this project in the greater context of a worldwide movement of people fleeing their own countries.

She spent time discussing the current student campus protests and one very poignant part was a slide featuring a Columbia University building the students had renamed Hind Hall; named after the little Palestinian girl, Hind, who, just before dying, had called the Palestinian Red Cross saying: “I am so scared, come take me. Please will you come.” Kathy shared a number of slides on the campus protest movement against the Israeli government and military’s war against Hamas and the Palestinian people and included a trailer of the movie “Disturbing the Peace.” This film featured both Israeli and Palestinian citizens talking, working, and sharing together in a Combatants for Peace program ( dedicated to nonviolence and opposing the Israeli occupation. Kathy’s presentation displayed a very personal and human side of people, particularly young people in war situations the United States has been involved in and what is being done to help heal the injured, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Several slides also depicted the amount of monies companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon Technologies Corporation gouge from our national economy for deadly purposes, including making various weapons that are sent to the Israeli military to use in the war in Gaza. The Spring Assembly planners wanted a keynote speaker who could discuss social movements and instill hope and Kathy proved to be such an individual in her presentation.

 Following Kathy’s presentation, breakout rooms were available for small groups of participants. There the participants hashed out issues on their mind related to issues activated by the presentation. Kathy spent several minutes in a number of these groups and significantly enriched the group I was in. A couple things she mentioned: 1) Just that day, Ralph Nader’s letter to Joe Biden had been published; and 2) In reference to our discussion about it being ok to be maladjusted considering the oftentimes felt insanity about the world situation; she used the term “Compassionately Maladjusted.” These group discussions were followed by a Question and Answer period.

 After the break, Dwija Amadala, recent MYPF graduate, introduced the several current MYPF activists who each shared about their social justice projects: Justin Yang; his project was working to help Washington State declare a climate emergency (WADE) which included meeting with two state legislators. These were Larry Springer, Deputy Majority Leader of the House and Democratic Representative Davina Duerr. Vindhya Amadala who studied racial equity and in particular, has been working on designing a racial equity program for middle school aged youth. Vindhya expressed that she learned how responsive and aware the youth are from her role as a member of the Legislative Youth Advisory Council of Washington State; that so many young people are strongly committed to making social change. Anoova Sattar shared her social justice work focusing on eating disorders, particularly regarding people living in South Asia and her project and ongoing desire is to help create a safe and non-judgemental space on the internet for people of that region of the world to communicate about eating disorders to help overcome cultural barriers of being open about this condition. Mary Lou Finley, one of the coordinators of the MYPF program, mentioned that there are still openings to this coming year’s program which begins in July, and that the deadline is June 10th for getting applications in. Mary Lou also mentioned that this coming year’s program will be over in late January 2025.

 The final part of the formal Assembly included several songs by the Raging Grannies, and they were a delight. And then the conference officially ended with a fitting tribute to Holly Graham with her song: Peaceful Revolution

the Chorus: 

Can we all come together at this time of evolution?
Can we lift our hearts together in a peaceful revolution?
Can we bravely sing out for what is true?
And are we strong enough to live it, once we do?

Afterward, there was an informal discussion with plenty of stimulating and thoughtful comments and responses.