(Transcribed by Stephen Kobasa)
Greetings and hugs all around! With a grateful heart I commend all who continue to make the sacrifices necessary to keep our doors at the Amistad Catholic Worker open, the kitchen warm, and the table set, especially during these harsh months and under the added strain of my extended absence. For some time now, I’ve hesitated to check in from here in Georgia before being able to offer a bit of clarity with regard to the legal situation of the Kings Bay Plowshares in Brunswick Federal Court. But with delays encroaching now into Spring, and still no action being taken by the magistrate judge on our pretrial motions, a brief update has become increasingly overdue.
Actually, what has been most on my heart these past three months is a deep sense of responsibility to speak about this jail where I’ve been warehoused now for the better part of a year. It is labeled a “detention center,” so-called because the people being kept here have been arrested but have not yet had their cases adjudicated. Considered a temporary holding facility, its conditions and amenities are suited to accommodate the accused for a a few weeks or a month at most, irrespective of the reality that – for reasons I’ll explain in a moment – half a year or more is closer to the average length of stay. This means that all the detained, most of who are suspected of low-level or nonviolent offenses, are held in maximum security conditions for months, and in some cases, years on end. We are locked down on crowded cellblocks, essentially for 24 hours a day. The diet is heavy on starch, sugar and sodium, which rapidly foster obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease when combined with a sedentary lifestyle.(I’ve witnessed three people having strokes, and one man I knew died of heart failure in his cell late last summer). There is no access to the outdoors nor to physical recreation of any kind; no exercise permitted outside of one’s cell; no visits with loved ones except by video monitor; no use of a library, computer or internet. It also seems to be common knowledge that we are sitting on top of a toxic waste dump, but I have neither the means nor the fortitude to investigate that particular report.
As for the 400 to 500 detainees here, most are in the same predicament as Liz, Steve and I, being held indefinitely with their cases pending. Several systemic factors conspire to make this so. Bail is generally set extremely high, unaffordably so for many, although this can sometimes be remedied at a bail reduction hearing after at least six weeks have passed. The bigger issue, though, is what’s referred to as the “probation hold.” In Glynn County, persons arrested for any reason while on probation can be jailed for renewable terms of up to 60 days, and simply forced to wait until a probation violation hearing is scheduled. As anyone who’s had the experience knows, virtually any encounter with a police officer on probation can result in an arrest, regardless of probable cause or the likelihood of an infraction being provable in court. Merely being on probation is reason enough.
Practically speaking, lengthy probation terms usually have little to do with supervision, rehabilitation or public safety. They have plenty to do with funneling people back through the ciminal justice industrial complex, which seems to be a significant source of revenue and employment in municipalities like this one. Convictions in the Brunswick court, 90 percent of which are obtained by plea bargain, commonly bring sentences which include probation terms of between 3 and 20 years! The prisoners here call it being “on paper.” Once they are on a probation hold, an investigation of the newly-alleged crime can proceed, or not, at the leisure of the D.A.’s office. Of course, whether or not they find evidence, the living conditions at the detention center will usually provide ample coercive power to secure another conviction. Obviously, after 60 or 120 or 180 days of 24-hour lockdown, almost anyone is well-disposed to accept whatever plea will result in an immediate release, even if it means being on paper for another decade. This way, there is ensured an endless supply of indefinite detainees at the Glynn County Detention Center, and their demographic won’t surprise anyone: at present, I am one of three white people in a cell block of thirty-four.
From the inside, I find the real horror of all this in its utter normalcy. Sometimes it takes a rigorous act of the will to maintain a personal relationship with reality. I’m living in a place where hundreds of people accused of low-level and/or nonviolent crimes are being held indefinitely, under maximum security conditions, having neither been granted due process, nor convicted nor sentenced. The presumption of innocence is, quite literally, a punchline. The totalitarian culture of coercion that dictates every aspect of life in a maximum security jail has essentially chewed up and swallowed the “justice system” here, such that it is not honestly possible to even use that term without the disclaimer of quotation marks. Broken families bear a terrible burden, some driven from poverty into destitution. The racial bias could hardly be more obvious. Yet it all seems to function well beyond significant public notice, much less any questions of morality, necessity or service to the public good.
Of late, I’ve grown convinced that it couldn’t be more fitting for the Kings Bay Plowshares to have been swept up and tossed into a human dumpster such as this. The racket they run here gives real substance, on the neighborhood level, to what U.S. nuclear policy – our national religion – has been preaching to every child born on the planet for the last seventy-five years: No Lives Matter. However long it might draw out, I hope that my incarceration here will in some way speak this truth. The idols we named at Kings Bay are not sleeping. They demand sacrifice. The god of the national security state feasts on the blood of the poor.
“The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., March, 1968 Yes, indeed.
– Mark Colville
[As of this writing, the Kings Bay Plowshares have been waiting many months for a ruling from magistrate judge Benjamin Cheesbro on a pre-trial argument they have placed before the court. The essence of their position is that a jury should be allowed to hear and consider the principles of faith and conscience that informed their action at Kings Bay, and that the government has acted improperly by filing criminal charges against them. For a transcript of Mark’s testimony at the pre-trial hearing, contact Luz Catarineau. The seven were arrested on April 5, 2018.]
Greetings in the peace that the world cannot give…
Please pardon my spottiness in terms of keeping in touch with all of you since getting out of jail in early September. It has never been my custom to allow the federal government to indulge the fantasy that supervising me is a legitimate use of their time or resources, and to be honest, it’s been a bit difficult to find my footing out here in minimum security for the past three months. In our case, magistrate judges Baker and Cheesbro have clearly seen fit to use bail, house arrest, curfews and ankle monitors as preemptive punishment for the accused. (This was made amply plain when in that same court, four persons arrested in October for allegedly stealing explosives and ammunition from Kings Bay Naval Base were released without restrictions, on a promise to return for court appearances!) Nevertheless I cheerfully opted to accept these bail conditions on an emergency basis, when it became clear that the Glynn County Jail was not terribly interested in allowing me access to adequate medical care after a diagnosis of skin cancer. As things turned out, this proved to be a good decision, because after two successful surgeries back home in New Haven, I’ve been given a clean bill of health with no further follow-up care required.
So it’s time to go back. It’s obvious that this governmentally-imposed obedience training program amounts to nothing but another form of imprisonment, one for which the accused do not receive any credit toward an actual post-conviction sentence. This has become a scandalously common abuse of the Bail Reform Act in courtrooms all across the country. Personally, the daily practice of voluntarily cooperating in my own captivity has also imposed a strange sort of existence, one in which I find it difficult to fully engage in life and relationships in the ways I’m accustomed to doing so. It’s an unhealthy dynamic that has only become worse since the reason for my decision to take bail no longer exists, and the court’s lack of integrity imposes the responsibility on me to make that dynamic change.
From the beginning, my participation in the Kings Bay Plowshares action was first of all an act of contrition for complicity in the sins of nuclearism and empire, and I’ve regarded any incarceration as penance for those sins. But the jail has also been for me a place of ministry, personal faith-development and formation of conscience. It provides the incredible daily privilege of walking with Jesus in the person of the prisoner, and of seeing the world the way He did: from the perspective of the bottom. It’s a lot like being in an unusually noisy monastery where all the monks have tattoos and share a fondness for the F-word! Of course, Christmas can be a very lonely and desolate time for people in jail, especially those who don’t enjoy the constant support of family and friends on the outside as I do, so returning there before the holidays seems like a useful and appropriate sacrifice to make. With this in mind, there are no misgivings or mixed feelings about going back to Glynn County Detention Center, but rather a sense of rejoicing that, as Dan Berrigan liked to say, one has the freedom to go to jail.
A week ago, judge Cheesbro accepted a motion to return the bail money that was posted on my behalf and put me back in the jail on December 11th. This Tuesday, Luz and I will show up at the Glynn County Detention Center and part ways again, for another undetermined length of time. We will do this mindfully, reaching hands of solidarity toward our extended global family members who are now at this country’s border facing atrocities and uncertainties far beyond whatever hardships we might be obliged to bear. Anyone who wishes to join us, before my self-surrender, in a group hug and a prayer for refugees, would be most welcome to meet us there in the GCDC parking lot (100 Sulphur Springs Road, Brunswick, GA 31520) at 11:30am. After that, I’ll look forward to your postcards, and delight in all news of your ongoing efforts to bring about the nonviolent collapse of the U.S. empire, in defense of all creation…
Love and Prayers,
Postcards to Bodhi, No. 3
July 23, 2018
A contribution to the Plowshares discussion at the National Catholic Worker gathering in Rochester, New York, July, 2018
Spoiler Alert: I think plowshares actions are a good idea!
It’s comforting to know that a discussion on direct disarmament is part of the agenda for the National Catholic Worker gathering in Rochester marking 85 years of the Catholic Worker movement, and a delightful affirmation to be invited to offer some encouraging words. Since having my toys taken away and being sent to my room some months ago, I’ve made a habit of praying with the Sunday gospel readings from the lectionary, and sometimes writing brief reflections on them.
As it happens, the passage before me this week, Mark 6:7-13, provides a perfect opportunity to consider plowshares as an outgrowth of the Catholic Worker movement. I understand that this is a matter of debate for some of us. I also recognize and bow to each of the many other spiritual and ethical paths that have led people to take up Isaiah’s hammer; in no way should their voices be diminished. With that said, this offering is articulated within the parameters of a Catholic Worker approach, which seems appropriate for the occasion.
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
An instructively odd aspect of Mark’s account of the disciples’ first missionary journey is that Jesus sends them forth without a mission. There are some detailed instructions, but these don’t include a message to be brought, what its content might be, or even that they are supposed to preach at all. While they are given “authority over unclean spirits,” it’s not clear what, if anything, they are supposed to do with that authority. What they are told essentially is this: go somewhere, with somebody, stay in that place, and be poor.
If you’re like me, this is pretty much what you told your family you were doing when you quit your job and joined the Catholic Worker. And it didn’t go over well.
But isn’t this exactly what the Catholic Worker gets right? Isn’t this where the power of our witness finds its source? In our own way, we recover what the churches seem to repeatedly lose throughout the centuries; namely, that the starting pint of evangelization is not preaching or teaching or baptizing or casting out demons. It is hospitality. In fact, I believe Jesus was so certain his disciples would forget this that when he sent them out he made sure that they wouldn’t be able to survive, much less take on any kind of mission, without having to depend on the hospitality of others.
Hospitality is an encounter with another in which there is no agenda but the other; it is how people find one another’s heart. In the Catholic Worker we have seen, and come to know, that when hospitality is practiced daily and mindfully among the poor, it can lead to the heart of a people’s struggle – and that is where Jesus is found. That is where the Gospel gets preached. That is where an evangelization rooted in solidarity can take hold in the world and transform it.That is where communities find the power to name and cast out the unclean spirits that torment us all.
In this way, plowshares has become for me an extension of the common table at Amistad. It is both an unmasking of the demon of militarism that every day lays waste to my neighborhood, and a participation in the prophetic insistence that the poor must not die without defense. It also addresses a personal desire, which only deepens as the years go by, to live in a way that turns solidarity from a noun to a verb. On that journey the cell block, too, becomes a place where bread is broken at a familiar table – a place where I find that I am no stranger.
For the purposes of your deliberations this weekend, it should be noted that at the table I’m currently sharing, the question of property damage as inherently violent has yet to be raised by anyone. However, there is an unshakeable consensus among the African American men that if any of them ever tried to do what we did at Kings Bay, they would be shot dead before they cut the fence.
They also seem positively giddy about the idea of white people figuring out how to use their privilege to subvert systems of state-sanctioned murder and racist oppression. Personally, I don’t take this as an invalidation of the discussion that has taken prominence in plowshares circles during recent months, but perhaps it is suggestive of a direction in which that discussion might fruitfully turn. With love and respect and longing for your company, I will leave that to you.
Consider a kiss to have been blown in your general direction…
A reflection offered by Brian Terrell to Catholic Workers gathered at Nazareth College, Rochester, NY, celebrating the 85th anniversary of the founding of the movement.
July 29, 2018
Fifty years ago, in 1968, a time when state violence was running rampant in foreign wars and in the streets of our cities and when the reckless arrogance of insane men with power brought the world to the precipice of destruction, Dorothy Day drew from the tradition of the Industrial Workers of the World and offered a solution to the peril of the age- ‘Fill the jails!’ ‘Social betterment,’ Gandhi said earlier, ‘never comes from parliaments, or pulpits, but from direct action in the streets, form the courts, jails and sometimes even the gallows.’
Dorothy’s and Gandhi’s advice can be as well taken in these even more violent and dangerous days than theirs. Even as fewer Catholic Workers avail themselves of it, their plan offers the best chance, I think, of a practical program for the healing of our planet, for the health of the Catholic Worker movement and for the malaise that inflicts to souls of each of us.
Mark Colville, brother and friend from the New Haven Catholic Worker, now awaiting trial in Georgia for his part in the Kings Bay Plowshares, writes to us, ‘Rattling the Bars of My Cage’- ‘One of the blessings that has flowed in abundance during this time of incarceration is recollectedness – a mental and spiritual focus which I often find difficult to access with any consistency “out there in minimum security” (which seems an increasingly apt description of U.S. society these days). …A jail cell can be very effective at stripping away the illusions and delusions about what defines me, what sustains me, and what locates me in the world. It’s more than a radicalization of thought and conscience that becomes prominent (and hopefully permanent) when viewing the world from the perspective of the bottom. On a more fundamental level, with time there comes the possibility of a kind of rebooting of the self, as the desert does its work on the ego which can so easily impede the work of the Holy Spirit in a habitually unrecollected soul such as mine. The notion of discipleship in a culture of death gradually shifts from the realm of spiritual aspiration to a deeply felt invitation to move from here to there.…This is the well I have been drinking more thirstily from as the weeks have turned to months; I must remember to thank the U.S. District Court of Brunswick County for its obvious devotion to my spiritual health!’
Mark quotes Jim Douglas, ‘In contemplating prison consequences which may be measured not so much in days and weeks as in months and years, I must confront the reality of prison not as an interlude in a white middle-class existence, but as a stage of the Way redefining my life.’
Jailed as a young woman for agitating for the vote for women, Dorothy’s first experience behind bars brought her to a similar realization- ‘I lost all consciousness of any cause. I could only feel darkness and desolation all around me,’ she wrote in the autobiography, The Long Loneliness. ‘That I would be free again after thirty days meant nothing to me. I would never be free again, never free when I knew that behind bars all over the world there are women and men, young girls and boys, suffering constraint, punishment, isolation and hardship for crimes of which all of us are guilty.’
The socialist Eugene Debs was a great influence on Dorothy and other young activists of her time. Before he was sent up for 10 years in prison and stripped of his citizenship for his resistance to World War I, he told the sentencing judge- ‘Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.’
It is my good fortune that I came to the Catholic Worker in New York at 19 years old in 1975, in time to be in the community there in Dorothy’s last years. In the spring of 1977, most of the young people went to New Hampshire to occupy the Seabrook nuclear power plant, then under construction, and were detained by the police and courts for a longer time than was expected. Dorothy was furious with me because I stayed behind- ‘Why aren’t you in jail with your comrades?’ she demanded. To help with the work while the others were away, I answered and she told me that it was reprehensible that I used the demands of running a hospitality house as an excuse.
I bristled at Dorothy’s scolding then, and thought it was unfair and out of line, as I still do today. A collection of her letters was published a few years ago, and a letter that Dorothy wrote to a friend in May, 1977, helped me understand her frame of mind at that time. ‘With everyone else taking responsibility, and having taken it for so long, bearing so much,’ she wrote, ‘I feel like an utter failure- wrung dry. But I am beginning to recover from the miserable state of depression… Meanwhile, I pray, listen to the radio, and thank God that the great demonstration at Seabrook is over.’
One year later I was vindicated in her eyes, at least for a couple of weeks, as Dorothy wrote in her column in The Catholic Worker, ‘I rejoice to see the young people thinking of “the works of mercy” as a truly revolutionary, but nonviolent program. The spiritual and corporal certainly go together, and often involve suffering. To oppose nuclear buildup has led to the imprisonment this last month of two of our workers, Robert Ellsberg and Brian Terrell, in Rocky Flats, Colorado… Meanwhile, I am confined in another way by weakness and age, but can truly pray with fervor for those on active duty, and sternly suppress my envy at the activities of our young and valiant workers.’
One of her favorite writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky, wrote ‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.’ I think that to a certain extent, especially in a society such as ours experiencing historic rates of mass-incarceration, some time in prison is an essential requisite to fully understanding the world around us.
Jail, in Dorothy’s view, is a good place to be educated, but a university, on the other hand, not so much. While Dorothy valued scholarship, she wrote to Ade Bethune in 1948, ‘I do not think much of degrees and graduating.’ In her later years, Dorothy, who dropped out of the University of Illinois, was plagued by offers of honorary degrees from at least 16 universities. ‘The very offer of an honorary degree means that in a way I have failed to convey- to popularize- Peter Maurin’s teaching’ she wrote to the president of Santa Clara University in 1976.
Turning down the ‘honor’ from the Catholic University of America, she wrote in a letter to that school’s president: ‘The Catholic Worker stands in a particular way for the poor and the lowly, for people who need some other kind of schooling than that afforded by universities and colleges of our industrial capitalist system….. I have a deep conviction that we must stay as close to the poor, as close to the bottom as we can, to walk the little way, as St Therese has it.’ In that letter she expressed admiration for the theory of education promoted by Julius Nyerere, socialist Catholic president of Tanzania, who rejected university education based on the assumptions of a racist and capitalist society, designed as he saw it to transmit the values of the colonizing power. Rather than train an intellectual or technical elite for leadership slots in a hierarchical society, Nyerere advocated for an education that enlightens and informs the people of all classes. This idea clearly resonated with Dorothy and with the dictum of Catholic Worker co-founder and her fellow college drop-out, Peter Maurin, who insisted that ‘scholars become workers and workers become scholars.’
Plowshares activist and Catholic Worker John Schuchardt is remembered as explaining that there are two competing institutions of higher education – universities and prisons. Universities teach about the world at the top, looking down, while prisons teach you about the world from the bottom, looking up.
For generations of nonviolent resisters, Catholic Workers among them, jail has been an experience that has redefined our lives, as Jim Douglas put it. This does not seem to be true anymore and our movement is poorer for it, intellectually as well as spiritually. Until maybe 20 years ago, any chance collection of Catholic Workers young and old would have included at least a number of women and men, if not a majority, who had spent weeks or months, if not years, in jails and prisons. Until recent decades, there were always more Catholic Workers with criminal records than with university degrees. It is a scandalous demographic phenomenon in these times of mass incarceration, with ever larger proportions of the population of young people of color going to prison, that fewer and fewer young Catholic Workers are. This fact may be critical to understanding the generational dissonance over the recent statement on the Catholic Worker and racism, ‘Lament, Repent, Repair,’ where the convict’s perspective was not included as it was composed and then was largely ignored or dismissed as ‘push back’ by its authors when it was raised later.
Graduate school has taken the place of prison in the formation of many who have joined the Catholic Worker in recent years. Far too much time spent in school and far too little in a prison cells by too many young Catholic Workers threatens to paralyze our movement with abstractions issued in the jargon of the academic elite.
During the war against the people of Vietnam, Dan Berrigan suggested- ‘And in the course of such a war, one had to go to jail. It was an irreplaceable need, a gift not to be refused. You got arrested, were stripped, your body was searched and poked for drugs. You stood in public showers, were issued denims, were herded about, segregated, counted at odd hours, yelled at. All to the good, and after all, the scene was no Dachau: you would come out on the other side, a few pounds lighter, the skin of your soul darkened by insight- the fate of the poor, the blacks. Knowing white justice for what it is to the poor.’
Ammon Hennacy told Utah Phillips- ‘You came into the world armed to the teeth with an arsenal of weapons, weapons of privilege, economic privilege, sexual privilege, racial privilege. You want to be a pacifist, you’re not just going to have to give up guns, knives, clubs, and hard angry words, you are going to have to lay down the weapons of privilege and go into the world completely disarmed.’
Admittedly, privilege follows us white people even into jail. It is an extraordinary privilege to have some control over when one goes jail (not always!) and a privilege even to decide to go to jail rather than pay a fine or to go bail. This past January, after an action calling for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo at the White House, the police in Washington, DC, found a warrant from Nevada and while my comrades were released with citations, I found myself the only white man out of about a hundred held in the Metro Police Department’s central cell block. I spent more than 24 hours there and in the cells of the Superior Court while they decided whether or not to extradite me to Las Vegas. Everyone there, guards and inmates alike, immediately assumed that I was a protester, as if there were no other possibility. Washington is, of course, a city full of white men committing the most heinous of crimes, but everybody knows that the only way that a white man makes it into central cell block is to protest!
A statement on racism by Catholic Workers who have largely chosen to refuse the gift and avoid the redefinition of their lives that prison offers them, who have, incidentally, kept their privilege intact and their options for upward mobility open and their resumes unsullied by criminal convictions, is by necessity limited in its prophetic potential.
Phil Berrigan once admitted, under some duress I imagine, that not everyone needs to do nonviolent direct action that leads to jail, but he insisted that a lot more people need to than are doing it! Let me be clear that I am not saying that everyone in the Catholic Worker needs to go to jail. Each one of us must discern the role we are to play and no one among us should feel coerced into nonviolent resistance out of rote ‘group-think’. It makes a difference, though, and it hurts us in our deliberations, discourses and clarifications of thought together that there are so few young convicts among us.
Neither do I presume to dismiss the many contributions made to our movement and its work by the academics among us. Dorothy did not disown Catholic Workers who choose to pursue academic accreditation and she sometimes encouraged especially those who went after formal studies toward potentially helpful professions such as law and medicine and educating children.
Our host here at Nazareth College, Professor Harry Murray, admirably practices what he calls a ‘Scholarship of Resistance’ and has creatively managed even to turn his resistance to a professional advantage, padding his CV, so to speak, with published articles of first hand direct actions. ‘Resistance,’ Harry says, ‘can also lead to a much wider range of writing and presentations which, I will argue, have scholarly value in themselves, even if a rank and tenure committee may not agree.’ If it is not always necessary to quit ones job, it might often be necessary to risk losing it.
I am not romanticizing the prison experience. No one who has lived it can. Far from imputing any exceptional glamour onto it, I offer that going to jail from time to time should be viewed as commonplace, ordinary and prosaic, as no more special nor less essential to our lives and work than, say, doing the laundry, chopping vegetables, tending the garden.
More than our personal spiritual recollection and the integrity of our movement, the lives of hurting brothers and sisters, the fate of our planet are at stake. Nonviolent direct action, as taught to us by Jesus, Gandhi, walkers and peace volunteers in Afghanistan, to name a few, is the most likely and practical way out. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, the choice is no longer between nonviolence and violence, it is between nonviolence and nonexistence.
The resurgence of the Poor Peoples Campaign around the country this summer has been exciting and energizing, not the least of its revival of old protest and civil rights songs. ‘Everybody’s got a right to live’ is one of these songs, for sure. One recent evening over supper with some Code Pink and Voices for Creative Nonviolence activists, however, some discomfort was expressed with the lyrics of this song, that go ‘And before this campaign fails, We’ll all go down to jail.’ With appreciation and apologies to tradition and recognizing that it spoils the rhyme scheme, a more accurate and hopeful way to put it might be, ‘And before this campaign SUCCEEDS, We’ll all go down to jail!’
Phil Berrigan could have been speaking to our present dilemma when he offered that, ‘In this morally polluted atmosphere, we believe that imprisonment could hardly be more to the point. We shudder under the blows of a society permanently mobilized against peace. Duplicity, propaganda, media indifference, institutional betrayal mark our plight. Our people are confused and hopeless. Let us not give up. Let us continue to nourish each other by consistent and prayerful presence at military installations, in courts and lock ups. Indeed, we need to be free enough to go to jail. We need to fill up the jails. Nonviolent revolution will come out of the wilderness, as it always has. And be assured, dear friends, one formidable wilderness today is the American prison.’
[By U.S. Navy photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
St. Marys, GA Has A Secret
By PATRICK O’NEILL
When the Kings Bay Plowshares decided to smash idols and beat swords into Plowshares at the Kings Bay Naval base in St. Marys, GA, we assumed there would be lots of people in that community and surrounding towns and cities who were appalled to live in the shadow of the most insidious weapons system ever built by humans — Trident submarines armed with D-5 missiles.
To our surprise the folks in south Georgia and north Florida are actually filled with pride because this weapons system of mass destruction is part of the landscape where they live. They are essentially oblivious to the fact their economy and livelihoods are predicated on a promise to end life as we know it on planet earth. In fact, the Trident system includes enough explosive power to kill almost twice the earth’s population. And that’s just one of the Pentagon’s vast array of nuclear weapons systems.
It has been surprising to me that few locals share our view that planning the end of the world (that’s what Trident represents) is a bad idea. Perhaps that’s why it was a good idea for the seven of us Catholic Christians to come to this southern beach community to offer an alternate view of Trident and the threat it poses to humanity and all creation. My hope is our action might make people reflect on the insanity of Trident.
Today was the fifth and final day of our “Hunger for Nuclear Disarmament” fast. The six of us — Ken Jones of Asheville, NC; Kathy Kelly of Chicago; Beth Brockman of Durham, NC; Steve Baggarly of Norfolk, VA; Robert Randall who lives near the Trident base and me — have used our time together to pray, plan and build community for the work ahead. We are grateful for the hospitality provided by Terry and Chris Noyes and Fr. Bob Cushing, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Waycross. GA. We are also grateful for the gracious hospitality and support of Celenda and Michael Perry of St Marys.
Each day here for the fast included a public witness, three times at the Kings Bay naval base, once at the Glynn County jail, where four of my co-defendants are still being incarcerated and once at the Brunswick federal building where our trial will be held. We also painted “Peace rocks” and hid them in St. Marys for people to find.
Because I am under “house arrest” I chose not to join the daily witnesses. I have done other means of support, and met with three of our team’s lawyers.
On Wednesday night we had a gathering of 14 of us led by lawyers, Bill Quigley, of the Loyola University Law School in New Orleans, and Jason Clark, a local Brunswick/Glynn County defense lawyer. We held a round-table discussion about our case at the Unitarian Universalists of Coastal Georgia fellowship, which gratefully hosted us.
Since I have entered into this Plowshares process as an expression of my faith and my belief in the Nonviolent Jesus, I try not to get too caught up in efficacy. I recall this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
Our numbers may be few in this work to save the world from nuclear destruction, but our spirits are strong, our hearts are steadfast and love is our measure. Like all of you reading this reflection, I dream of a better, brighter, disarmed world in our future, a world where our children and grandchildren will not have to face the prospect of nuclear war. First we disarm our hearts and then we disarm our weapons, and finally, let’s disarm our world.
(Patrick was released on $50,000 bond ($5,000 secured), and is under house arrest, awaiting a federal trial in southeast Georgia.)