Kris Cheatum — Woman of Peace and Justice — A Reflection by Mary Vincent and Ira Harritt

As most of us in the peace and justice community know, Kris Cheatum – a woman of peace and a tireless activist for justice – died unexpectedly on June 6 of a massive stroke.   Her friends express for all of us the sadness, joy, and fondness we all felt for Kris.

Mary Vincent and Ira Harritt – people of peace and tireless activists who stood along side Kris – offer this reflection:  “It was a dark and stormy night and a clandestine meeting was taking place in a nondescript Kansas City house. One of the group’s members leaned forward and earnestly asked, “What do you call a donkey at the North Pole?”  The other group members rolled their eyes, shook their heads and patiently awaited the answer. “Lost.”  Kris Cheatum, taking meeting notes, diligently recorded the discussion and broke out laughing.  Kris, in her stand for peace, justice and other human rights, was always one to do what had to be done. Sometimes she endured our twisted senses of humor, other times she was the source. Her good humor was an essential part of keeping us going.

Organizing a peace and justice campaign isn’t all fun and games.  Think of all the things necessary to create social change.  Meeting notes – Kris took minutes, sent them out, maintained email lists and emailed reminders; phoning constituents, allies, leaders, whomever – she would say, “Give me 30 names and when I am done, I will let you know how many more calls I can make.” Distributing flyers – Kris, “I’ll be in Brookside and a forum tomorrow, All Souls on Sunday — give me 200.”

Need to set up a lobby visit?  Mary Vincent’s first lobby visit with Congressman Cleaver was memorable.  Not only did Kris set up the appointment and drive Mary downtown, she also mentored Mary through the process. She had created an outline with talking points for each of us. Unfortunately, the Congressman was late and Mary went off script telling Cleaver’s aide a donkey joke involving a preacher. Kris, laughing, pointed to the lobby plan and cut the joking short.

Kris was not always available to meet or volunteer on peace and justice actions. She might be busy delivering “meals on wheels,” volunteering at a soup kitchen or food pantry, assisting with an event at All Souls, or taking the train to visit her grandchildren.

At a KC Iraq Task Force meeting in April, Ira Harritt suggested that it was time to seek a lobby visit about the Afghan war with Congressman Cleaver.  By then Kris had stopped coming to evening meetings because of her need to be at home with her husband, Lynn.  Mary Vincent volunteered Kris. So Kris emailed Cleaver’s scheduler a request for a meeting. That was followed by a series of back and forth emails resulting in not getting the first possible date and being told the July 4 work period would be the next opportunity, which could not yet be scheduled. Kris emailed Ira saying she would follow up around June 15th.  Sadly Kris was not able to do the follow up.

In late June Ira emailed Cleaver’s aide reminding her of Kris’ correspondence and asking for a visit.  He wrote, “Knowing Kris, she would not want the meeting to be postponed for anything.” The meeting is set for next July 6.  Remembering Kris, we will have an outline with talking points and avoid any donkey jokes–maybe.

Needless to say, we all miss Kris.

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