Quotable

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dorothy Day and the Deep Roots of Resistance

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more." Isaiah 2:4

Over a year ago, on April 28th 2015, I found myself standing before the Isaiah Wall, directly across the street from the United Nations building. It was 8:30 AM, and across the street delegates to the NPT Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference were entering the building as it began its second day.

April 28, 2015 at the Isaiah Wall

Police vans were pulling up and and New York's finest were making preparations for the expected onslaught of nuclear abolitionists who would soon arrive for the 9:30 vigil here and the subsequent nonviolent direct action at the US Mission to the United Nations just down the block.

The sun was shining and the tree in front of the Isaiah Wall was bursting with the beauty of Spring. In an instant all this could disappear in a blinding flash and, quite ironically, Isaiah's words just might remain while every living thing around it would be vaporized or incinerated, the shadows created from their ash etched into the stone surface.

The letters etched into the stone of the wall are a permanent reminder of the words of the prophet Isaiah who, like most prophets, have been ignored through the centuries by leaders of so many nations and those who follow them blindly into the endless madness of war.

Civil Defense sign above the Isaiah Wall
Yet many people have resisted and called humanity to something better. As I walked up the steps circling up by the wall I saw, at the top of the stairs, an icon of the Cold War - the days of duck and cover, of bomb shelters and mutually Assured Destruction. It was a faded, rusting fallout shelter sign over a nondescript door.

It was a stark reminder of my childhood, when students at my elementary school would walk from the school roughly a mile or two to the nearest official fallout shelter during the many Civil Defense drills held in those days.

It was also a reminder of Dorothy Day and other resisters who, during the Cold War, refused to enter the fallout shelters in New York during the drills, and were arrested for doing so. As today, the actions of Day and her co-conspirators were part of a small but significant witness against the nuclear arms race.

Dorothy Day (far right) and others seated on a park bench at Washington Square Park, New York City, on July 20, 1956, in protest of the mandatory "Operation Alert" civil defense drill. Police subsequently arrested them. (photo credit: Robert Lax)

At one of those early civil defense protests, the resisters shared a leaflet that read:
We will not obey this order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. In view of the certain knowledge the administration of this country has that there is no defense in atomic warfare, we know this drill to be an act in a cold war to instill fear, to prepare the collective mind for war. (from a 1955 protest leaflet)
In much the same spirit participants in the more recent (April 28, 2015) action engaged in active resistance to the nuclear weapons policies of the US, and in the spirit of Dorothy Day and so many others, blocked the entrances to the US Mission to the United Nations, risking arrest for their actions. The name of the action was "SHADOWS AND ASHES: Direct Action for Nuclear Disarmament."

Resisters blocking the entrance to the US Mission to the United Nations on April 28, 2015 shortly before they were arrested.

Indeed, as in Day's time, all that would be left after a nuclear war today are shadows and ashes, and so we continue to resist the forces of madness with Isaiah's words etched on our hearts. If we keep on in this wonderful, long tradition long enough, perhaps one day the words of Isaiah will ring like a clarion call and we will truly beat our swords into plowshares and make war no more.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this reminder. If that is what we can do, we must do it. Our minds, our consciousness; our feelings, our love, we give our all.

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