Blessed in My Activism
By Elaine Marie Kinch
I’ve been concerned about justice and human rights since I was young. I became an activist after I began raising my children. For me, if people’s rights are violated, if they are systematically impoverished, then there can be no sustainable peace.
One of my professors at the University of Wisconsin saw me at a demonstration against nuclear build-up and suggested I could better invest my energy working for a cause that would bring me in touch with the people I was advocating for. So I joined a group that supported security and self-determination for the people of Nicaragua.
The next thing I knew, I was on my way to Nicaragua to show my solidarity by helping to harvest cotton and coffee. It gave me the chance to meet the very people whose lives I valued and to witness their ability to cope and survive. A young Nicaraguan pointed to the volcano in El Salvador across the Gulf of Fonseca. He asked me if I would support the Salvadorans when they gained their freedom! I said yes, and I did!
The trip to Nicaragua changed my life forever. I immersed myself in the Central America Solidarity Coalition, learning how to fundraise and improving my speaking skills. Before then I was rather shy, but when I was asked to speak about what I’d seen I became a passionate speaker on a mission. My husband was so impressed that he joined me for the next coffee harvest! Later, in 2002, we were two of the founding members of the Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice in Wisconsin.
I then began to focus on the injustices in Palestine. My local grocer one day noticed a button I was wearing that read peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English. The grocer, Jamal, told me about his own family in Ramallah. Another Palestinian family, in Milwaukee, was ardently active in promoting and preserving Palestinian traditions. Through them I met many inspiring people and learned more about the Palestinian situation.
I decided to go to Palestine and see for myself. I joined an international group of volunteers in 2008 and we helped harvest olives in the West Bank, near Bethlehem.
My first impressions of Palestine? It was my taxi driver from the airport. He explained that he is an Israeli Arab citizen and his wife is Palestinian. They have a child but cannot live together, on either side of the divide, because of Israeli legal restrictions on Palestinians and Israelis. He cannot live in the West Bank, and she cannot join him and their child in Israel. The family has to meet secretly. This reconfirmed my determination to help in any way I could.
After 2008, my Milwaukee Palestinian friends were at a conference in New York to discuss how to support communities in Palestine while abiding by the Patriot Act and ensuring our funding would not go to any subversive groups. Everyone named Anera as one of the most honest and long-standing organizations to deal with. That was a good endorsement for me!
I have been a sustainer ever since and with the Racine Coalition have organized fundraising events in my hometown of Racine. I am hoping to raise more to care for those injured in the Gaza protests. It might sound like a lot but I do find time for my other passions: my family, Latinx and Black concerns, enjoying Puerto Rican culture now that the Puerto Rican community has become active here, and learning the Puerto Rican salsa from them!
You know, I have been blessed in my activism with the support of my family, wonderful members of the Central America Solidarity Coalition, and friends that share my convictions, and the Racine Dominican sisters. In 2009, I was humbled when the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice named me Peacemaker of the Year.
You ask what keeps me going? Folks like the Palestinians who show strength in their struggle inspire me and keep me strong!
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