Records of a Chicago based campaign initiated by a small number of peace activists, including Kathy Kelly, who remained a coordinator until the end. The group used nonviolent direct action, such as civil disobedience and fasting, to oppose economic sanctions and war against Iraq. The group organized over seventy delegations to Iraq which brought donations of medicine and toys to children in hospitals in open violation of the US/UN sanctions and US law. The Treasury Department responded by imposing a $20,000 fine. Refusing to pay the penalty as a matter of principle, Voices in the Wilderness closed its doors in the summer of 2005, reorganizing under the name Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Related material is in the Kathy Kelly Papers in this repository.

Gift of Voices in the Wilderness, 2005. Additions received from Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak in 2012.

Processed by Luke Frommelt and Phil Runkel, 2015-2016.

Historical Note

Voices in the Wilderness (VITW) 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. Voices in the Wilderness disbanded in September 2005 rather than pay a $20,000 fine by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, as ordered by a federal district court judge. It immediately reformed as Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Voices in the Wilderness commenced 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. By the second invasion in 2003, 70 delegations had gone to Iraq, bringing thousands of dollars’ worth of medical supplies and returning to publicize the suffering they had witnessed.

To publicize the child mortality and other damaging effects of the sanctions, Voices in the Wilderness initiated fasts, letter-writing campaigns, vigils, walks, and nonviolent direct actions that resulted in arrests. The group also organized the Remembering Omran Bus Tour that traveled throughout the United States educating people and gathering school supplies for Iraqi children.

Voices in the Wilderness formed the Iraq Peace Team in August 2002 to live among Iraqi citizens, in anticipation of 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 attack. 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 VITW maintained a presence in Baghdad until March 2004.

Several hundred people traveled to Iraq in Voices in the Wilderness delegations, and thousands 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 five times, and Voices in the Wilderness as an organization was nominated once.

See also:

Kelly, Kathy. Other Lands have Dreams: From Baghdad to Pekin Prison. Petrolia, CA: CounterPunch and AK Press, 2005.

Voices in the Wilderness website, as archived by the Library of Congress.

Scope and Content

Series 1, Subject Files, 1996-2005, contains information on a variety of activities and issues of concern to VITW, including files on the fine imposed by the Treasury Department' Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the resulting court case. The arrangement is alphabetical by subject and chronological thereunder.

Series 2, Delegation Files, 1996-2001, includes correspondence, reports, and other information concerning delegations that visited Iraq, arranged chronologically.

Series 3, Iraq Peace Team Files, 2002-2003, consists of correspondence of IPT members (including an evaluation of the project by Wade Hudson), articles by team members for the ElectronicIraq website, and pre-travel documents sent to prospective members.

Series 4, Outreach Files, 1996-2005, contains announcements, leaflets, and news releases, in chronological order.

Series 5, General Correspondence, 1996-2004, consists of letters to and from Kathy Kelly and other VITW coordinators arranged chronologically; Brad Lyttle is among the more notable correspondents.

Series 6, Writings about Voices in the Wilderness, 1996-2005, contains newspaper and magazine articles, arranged in chronological order.

Series 7, Audio/Visual Recordings, 1996-2005, includes audio and video recordings of interviews and talks by Kathy Kelly and others affiliated with VITW, footage from visits to Iraq, videos by an independent filmmaker on VITW's UN fast (August-September 2001) and the arrest of VITW members and other activists at the US embassy to the UN on 22 January 2002, and the documentary In a Time of Siege: Voices in the Wilderness Defying War and Sanctions in Iraq.

Series 8, Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak Papers, 1999-2003, consists of articles and correspondence by a couple who served on VITW delegations and the Iraq Peace Team.