“There is no peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war - at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.”
Imagine it is June 3, 1944, and you are a soldier in England as part of the U.S. military preparing for a land invasion to evict the German occupiers. Presumably you are extremely nervous, as you think of your family back home. You probably wonder if you will survive the invasion.
I have never been a soldier, but I have been a peace activist for many years and many actions. And I am honored to have been arrested with Dan Berrigan and his brother Phil.
I am in Baltimore in anticipation of joining others in the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance at the Inauguration. Despite the intense security situation in Washington, D.C., on I Day, Monday, January 21, we plan to protest President Obama’s illegal and immoral use of killer drone strikes. We hope to engage in a die-in to symbolize the deaths resulting from U.S. drone strikes in numerous countries.
When NCNR activists organize an action, we start by sending a letter seeking a meeting to express our grievances. In this action, a letter was sent to President Obama seeking a meeting to discuss an end to the killer drone strikes. In all of the NCNR actions, it is extremely rare to receive a response to our communications. Nevertheless, once in court we try to introduce the letter into evidence.
As Dan Berrigan intimated, soldiers going to war take serious risks, including a possible loss of life. And for peace to really break out, activists must be willing to take risks as well. On I Day, we expect to be arrested and charged with a crime; later we may be convicted and possibly incarcerated.
Activists around the country are taking on killer drone strikes, and some anti-drone advocates are jailed as I write. Brian Terrell, for example is serving a six-month sentence in a federal penitentiary. His crime was to protest the use of killer drones at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Three other friends are in jail for a similar protest at the Hancock Air National Guard Base in DeWitt, NY.
In a report posted on January 15 by Daniel Burgevin entitled “Meditation while Walking from Hancock Base to Jail,” I read that three recidivists and their supporters decided to walk from the military base to jail on January 11:
“The three women, Rae Kramer a Syracuse Peace Council board member, life-long peace activist and mother of two; Ellen Grady, peace activist, mother of four, and Clare Grady, peace activist, mother of two, both of the Ithaca Catholic Worker, marched with their supporters, including a three and a half year old girl and her grandparents from Ithaca, toward the jail through a driving rain.”
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Despite the awful weather, they did some meandering before getting over to the jail.
For example, they delivered an indictment for war crimes committed by the drones piloted at the airbase to the offices of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer. Another stop was made to honor a fugitive slave at the Jerry Rescue Monument in Clinton Square.
Jerry (aka William Henry) was jailed because of the Fugitive Slave Act. However, local abolitionists recognizing the Act was immoral, decided to take action. Masses of anti-slavery advocates descended upon the court building, and Jerry was rescued and taken North to freedom. At this site, “Clare challenged us to operate at the ‘Jerry Level’ to abolish drones and abolish all extra judicial killings of people of color here, in the US, and abroad, in the spirit of the Syracuse Abolitionists.”
The marchers “passed abandoned factories, neglected and forgotten neighborhoods but worst of all, homeless young people, wounded souls without jobs or hope. We saw gang folk and prostitutes, the only hope for ‘employment’ in our forgotten populations.” The scene would be the same if the march were in Baltimore. So much money for war, but so little to fund our communities.
Unlike a soldier going off to kill or be killed, I will instead engage in nonviolent direct action. I will join some of the bravest people I know in Washington, D.C., and we will place our bodies on a rock hard and extremely cold street or sidewalk as close as we can to the U.S. Capitol. Like those abolitionists who rejected the immoral Fugitive Slave Act, we will say no to killer drone strikes.
The president will take an oath to faithfully uphold the U.S. Constitution. How then can he order the killing of U.S. citizens and so many others without any pretense of due process? Instead of the president and others involved in the killer drone command structure, we, the dissenters, will be arrested.
Millions around the country will watch the Inauguration in awe. Our small protest will be seen by few, and we will be lucky to garner any media attention. In any stretch of the imagination can our action be considered effective? Probably not. Nevertheless, my conscience reminds me that I must be part of the die-in on a District of Columbia street.
Let others enjoy all of the parties that evening. I expect to be in a D.C. lock up trying to sleep on a metal slab without a mattress. As I struggle to nod off, my thoughts will be on Dan and Phil Berrigan, my mentors who taught me to resist injustice despite the futility of my actions. And maybe I will dream of how the abolitionists succeeded in forcing a reluctant government to end the practice of slavery. Possibly I will even dream that our elected officials banned the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to assassinate those deemed “our enemies.”