In April 1968, as a 13-year-old student in rural Vermont, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King cast a dark shadow on my hopes for a more just world. My mother and I knew that a great spiritual leader had been taken violently from the people who vitally needed his witness and strength… My mother’s mother, Dorothy Day, wrote about that day with great sadness,lamenting that a voice for truth and redemption had been brutally crushed.
Here at Camden County Jail in Woodbine, Georgia, my cell mate Liz McAlister reminds Clare Grady and me of her husband Phil Berrigan’s insistence on communal encouragement. “To keep each other’s courage up,” said Phil, “is the most apostolic duty of all.” How hard it must have been to foster persistent resistance to the triple evils of militarism, materialism, and racism in the wake of Dr. King’s murder. Among Dr. King’s opponents were enemies who wanted not only to kill him but also to eliminate the hope he awakened. Some enemies wanted to discourage people from even imagining a better world.
Imagining a better world is part of what led me to Kings Bay Strategic Weapons Facility and Naval Base in the state of Georgia, where Dr. King was born. But I’m also motivated by my outrage over the horrendous growth of the U.S. nuclear menace while U.S. elites all too often ignore basic human needs and environmental justice. Chelsea Manning, a brave whistle blowing military insider, speaks of the U.S. military as a “whirling death machine.” How can I shoulder my responsibility? I believe it’s my turn to stand up and raise a voice, to enter into the wounds of Christ, to bring hammers for disarmament, and blood for atonement to the site of onmicidal intent. I can no longer be complicit as the U.S. nuclear arsenal threatens life, liberty, and happiness for most of the Earth’s peoples.
We used hammers and blood to convey our message, but the state’s charges don’t mention the hammers and blood. The state instead charges us with using bolt cutters and spray paint. I see the wording of our charge as an attempt, by the state, to obliterate our sacramental message and diminish it to a criminal act of property destruction and slightly unruly graffiti. Will people accept the state’s false construct? Might some who learn of our action grow troubled over the recklessness of planning to incinerate life in all its beauty and bounty. We’re called to care for the earth; instead U.S. society bows to the Pentagon’s insistence that we care for weapons that can destroy the planet. I believe it’s idolatrous to trust that weapons can bring us security.
I began writing this reflection on Earth Day as I sat with my companions in a concrete holding tank, completely severed from the natural world outside. Documentation reveals that the United States military consumes the greatest amount of fossil fuels in a compulsive drive to maintain global dominance. U.S. plunder of the Earth and its people is no longer sustainable as climate disruption affects soil, water, and food crops. Our small community of the seven Kings Bay Plowshares activists now attempt to contribute to nuclear abolition, joining the efforts of our indigenous brothers and sisters, and many others, who have engaged in the defense of life since the dawn of the nuclear age. In today’s (Earth Day) Gospel reading of John, Jesus states, “I am the good shepherd … and I will lay down my life for my sheep … no one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.” We all have this power to freely give of ourselves in the struggle against empire and to heed Christ’s call to care for one another.
*Martha Hennessy awaits trial in Georgia with six other activists facing serious federal charges for their swords-into-plowshares action, on the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, inside the U.S. naval base at Georgia’s King’s Bay.
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