Local view: Nuclear protesters sought peace, and fostered awareness in all of us
"They shall beat their swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not war against nation, nor shall they study war anymore."
On July 28, 2012, a time-
honored vision guided by that passage from the biblical book of Isiah became reality at a nuclear facility in Tennessee. One of the three responsible for this particular act of hope was Greg Boertje-Obed of Duluth. He is a member of the national Catholic Worker Movement, a member of Vets for Peace Chapter 80, and my life partner.
Recorded about 3,000 years ago and handed down from generation to generation, Isaiah's prophecy was enacted by the Transform Now Plowshares group when it entered the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oakridge, Tenn. The action was one of more than 100 that have taken place at nuclear and first-strike weapons facilities in the U.S. and Europe since 1980.
Charged with and convicted of depredation of government property and damage to national security under 1996 laws about crimes of violence and terrorism, the three recently were sentenced to prison terms of three to five years for cutting through three fences with bolt cutters, spray-painting Isaiah's words on a guard tower and cinder block barriers, pouring blood and symbolically hammering on the side of a building with household hammers -- in other words, recreating the act of beating the swords of our time into a plowshare for a greater good.
This plowshares action was one of the most reported nationally and internationally in a long time. The Duluth News Tribune published three comprehensive stories that gave those of us who read them something to think about, to analyze, to emulate, to hope for -- or to criticize or ignore.
Although not the primary intention, the Y-12 action exposed lax security measures, broken-down and uninstalled high-tech security systems, and improperly trained and under-
supervised security guards hired by a private foreign security company, as well as the illusion of safety and security at a facility often referred to as the Fort Knox of nuclear facilities.
Congressional hearings have been held, the private security company lost its contract, the head of the Department of Energy stepped down and even Republican members of Congress publicly thanked the three for the wake-up call.
Some people compare the consequences of this plowshares action to that of nonviolent resistance actions in Nazi Germany, particularly to the White Rose group of university students who exposed the Nazi death camps through the distribution of leaflets and the pasting of messages on public buildings and walls. They were convicted of high treason and beheaded.
I would say this comparison is a disservice to the White Rose group, and it diminishes the credibility of the plowshares action. I believe we are sliding drastically down a slope toward fascism, corruption and unchecked power; but we are not there yet. What I saw in that courtroom was the willingness to struggle and to follow the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to "bend the arc back toward justice." It is a hard thing to do, but what happened in that courtroom showed we have not been silenced or cowered into fear.
The 16,000 signatures of support for the action from almost all 50 states in the U.S. and from more than a dozen foreign countries were put on court record. Scores of reporters came to witness and communicate this historical event. Hundreds of supporters packed the courthouse. Lawyers and consultants donated their time and knowledge. Documentaries are in process.
Most importantly, hope still springs eternal. These three birthed a better awareness upon us all and offered hope that everyone beneath their vine and fig tree can live in peace and unafraid. And in a world free of nuclear weapons.
Michele Naar-Obed of Duluth is a member of the National Catholic Worker Movement and its house in Duluth, the Hildegard House. She and Greg Boertje-Obed have participated in plowshare actions together.