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The Plowshares 7 in the Age of Nuclear Terrorism

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Message Rena Grasso

mural celebrating Dorothy Day
mural celebrating Dorothy Day
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Each trailing a long history, two recent converging events cast light on the state of nuclear terror that haunts the earth. Three weeks ago, Iran's General Soleimani was assassinated, and the Plowshares 7 await sentencing for felonies they were convicted of on October 24, 2019. The seven Catholic Workers committed their c rime on April 4, 2019, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. They cut through rings of fencing and maneuvered to the dark heart of the Kings Bay Trident Submarine base in Georgia. There, they confronted the towering bunkers which house the 140 nuclear warheads that equip each of 7 subs with 20 warheads. At all times, in the oceans' dark abysses, at least one of these death stars patrols, on alert, prepared to launch catastrophe of biblical scale.

According to Attorney Bill Quigley, after two years of prayer and reflection, the activists who take their name from Isaiah's prophecy that swords will be beaten into plowshares, heard the Holy Spirit's call to "preach the Word: the word of life, the word of love, the word of peace." To fulfill their mission, around the bunker, they performed a multimedia ritual woven of emotionally charged symbols, and words, historic and revelatory. They beat on the thick metal with hammers, to send clanging, reverberating messages of resistance, and to remember their ancestor, Philip Berrigan's courtroom defense of his moral obligation to protest the "hammers that will break the world to bits," and to re-enact his defiance. On trial for nuclear protest, Berrigan stood with his back to the judge throughout the proceedings, "stating" his refusal to recognize a law that excluded moral claims and ignored the Higher Laws of life's sanctity.

After the hammering, the Plowshares wrapped the bunkers in yellow crime tape to name crimes against life; then, poured their blood from baby bottles at the altar of the gods of death. They draped a banner with MLK's words that "the ultimate logic of racism is genocide," resurrecting his spirit and identifying the thickets of injustice and flagrant immorality entwined with nuclear charged militarism.

The King's Bay action is the 100+ chapter in the Catholic Worker's illustrious book of resistance. The seven activists are survivors or heirs of the anti-war protests that crystallized around Phillip and Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit priests and Mississippi Freedom Riders, who orchestrated the iconic 15 May 1968 in Cantonsville, Maryland,-a brave action that spurred the militancy of the emergent anti-Vietnam war movement.

Nine catholic workers broke into Catonsville's selective service offices and took the draft papers of 378 young men. In a public square, they piled these in a heap, drew of circle in blood around them, and with napalm laced fuel set them afire. Surrounding the conflagration, in harmonic counterpoint to the crackling flames and acrid plumes of smoke, they recited the "Our Father" until the flames faded and they were arrested.

Plowshares 7 member, 80 years old Liz McAlister, connects Kings Bay to Catonsville, 2019 to 1968, and to an enduring history of resistance. In the mid-60s, she was a nun doing social justice work in Maryland. Galvanized by Catonsville, she joined the catholic workers, met, and collaborated with Phillip Berrigan. She married Berrigan in a jailhouse ceremony; soon, both were excommunicated. For 11 of their 29 years marriage, the couple was separated by imprisonment. Berrigan died in 2002, but McAlister continues their work and that of the catholic workers movement.

McAlister also adds to the venerable herstory of women peace activists. She stands on the shoulders of such as Bertha von Suttner, tireless advocate for peace, writer of the pre-eminent anti-war novel of her time ("Lay Down Your Arms," 1899). She urged Alfred Nobel to create the Peace medal, and she won that prize in 1905, the second female Nobel recipient.

McAlister reminds us, too, of the transformative social work activism of Jane Addams whose courage and character won her scathing opprobrium. Addams, unlike her Socialist comrades and the nation at-large, refused to succumb to the furious war fever that fed and sustained World War 1. Then, there's Jeanette Rankin, sole Congress member to vote against both World War 1 and World War II, and Helen Caldicott, pediatrician and impassioned champion of anti-nuclear movement, and Barbara Lee, the only Congressperson to vote against a violent response to 9/11, and against the Iraq war. In 2010 and 2111, she fought to remove US troops from Afghanistan, and she has introduced, several times, legislation to return war powers to Congress. Her courage has brought Lee an avalanch of vitriolic invective and death threats enough to warrant bodyguards for weeks at a time.

McAlister is also the spiritual child of Dorothy Day, renowned journalist, activist, organizer, who in 1933, with Catholic theologian, Paul Maurin (a blend of St. Francis of Assisi and Charlie Chaplin) founded the still existent Catholic Worker movement and progressive newspaper.

Day, a socialist, suffragist, activist, and free love bohemian in the 1920s, experienced a Road to Damascus epiphany with the birth of a child, converted to Catholicism in 1927, and to a life of unstinting devotion to the poor and oppressed, She went on hunger strike for Suffrage; she lived with the impoverished workers and immigrants of the 30s in the settlement house she fought to create. She gave a powerful voice and witness to justice and peace wherever the need arose.

Pope Francis in 2015 proclaimed her along with Lincoln, Thomas Merton, and MLK one of four greatest Americans. Her canonization, in the works for decades, is close to fruition. Day's relative, Martha Hennessey, one of the Plowshares 7, stands to assume the unique status of a Saint's granddaughter. To the Prosecutor, association with Liz names her "an extremist criminal."

McAlister has been singled out for special treatment. After the arraignment, she was denied bail and confined for 18 months in prison in a Georgia hell hole, unlike the comfy quarters which the brotherhood of corporate criminals earns. Along with three other Plowshares, she faces up to 25 years in prison.

The Kings Bay action compels attention to the roiling, violent currents sweeping through this 4000th year of Patriarchal Civilization and its Roman Empire.

Consider first the Plowshares' invisibility to the ninety percent of citizens who get their news from the mass media, that is, from 6 corporate monopolies that have bought the public air waves. These entities select what the majority knows and don't know, determining the content of the collective consciousness.

Social change movements have yet to fully grasp or respond to the mass media's colossal power to constrain and distort collective consciousness. The fruit of a free press, alternative media is essential brain and spirit nourishment for we, the chorus, but it doesn't impact the vast majority who won't be inspired by the Plowshares 7(or so many other exemplars of resistance), who won't act to support them, and who won't awaken to the existential and accelerating threat of nuclear weapons as the newly constructed Cold War mentality signals. Obama committed a trillion dollars to nuclear upgrades, Trump voided nuclear treaties with Russia, and Russia has created an undetectable nuclear device. A new arms race is on!

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A veteran of second wave feminism who was was actively involved in the development of women's studies when it wasunderstood as part of a social movmeent, and an activist engaged in struggles for reproductive rigths, violence against women, (more...)
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