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Scott Kennedy Remembered

news RCNVScottJoan Baez and others reflect on beloved local figure

Across the street from the High Street Community Church where Scott Kennedy’s memorial service took place on Dec.11, mourners wept, laughed, sang and clapped while watching a video projection of the ceremony in the Messiah Lutheran Church. The Community Church was full to capacity with mourners from Santa Cruz and the Bay Area, as well as those who flew in from Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Some also viewed the ceremony via video projection in an additional room next to the Community Church.

Kennedy was a lifelong teacher and activist, founder of the Resource Center for Nonviolence (RCNV), former Santa Cruz mayor, father and husband. He passed away in his sleep at age 62 due to natural causes on Nov. 19.

“He was sort of like a white soul brother to me,” says folk singer and nonviolent activist Joan Baez, co-founder of the RCNV and longtime friend of Kennedy’s. “[Scott was] steady, totally steady—his work in nonviolence, his belief in it, was strong. Anybody who stays with it, with that kind of strength, is an influence on my life and has meaning.”

Kennedy’s multitude of personal connections spanned the globe. Some, like Baez, were unable to attend the memorial in person, and Kennedy’s family received hundreds of emails with condolences and memories.

Known for his humor and personable demeanor, Kennedy reached out to those interested in nonviolent dialogue. Peter Klotz-Chamberlin, co-founder of the RCNV, says one of Kennedy’s strengths was that he made his connections personal.

“The phrase came to me this morning that he wasn’t exactly a soul mate, but a soul-force mate,” says Klotz-Chamberlin. “We kind of discovered nonviolence together, and there were definitely other people in that mix, but certainly my sense that nonviolence is at the core of my world view is something that I worked out with him. He was so both curious and inviting of relationships, so early on he directly sought out people who were active practitioners of nonviolence.”

On her way to perform at Occupy Wall Street, Baez received a phone call from Kennedy’s wife, Kris, informing her of his death. She wrote a letter commending Kennedy’s activism and “army of nonviolent soldiers,” deeming herself fortunate to be a member of his “compassionate, passionate army.”

“Some people think that if you are involved in nonviolence then you’re not fighting,” says Baez. “I have nothing against the word ‘fight.’ In fact a nonviolent fighter can redefine it, and make some sense out of it. I mean, Gandhi was at war. In his army you just have different tools. You have compassion; you have willingness to die rather than kill. They’re revolutionary tools.”

Like Baez, Klotz-Chamberlin considers Kennedy a “soul brother.” The two attended UC Santa Cruz together, and remained lifelong friends and colleagues.

“We had this center in Isla Vista that he initially called the Thomas Merton Unity Center,” says Klotz-Chamberlin. Both Kennedy and Klotz-Chamberlin joined national pacifist, nonviolent peace groups such as the War Resisters League. “When they would have speakers come around we’d say, ‘Let’s host them here, and meet them.’ And that’s really what we’ve done ever since.”

Soon after, Baez became involved. She founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in Carmel Valley with Ira Sandperl. The Institute ran for about 10 years. Baez married the famous draft resister and organizer David Harris and her attention shifted away from the Institute.

“We wanted to do something right for the Institute,” says Baez. “Scott had this commune of Catholic people who were deeply invested in nonviolence. … We were very excited to have him take over where we left off. He couldn’t call it the Institute for whatever reason, so they called it the Resource Center for Nonviolence.”

During the Vietnam War years, Kennedy was a conscientious objector. He completed his alternative civilian service in Isla Vista, Calif. Here, he co-founded the Isla Vista Youth Project and several other community programs alongside Klotz-Chamberlin.

newsScottKennedyGhandiKennedy ran the RCNV’s Middle East Program. Over the years, he was hit with criticism from some who criticized his work in the Middle East, calling him “anti-Israeli” or “pro-terrorist.”

Dorah Rosen, a Jewish Santa Cruzan, traveled with Kennedy to the Middle East as part of the International Peacebuilders Delegation he co-led annually. Rosen says Kennedy was anything but anti-Israel.

“He emphasized to me the importance of appreciating Israel and Judaism,” she writes in an email. “As anyone living here knows, Scott had immense respect for and deep friendships with many leading Jewish people in the anti-Occupation movement, so his concern for Israel and Jewish people everywhere isn't in question, except among a tiny minority.”

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco, is an internationally known scholar specializing in the Middle East. He worked with Kennedy on several projects, and says the criticisms Kennedy received were unjustifiable.

“He was one of the first people, back in the ’70s, to make Israel and Palestine a more mainstream peace and human rights issue,” says Zunes. “He was concerned about Israel and Palestine not out of any ideological agenda but because he believed that the same criteria regarding human rights and justice apply to that conflict as it did for other conflicts the peace and human rights community were concerned about, like Central America, South Africa and Southeast Asia.”

Kennedy’s involvement in the struggle for a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began when he traveled to the region as a freshman in college in 1968 with his oldest sister Diane Kennedy Pike and her husband, the late bishop James Pike.

Since then, Kennedy worked to support Israelis and Palestinians committed to waging nonviolent struggle to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. He led about 40 delegations to the region to help Americans understand U.S. foreign policy and support a two-state solution.

“Many were afraid to touch [the Middle East] because it was such a hot button issue,” says Zunes. “He wasn't afraid to; he did it anyways.”

In her letter, Baez wrote, “Not many people manage to make a dent in the world of conflicts, but Scott's work in the Middle East defies all cynicism and hopelessness.”

Rami Natsheh spoke at Kennedy’s memorial service about the educational exchange program Kennedy helped facilitate for him. “Scott was a foreigner who gave me the chance and opportunity to enhance my life,” said Natsheh. “I am among the Palestinians whose families were touched and express gratitude. He showed me there were people in this world who cared about the Palestinian struggle.”

Congressman Sam Farr (D-17th District) told the memorial service crowd on Dec. 11 that he had been crying for the last two weeks.

“For everyone here, and especially those in political office, we need the Scotts; the ones that never give up hope,” he said. “When people talked about it, he did it… It’s too soon…When we’re in such a mess in this country and around the world, we need someone like him more than ever.”

Like many who spoke at Kennedy’s memorial, Baez says she turned to Kennedy for advice. When she was in Sarajevo in the middle of the Bosnian War, she called Kennedy.

“Nobody had an answer for that war,” she says. “It was this big quandary, especially for people on the nonviolent side because we couldn’t come up with any kind of solution. And I said, ‘Well, I’ll ask Scott.’”  

When Kennedy told her he did not have an answer, she learned what she calls an important lesson.

 “You don’t have to have the answers. Sometimes they’re not there,” Baez says.

Kennedy engaged with numerous social movements and nonviolent campaigns. One of these campaigns included the creation of nuclear free zones in Santa Cruz, and work for a nuclear free future in Santa Cruz as well as at Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County.

Kennedy also engaged with the farm-workers' fight to unionize, and human rights struggles in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Kennedy was elected to three terms on the Santa Cruz City Council and served twice as mayor, where a resolution against the first Iraq war and completion of a city green belt, a community soccer field and several affordable housing developments, were among his many local accomplishments.

Congressman Sam Farr (D-17th District) told the memorial service crowd on Dec. 11 that he had been crying for the last two weeks.

“For everyone here, and especially those in political office, we need the Scotts; the ones that never give up hope,” he said. “When people talked about it, he did it… It’s too soon…When we’re in such a mess in this country and around the world, we need someone like him more than ever.”


 

Photo: matt fitt

Comments (1)Add Comment
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written by Diane Kennedy Pike, January 19, 2012
This captures some of the magnitude of the memorial service and the breadth of Scott's influence. I am so proud of him and the life of integrity he lived.

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