Subscribe

Georgia Kelly’s Praxis Peace Institute activates the choir

Praxis Peace Institute

Next lecture: Robert Fuller, “Dignity for All: How to deal with bullying, racism, sexism, and rankism in the Era of Trump.” Sunday, March 12, 2 p.m. at Vintage House.

Next travel programs: Dubrovnik, Croatia, June 2- 9; see praxispeace.org/dubrovnik for information.

Mondragon, Spain, June 17-24; see praxispeace.org/mondragon for details.

Newest book: “The Mondragón Report,” compiled and edited by Georgia Kelly (Feb. 2017)

“Uncivil Liberties: Deconstructing Libertarianism,” by Georgia Kelly, Barry Spector, Ben Boyce and others. (2013)

More information: Praxispeace.org

Back in the day, New Age music was a thing. You couldn't go to a yoga class, get a massage, have a past-life regression or an aura reading without a mellow soundtrack drifting in the background, carried aloft by incense and candlelight. At its best, it explored minimalism and techno rhythms; at its worst, it was sentimental and calorie-free.

It turns out that one of the stars of New Age music has been living in Sonoma for 20 years, hiding in plain sight. However the Georgia Kelly we know is anything but a sentimentalist, but the hyper-active, driven director and founder of Praxis Peace Institute, a 'progressive peace education organization dedicated to deep inquiry, constructive dialogue, and informed civic participation' as its mission statement says.

In Sonoma since 2001, Praxis has sponsored several lectures each year – the most recent featured renowned behavioral linguistics professor George Lakoff – as well as larger multi-day conferences on subjects like 'The Economics of Peace,' and week-long travel seminars to places like Cuba, Mondragón, Spain, and Dubrovnik, Croatia.

It can't be ignored, however, that back in 1969 Kelly was a young wife living in Big Sur, working on her music. 'I took up harp my first year of high school,' she said. 'When I was in Big Sur, that was really my focus – practicing, writing music, getting prepared for I didn't know what.' She played at Esalen with Big Sur neighbor Charles Lloyd, and though friends told her she should put out an album she knew it was a tough path for a harpist.

'I knew better than to go to a record company because they would say, 'We can't sell harp music.' So I didn't even bother to go that route, I just put it out myself.' In 1978 she recorded 'SeaPeace,' and self-distributed it to what were called 'metaphysical book stores' (they were not uncommon, back in the day).

'They played it in the stores, that's what made it sell. It just took off,' she said, with some pride. 'Within four months I was making more money than my husband. I went from being quite poor to being well-off in a short amount of time.'

'SeaPeace' was among the first to put the harp at center stage – it came out a year before Andreas Vollenweider's own harp recordings – and she followed it with titles like 'Ancient Echoes,' 'Aeolian Temple Music' 'Apollo's Lyre' and others (most of which have been reissued on CD).

She and her husband moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s, but Kelly's restless intellect wasn't satisfied with one path, and by the end of the following decade she was producing former- and future-Governor Jerry Brown's radio show, finding guests to match minds with the intellectually curious and stimulating 'Governor Moonbeam.' She even led Brown's 1992 presidential campaign in Marin County – where she was living by then, having divorced – and was a delegate to the Democratic convention in New York.

Though she continued recording through the 1980s and into the 1990s, it was a discovery in 1988 that changed her life, and her music. Her mother's family name was Dabelić, and a friend tracked down the name to Croatia. Her first visit to Dubrovnik opened her eyes to a deep European heritage. 'Once I found my relatives there, I went every year – I've been to Croatia at least 25 times, since 1988.'

Gradually the politics took over the music, and a wider sense of social responsibility became music to her ears.

In 1997 –20 years ago this summer – she moved to Sonoma, starting the Praxis Peace Institute to explore 'systemic peace, economic justice and environmental sustainability through education, research and informed action.' Heady words, but Kelly doesn't use them lightly, backing them up with lectures, workshops, travel programs, conferences and even a book club under the Praxis banner. It's supported by membership, event fees, and grants - "We could use more grants," said Kelly.

Praxis literally means process, or practice instead of simply theory: applying or enacting ideas or theories in the real world. That's what Kelly sees as her mission today. 'We focus on educational programs, whether they're speakers in Sonoma or conferences here or abroad,' she said. 'Conflict-resolution, sustainability, peace workshops, those are the kind of things we've been doing for the past many years, and probably intend to continue.'

'You talk about people who are entrepreneurs in business, you very rarely see people who are entrepreneurs in culture. That's how I see Georgia,' said former mayor Laurie Gallian, who has served on the Praxis Board of Directors for three years. 'Praxis was always for me a think tank... I always found my mind stretched and my education of many issues filled out.'

Praxis Peace Institute

Next lecture: Robert Fuller, “Dignity for All: How to deal with bullying, racism, sexism, and rankism in the Era of Trump.” Sunday, March 12, 2 p.m. at Vintage House.

Next travel programs: Dubrovnik, Croatia, June 2- 9; see praxispeace.org/dubrovnik for information.

Mondragon, Spain, June 17-24; see praxispeace.org/mondragon for details.

Newest book: “The Mondragón Report,” compiled and edited by Georgia Kelly (Feb. 2017)

“Uncivil Liberties: Deconstructing Libertarianism,” by Georgia Kelly, Barry Spector, Ben Boyce and others. (2013)

More information: Praxispeace.org

Since 2008, the Basque region known as Mondragon became a key destination for Praxis travel programs – there are usually two every summer. 'What was so striking to me was the utter lack of poverty in the region, and it had been the poorest area of Spain in the 1940s and '50s,' said Kelly. 'And from that it went to the wealthiest area, because everyone has a really good standard of living.' Along with no poverty, there is also no great wealth – the primarily economic model is the worker-owned cooperative, a model that Kelly finds not only intriguing but inspiring.

'In many ways I learned that there's a disconnect between great wealth and peace, great wealth and social justice, and great wealth and any kind of economic justice,' said Kelly. 'So leaving off the two ends of the economic spectrum, poverty and great wealth, we get more equality. And you have less stress. It's a society seemingly without stress.'

It's become a touchstone in her life. 'Europe gives me the strength to live here,' she said. 'People there live with different values. That's what Praxis is about.'

In her relaxed and modest westside Sonoma home, the Salvi harp still sits like a golden guest of honor in the living room; but the books are everywhere, filling the cases and tabletops, each bursting with ideas for a better world – ideas that seem all the more valuable today, in a new era for America.

'He's a bully, basically,' she says of the new president. 'With his election and his campaign, he has normalized the bullying and demeaning behavior. That's shocking to me, that that has become so acceptable in discourse and in our culture.'

And where Georgia Kelly sees a social problem, she looks for ways to find a solution – whether it's in Washington D.C. or here in Sonoma, where Kelly was a primary player in the movement of recent years to ban leaf blowers.

Praxis Peace Institute's next lecture is March 12, with former Oberlin college president Robert Fuller on the topic of 'Dignity for All: How to deal with bullying, racism, sexism, and rankism in the Era of Trump.'

But in liberal Sonoma – which backed Bernie in the primaries, and voted for Hillary by a wide margin – is Praxis speaking to the choir? 'I don't define it that way,' said Kelly. 'We are activating the choir. Most of the educational programs we do have activated people, and that's the purpose.'

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette