Monday, March 27, 2017

Mary Harren, longtime peace activist, socialist and anti-imperialist- dies


By SJ Otto
I first moved to Wichita sometime in 1980. One of the fist political activists I met was Mary (McDonough) Harren. She was the go to person involved in the local peace movement here in Wichita. Back in Lawrence where I came from, the big issue was the war in Latin America, supporting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and opposing military aid to the government of El Salvador. Mary was involved in that also. She was involved in other issues, such as the movement for a nuclear freeze. We lost Mary last week to cancer. She was 91 years old. She lived a full life and was a major player in the anti-war, anti-imperialism movements.

She was arrested several times for trespassing with people who were using civil disobedience against nuclear weapons. She was arrested in August of 1982 at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha.
 She was a member of Democratic Socialists of America. She believed in socialism and a world where the needs of the common people were not more important than the needs of the greedy wealthy people who profited from making and selling weapons.
“The peace movement,” she said, “is holding out a vision, a hope of a better world for human kind, other than spending your life building arms, that this is not the most creative thing, that this is not what were meant to be doing with our lives, is to defend private or personal property at the expense of the rest of the world.”[1]
Mary and I have worked off and on with the peace group here in town (Wichita). The name has changed many times, but she stayed with it and so did I. Today we have the Peace and Social Justice Center of Kansas. I remember when they added on "social justice", several years ago, so we could work on some local social justice issues. Today’s Wichita peace group is located in the house that used to be Mary's.
I used to visit that house when Mary lived there. Her, other friends and I would visit, drink wine and discuss foreign policy issues. Even before she turned it over the Peace and Social Justice Center, she had many political events there.
When I first met Mary, both of us were Catholics. At some point I got tired of the Catholic political shtick. Both of us had problems with many of the church’s positions, such as being anti-abortion and the churches’ position on Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. Eventually John Paul II came out strongly against Liberation theology, which both of us supported. I finally had enough and dropped out of the religion.  She stayed in and refused to give her faith up. 
She stood by her catholic beliefs, even when the local church did everything they could to dissuade her. The local Bishop of Wichita excommunicated her for supporting abortion rights. She was a member of Catholics for Choice.
She once told me "What are they going to do? Arrest me for going to church?"
Mary has been politically active going all the way back to the Vietnam War. Other issues she has taken on include speaking out about the use of the atom bomb in Hiroshima. Over the years she has worked with The Catholic Worker, Pax Christi, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and Code Pink.  Mary raised seven kids and her husband Donald Harren died before I moved back to Wichita, in 1980.
Mary slowed down a lot as she got to her 80s and beyond. Still, she was always a part of the peace movement here in the Wichita area. She will be missed.

Mary accepting a reward from the Global Learning Center.


[1] Bill Hursch, “Wichita Woman Wages Own War To Ensure Peace,” The Wichita Eagle, February 1, 1983.

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