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An Act of Hope

Sue leads a joyful group of citizen disarmer puppets!

Sue leads a joyful group of citizen disarmer puppets!

Sue Frankel-Streit shares a moving reflection on hope in the face of injustice, as our friends Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli are in jail pending sentencing. Sue is a founding member of the Little Flower Catholic Worker Farm in Louisa, VA, and she took a hammer to a B-52 as part of the Anzus Plowshares action in 1991.

It’s been a number of years since I’ve been to (or in) a Plowshares trial, but standing outside the federal courthouse in Knoxville on Monday as Greg, Michael and Megan prepared to start trial took me right back to those moments when I’ve been there before.  Federal courtrooms are intimidating places, surrounded as one is by their rich, dark walls, insignias of state justice and gun-toting Marshalls. The first plowshares trial I witnessed, some 25 years ago, was also one of Greg’s. It was in Philadelphia and he and his codefendant, who’d hammered on a helicopter bound for Latin America, had already hung two juries.

I’d been at the Catholic Worker a couple of months, had no idea really, what a plowshares action was or why anyone would do one.  After two days of listening to Greg and Lin Romano, the only thing I couldn’t understand was how the judge couldn’t agree with them. As always, the logic of plowshares is impeccable. The reasoning is upheld by international, and even national, laws, and certainly by the defendant’s religion, which is often shared by the judge. The love of the defendants and their desire for a better world shines through their testimony. They have taken a personal risk to act against a clear injustice. Often they are not allowed to explain any of this to the jury, and/or the jury is instructed to disregard much of it. And so they are almost always convicted of crimes that don’t match their actions, and sometimes sentenced to jail time that seems to far outweigh the “crimes”.

When Greg and Lin were convicted, I remember being furious and sad and depressed. Years later, when Greg’s wife Michele was convicted, I felt the same way. At the all the plowshares trials I’ve been to, including my own, the injustice of the court seems to pain the supporters more than the defendants. I believe that’s because the defendants have the action to look back on. The moment of complete freedom when you stand beside a nuclear weapon and label it as the injustice it is, despite the likely consequences, is a powerful thing to hold on to. When I saw Greg, Megan and Michael preparing to enter court, my heart flipped and my head bowed as I re-experienced the pain of being shut down in court, the helplessness of watching good people go to jail, the lies let stand in court, and the long, absence-filled days of jail. But then I looked up at Michael Walli, who I’ve known for 25 years, and saw the happiest smile I’ve ever seen on his weathered face. And I knew where that joy came from and I knew he’d be OK. He’d be free no matter where he was.

There are a lot of critiques of Plowshares, some of which I share. But in spite of them all, this simple action continues to carry a power far beyond the symbolic disarmament of a weapon. In the end, a plowshares action is an act of hope. I just hope we can all remember that on sentencing day.

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3 thoughts on “An Act of Hope

  1. Yes Sue- well said- at end i mention the transform plowshares- as claire grady says- this is to b a tag team effort

    i continually try to understand why most americans can’t see this- i try not to get angry and judge them (i think it is a matter of up bringing and education)

    A Review if the Movie “Hit and Stay” (preliminary and to be expanded)

    The documentary movie,“Hit and Stay”, directed by Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk, has played the Maryland Film Festival with two showings, 5/9 / 2013 at the Charles Theatre and 5/11 at the Brown Auditorium at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

    Six years in the making, the 100 minute documentary is about anti draft board actions to protest the Vietnam War- spanning roughly a period between 1967 and 1977 . Beginning with the Baltimore Four , the movie progresses through the Catonsville Nine, Milwaukee 14 actions to many other actions ( there were 120 or so in all) -including such other major actions as the Harrisburg 8 and Camden 28- but also including lesser known actions as the Flower City Conspiracy, Hoover Vacuum Conspiracy, Women Against Daddy Warbucks, RIPOFF, and so forth.

    The movie describes how these actions progressed from the first one- where four people poured blood on draft files in Baltimore in 1967 and waited to be arrested (hence “Hit and Stay”) to the perhaps best known action- the Catonsville Nine- where draft files were burned with napalm- to actions like the Women Against Daddy Warbucks where files were cut into confetti or actions where persons would not wait to be arrested (“Stay”) but disappear to surface at a later time or actions where people hit and then ran, avoiding capture altogether, or actions where people acted and then 300 persons claimed responsibility, making it impossible for the FBI to arrest any one.

    Participants appear speaking frankly and often humorously about their roles and plots and schemes to break into and pile up and destroy a myriad of draft files. The actions are always creative but, in some instances are ruined by informants and the FBI. Humor abounds, for example, Ms Dougherty spends the night watching the progression of lights on and off in the wrong building.

    The film creates a gripping narrative arc, thanks to Joe and Skyzz even though it consists largely of talking heads and interviews. Interspersed is commentary by such luminaries as historian Howard Zinn and scholar Noam Chomsky.

    Some of the participants seem to provide glue to hold the the narrative together more than others, such as Jim Forest, George Mische, Dan Berrigan and Dean Pappas, providing commentary and key segues.

    “Hit and Stay” played to sell out crowds of approximately 400 in both venues, and at both showings the movie was followed by a question and answer period featuring not just the two film makers- but persons who were in the movies as well.

    Music and animation in the film is effective, and shots of nature and Baltimore provide welcome breaks to the intensity. Fine, moving, even tear inducing drama is achieved!

    The “other side” of the picture- that is those opposed to these actions, is well represented by a prosecutor, Judge, retired FBI members, draft clerks and church goers.

    Dan Berrigan spent considerable time in the “underground” deciding not to turn himself in for prison as ordered. along with George Mische, Mary Moylan, David Eberhardt and Phil Berrigan Dan gave the FBI fits as he popped up here and there to give interviews or sermons. As he leaves after giving the morning sermon at one church, a member of the congregation comments- “Oh that’s what it’s about? He’s supposed to be in Jail with his bother?” And another says- “Well, he’s entitled to his beliefs but I don’t share them”; another states- “I think destroying draft cards is un-American”.

    I fully expected an amateurish work and was pleasantly surprised by the over all professionalism- thus leading to hopes of some wide distribution or play on PBS or another more established venues (the hard part). The movie certainly deserves a wide distribution.

    With all the work Joe and Skizz did- all of us participants learned a great deal about the other actions previously known only in fragmentary fashion. To have big appreciative audiences as well as friends present (for us the participants) to watch the movie was very moving.

    Sadly, a number of crucial actors, such as Tom Lewis, John Grady and Phil Berrigan have passed on.

    Jim Harney of the Milwaukee 14 and the “weather person, Laura Whitehorn, give moving summaries and analysis of what the draft action participants were doing, trying to accomplish, what they meant and “were about” and what needs to be done. Because of such statements as theirs , the message is a plain and clear one, making the movie as relevant now as it will be in the future of war making America.

    Joan Nicholson stands by the side of the road near Kennett Square in Pennsylvania, singing poignantly, “How many kids have you killed today, Empire USA”, a lone pillar of resistance as cars rush by.

    Bob and his brother Jim Good, whose brother was lost in the Vietnam war, describesa crucial moment in the trial of the Camden 28, where their mother sternly, heartbreakingly, admonishes the jury- “It is us- we have sent our boys away to this Vietnam enterprise.” He states that she came to realize that one of her sons had died for oil tin and rubber!

    The Camden 28 were acquitted in the only instance of jury nullification in the span of the draft action trials (wherein a jury ignores the Judge’s admonition to follow HIS, (i.e. the government’s) interpretation of the law. Harrisburg 8 defendants were also acquitted although most of the trials were, and continue to be, railroad jobs!

    During, the same week of the showing, three members of the “Transform Now” Plowshares were found guilty of sabotage and trespass at the Oak Ridge nuclear facility at a trial in Knoxville Tennessee. They had actually poured the blood of Tom Lewis, preserved since his death, (a member of the Baltimore Four and several Plowshares actions) on the walls of a building containing enough enriched uranium to end life on the planet. They had hiked a mile to get there, going through four fences, the last three in “Kill Zones” where they could well have been shot!

    This plowshares actions, starting with the first (Plowshares 8) in 1980- plainly continued the draft action tactics, with obvious links being Phil and Dan Berrigan and Tom Lewis.

    The Transform Now courtroom, their jury, their Judge were as leaden and dead as the trials portrayed in “Hit and Stay”; but hopefully this movie will reach out to “middle America” and not just those of us who are a minority of exiles in our own country.

    Message from dave (mozela9@comcast.net)- feel free to quote, use, AND CORRECT- just let me know

    Posted by dave eberhardt | May 12, 2013, 1:27 pm
  2. While it is a fact that these three beautiful human beings will face the wrath of the State here in this country, I suggest that the world community should pay them homage by nominating them for the Nobel Peace Prize. Whether they are ever awarded the prize is secondary to their having their names along side of those who have fought for the betterment of humanity. They are heroes! They brought to light a demonstrative horrendous system of mammouth proportion. They deserve the Presidential Freedom Medal and the recognition of the world for their plowshares deeds. John Spitzberg, Asheville, N.C.

    Posted by John Spitzberg | May 12, 2013, 3:44 pm
    • sent to Knoxville Sentinel Courier
      no reflection on peace community there- you all were especially wonderful

      Having grown up in nearby in North Carolina but now living in Baltimore
      I was saddened at the recent trial of the Transform Now Plowshares in
      Knoxville. Where was the southern hospitality from these “stony faced”
      jurors and unthinking judge. If they go to church, they should pray for
      forgiveness. Here you had Jesus as a guest in your house and you
      crucified him again.
      It is the hardest thing to forgive and love our enemies. I will try.
      As one of the three pointed out- to obey the constitution is to honor
      international treaties- thus to disarm.
      Can’t yall see that? (See I’m a southerner too- but, I know the south
      has its cold/mean hearted side) And shame on the Judge…mi Lord. good God Awmitee!!!

      Posted by dave eberhardt | May 13, 2013, 2:42 pm

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