September 9, 2010 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Plowshares movement!!!
30 Years ago on September 9, 1980, a small group of peacemakers - Elmer Mass, Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, Dean Hammer, Carl Kabat, Anne Montgomery, Molly Rush, and John Schuchardt - entered the General Electric Nuclear Missile Re-entry Division in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where the nose cones for Mark 12-A nuclear warheads were being manufactured. They carried hammers and their own blood with which they symbolically enacted the biblical prophecies of Isaiah (2:4) and Micah (4:3) to “beat their swords into plowshares” by hammering on nose cones, pouring blood onto documents and offering prayers for peace.
The Plowshares Eight
It was a deeply spiritual act intended to symbolically (and literally) disarm these horrific weapons the government was building in huge numbers in preparation for the ultimate omnicidal act. Of course all eight waited to be arrested, were tried and convicted in Federal court (the government frowns on people messing with their nuclear weapons), and sentenced to prison terms from 1 ½ to 10 years (they also like to make an example). Ten years later, after lengthy appeals, they were re sentenced.
That first group of citizen disarmers became known as the Plowshares Eight, and had started a movement, known as Plowshares, that continues to do its subversive work of turning swords to plowshares (or ploughshares as our friends across the sea refer to it). One thing unique to the Plowshares movement is that it has no formal organization per se, no storefront, no non-profit status, no licensed merchandise. It is an organic movement in which peacemakers act individually and in community, entering military bases and weapons facilities, symbolically (and in many cases literally) disarming weapons of war (with a particular emphasis on those of mass destruction).
These are no crackpot peaceniks mind you! “Parents, grandparents, veterans, former lawyers, teachers, artists, musicians, poets, priests, sisters, house-painters, carpenters, writers, health-care workers, students, gardeners, advocates of the poor and homeless” have all participated in Plowshares actions, and they take their task seriously, routinely going through an intensive process of discernment, spiritual preparation and nonviolence training. They are also very clear on the risks involved, accept full responsibility for their actions, and are prepared for the consequences.
There have around 100 Plowshares actions around the world since the Plowshares Eight wielded their hammers in 1980; Trident II Plowshares, Thames River Plowshares, Gods of Metal Plowshares, Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II, and Waihopi ANZAC Ploughshares to name just a few. Plowshares activists have “disarmed” all kinds of armaments, including components of missiles, submarines, surface ships, aircraft, radar and satellites. And yet, Plowshares actions rarely, if ever, show up on even the innermost pages of any newspaper (and the government likes it that way; "out of sight, out of mind").
Nearly 30 years since that first Plowshares action, on September 2, 2010, a Federal grand jury in Tacoma, Washington handed down indictments against the five members of Disarm Now Plowshares. Anne Montgomery, Bill “Bix” Bichsel, Susan Crane, Lynne Greenwald, and Steve Kelly, each face up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the government’s charges of “conspiracy, trespass, destruction of property on a naval installation, and depredation of government property,” associated with their November 2, 2009 Plowshares action. Oooh, "depredation"; now that's a scary word!
Disarm Now Plowshares
Montgomery, who was one of the Plowshares Eight in 1980 recently said that, “It is distressing that 30 years later the nuclear weapons are still here, and the reason that I’m acting is that they’re still here. As citizens of a nation ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ we must take our responsibility to use every nonviolent means necessary to eliminate these illegal weapons of mass destruction.” At 83, Montgomery is the oldest of the Disarm Now senior citizen disarmers, the youngest of whom is 61.
These hearty souls entered the Trident nuclear submarine base at Bangor, Washington through the perimeter fence in the early morning hours of November 2nd, walked for 4 hours across the base carrying a banner, “Disarm Now Plowshares: Trident: Illegal + Immoral”, left a trail of blood, hammered on the roadway and fences around Strategic Weapons Facility – Pacific (SWFPAC) and scattered sunflower seeds throughout the base. They cut the last two fences to enter the secure nuclear weapons storage area where they were detained (with hoods over their heads, laying on the ground for about 4 hours)), and after extensive questioning by base security, FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), cited for trespass and destruction of government property, given ban and bar letters and released. All in a day’s work!
Finally, after ten months of waiting for the wheels of “justice” to grind along, the Disarm Now Plowshares defendants are ready to face trial and, in the words of Fr. Bill “Bix” Bichsel, “We hope to expose the fact that these weapons create absolutely no security. They bring nothing but fear and further proliferation of weapons and war.” These Plowshares activists hope to "expose" and shine a bright light on a very dark subject.
As Daniel Berrigan once said, “Plowshares began disarmament in 1980, doing what the government refused to do for 35 years. With equal concern, Plowshares appealed to the hearts, minds and spirits of the American people—‘You must share disarmament!’ The twin goals of Plowshares—symbolic yet real disarmament and sharing disarmament—have reciprocity. The weapons exist because our fear, violence and hatred built them. Plowshares must address these realities…”
And now, even after 65 years the government still builds the weapons of humankind's destruction, even while it engages in the rhetoric of disarmament.
When they get their day in court the Disarm Now Plowshares defendants hope to break through the government’s veil of secrecy and fear, and make their case to hold the government accountable to abolish nuclear weapons. They seek to disarm not only the weapons, but at the heart of it the "violence and hatred" that simmers deep within our hearts. Let’s hope their voices are heard, and may we all be listening.
Read more about Disarm Now Plowshares (including statements by all the members) at the Disarm Now Plowshares Blog. While there add your name to the list of the many individuals and organizations who have signed on in support of the Disarm Now Plowshares.
And then keep speaking out for disarmament; tell your Senators to speak out publicly in favor of and vote for ratification of the New START Treaty!
The Trident submarine base at Bangor, just 20 miles west of Seattle, Washington, is home to the largest single stockpile of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal, housing more than 2,000 nuclear warheads. In November 2006, the Natural Resources Defense Council declared that the 2,364 nuclear warheads at Bangor are approximately 24 percent of the entire U.S. arsenal. The Bangor base houses more nuclear warheads than China, France, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan combined.
The base has been rebuilt for the deployment of the larger and more accurate Trident D-5 missile system. Each of the 24 D-5 missiles on a Trident submarine is capable of carrying eight of the larger 455 kiloton W-88 warheads (each warhead is about 30 times the explosive force as the Hiroshima bomb) and costs approximately $60 million. The D-5 missile can also be armed with the 100 kiloton W-76 warhead. The Trident fleet at Bangor deploys both the 455 kiloton W-88 warhead and the 100 kiloton W-76 warhead.