Special Collections and Archives


General Information

        Voices in the Wilderness was a grassroots campaign formed in December 1995 in Chicago, Illinois to challenge the economic sanctions imposed upon Iraq after the Gulf War. They claimed the sanctions devastated Iraqi civilians while strengthening Saddam Hussein’s regime. Voices in the Wilderness employed nonviolent actions to attract worldwide attention to the situation. The Voices in the Wilderness campaign closed in September 2005 after the sanctions had been lifted when the second Iraq war began in 2003. Voices in the Wilderness originated from the campaign Voices for Creative Nonviolence, which called for an end to the war and justice for Iraqi citizens.

              Voices in the Wilderness started action in January 1996 when nine signers issued a letter to the attorney general explaining their intention to violate sanctions by transporting medical supplies to Iraq. The first delegation left on March 17. Though Voices in the Wilderness received numerous warnings of prison sentences and fines, only cofounder Kathy Kelly was detained briefly in 1998. Voices in the Wilderness also received a $20,000 fine but has refused to pay. By the second invasion in 2003, 70 delegations have gone to Iraq bringing thousands of dollars’ worth of medical supplies and returning to publicize the suffering they had witnessed.

              To bring attention to child morality and other damaging of sanctions, Voices in the Wilderness initiated vigils, fasts, protests, letter-writing campaigns, speaking engagements, and dozens of nonviolent acts that resulted in arrest. They also organized local, national, and international actions, such as the eighteen-day Walk Against War from the Pentagon to the U.N. headquarters in New York and the remembering Omran Bus Tour that traveled throughout the United States educating people and gathered school supplies for Iraqi children.

              Voices in the Wilderness formed the Iraq Peace Team in August 2002 to live among Iraqi citizens because they were anticipating the start of a second Iraq War. They organized vigils at various locations in and around Baghdad in the weeks leading up to the March 2003 bombings. More than 100 Peace Team members went to Iraq in rotations with several dozen in Baghdad during “shock and awe” and the initial weeks of occupation. Members of the Iraq Peace Team remained in Iraq until March 2004.

              Since September 2005, Voices for Creative Nonviolence has called for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the cancellation of debt accumulated by Saddam Hussein, and reparations paid to Iraq for the suffering caused by years of sanctions, war, and occupation. Voices for Creative Nonviolence uses nonviolent tactics similar to those of Voices in the Wilderness, including a 33-day fast in the winter of 2006 called Winter of Our Discontent in Washington D.C.

              Several hundred people have to Iraq in Voices in the Wilderness delegations, and thousands have participated in Voices in the Wilderness events. Kathy Kelly, cofounder and co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness and Voices for Creative Nonviolence, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, and Voices in the Wilderness as an organization was nominated once.

           Voices in the Wilderness is a standalone collection and is not a part of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker collections.


-Andrea Bertotti Metoyer