It Takes Conviction
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.“ —Dr. MLK, Jr.
On October 6th, 2002, as the U.S. prepared to launch its “shock and awe” bombing campaign against Iraq, three brave Dominican nuns, and members of Earth & Space Plowshares, a national nuclear disarmament organization, broke into Minuteman III missile site near Greeley, Colorado, armed only with hammers, prayers, and their own blood, in a symbolic act to “inspect, expose and disarm” the weapons of mass destruction that exist right here on American soil. Entering the silo, they poured their own blood in the shape of a cross, and pounded on the half-ton concrete silo lid with a household hammer. They were arrested, convicted of sabotage and labeled as fanatics and terrorists by the religious right.
In April of 2003, the trio was charged with and convicted of malicious destruction of property and interfering with national defense. On July 25th of that year, Sister Jackie Hudson was sentenced to 30 months in prison, Sister Carolyn Gilbert to 33 months, and Sister Ardeth Platte to 41 months, by U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn, who called the women “dangerously irresponsible.” The duration of the sentences varied depending on the number of prior arrests and convictions for civil disobedience. Testifying at their trial, the nuns said their act was one of “symbolic disarmament,” and was not a threat to national defense.
Back in October, Sister Jackie Hudson came to my college, Fort Lewis, in Durango, CO, to address students who attended the screening of the documentary film Conviction, which tells the nuns’ story. With the help of several members of Guerrilla News Network, I compiled a list of questions, and conducted an interview via email.
What follows are the responses of Sisters Jackie Hudson, Carol Gilbert, & Ardeth Platte.
Sister Ardeth Platte, second from left, hugs an unidentified supporter,
left, as sisters Jackie Hudson, third from left, and Carol Gilbert, right,
look on as the three Dominican nuns head into federal court in downtown
Denver on Friday, July 25, 2003, for sentencing. The women were
convicted in April of obstructing the national defense and damaging
government property for swinging a hammer at the silo and smearing
their blood on it in the form of a cross. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
ShiftShapers: What were the primary intentions and objectives behind your action on October 6th, 2002?
We followed President Bush’s Nuclear Posture Review in Jan., 2002 and his statements for the next nine months regarding his threats to use nuclear weapons on the “Axis of Evil” nations and namely, on Iraq. We began praying, studying and discerning what we should do to stop this crime – of threatening to use nuclear weapons on the people of a nation which is illegal under international law. We recognized that anyone knowingly participating in this indiscriminant bombing would also be war criminals. We felt obligated to speak out.
Van: What do you think were the main motivations for this war?
We think that the bombing of Afghanistan carried out the threat against that country because their government refused to allow an oil pipeline through their country and the “shock and awe” bombing and occupation of Iraq were for the purpose of controlling the oil of that nation. Certainly the two countries were not represented in the 19 persons who were on the attack commercial airliners that hit the World Trade Towers, Pentagon and Pennsylvania farmland. Fifteen were from Saudi Arabia.
Van: How do you think opposition to the war should be communicated to many of the right-wing (alleged) Christians that support the Actions of the Bush regime?
The truth about mass murder of innocent women, children and men should become a theme urgent for followers of the non-violent Jesus to practice. If there is any reading of the New Testament certainly the challenge to love enemies, to do good to those who persecute, to forgive, to understand that those who use the sword will perish by the sword.
Van: Why do you think so many US Christians seem to support these sort of military actions, despite the fact they are ignoring the words of Jesus of Nazareth?
Many U.S. Christians put America and nationalism before their God. They have become part and parcel of the systems whether corrupt or just, they earn their livings from the corporate entities and have become part of the capitalistic producer-consumer market. Also, much of the actual workings of the U.S. government are buried in secrecy. There is little investigative reporting by the corporate media to bring out sufficient information to the general public. The general public is caught in an economic battle for survival.
Van: What attempts have you made to communicate with people such as those mentioned above? What barriers have you found, and what bridges?
We live lives of nonviolent civil resistance. Therefore, our participation is ongoing: forums, marches, demonstrations, civil resistance. This includes organizing and acting, along with enjoining others who are doing the same.
Van: What do you think can be done to halt the push towards war with the rest of the Islamic world, especially Iran?
The only changes that have been made on this level is “by the people”. Suffrage, unionization, labor and human rights, civil rights, an end to any war can only become a reality through mass movements of the people and by persons willing to risk their lives, reputations and possessions. People who believe in stopping war and banning it forever must pull out all the stops by direct action, political and judicial action and all nonviolent means possible. Our understanding is that the war has already begun: surveillance inside the country, ongoing threats in the air and at sea by military equipment and personnel, increased verbiage, and Iran designated as a terrorist nation. It has even been stated that money is available for an attack. We pray this is not so.
Truthcansuk: If the U.S. government is willing to arrest nuns over this, then what does that say about the safety/effect that other regular protesters can enjoy?
The government will use any means necessary to stop those who interfere with their business as usual. History teaches that leaders are killed, incarcerated, threatened, condemned, and lied about. We can look at this century and study mass movements of any kind. All who want a preferred world must work to create it. If it is one of peace with justice, then one must develop these qualities in oneself and mobilize small communities of persons to live it, practice it, teach it, and give their lives to bring it into being. Truth-telling is a two edge sword. It touches the truth that lies within others. War will never bring about peace, Injustice will never create just systems. So it is a challenge to be faithful to ones beliefs and to what one wishes for others that is right and good.
Ted: Obviously this has been a long battle but it seems that the majority of the antiwar movement is using recycled tactics of the Vietnam era and mass protests don’t seem to have much of an effect at drawing new people into the movement for the long term struggle which is needed to change to a society based on peace and justice. Have your actions been able get people interested and involved?
We believe that over longer periods of time, more and more people begin to understand the signs of the times and become stronger advocates for peace, become more courageous in their struggles. We believe that the Vietnam War would have continued for many more years had it not been for the people in the streets, some giving their lives, others being incarcerated for years, and masses of people saying “Get out of Vietnam now!” We must not fall into the immediate fast food mentality for results. We must be faithful in our lifestyles, live more simply, work on gentler footprints on Mother Earth, build lasting relationships with people of all nations, races, creeds, and orientations. We have years of work to do to become one family under God, Allah, Yahweh or whatever name we wish to call the Spirit that leads us.
ShiftShapers: Have you been able to continue your anti-war activism after conviction & imprisonment?
Definitely, in every communication, relationship, forum and in our efforts to live nonviolence as a way of life! My question daily is: does this action I am doing, this word I am speaking, this thought I am thinking add to the making of peace? Am I compassionate, caring, loving in my dealings with others? Am I living as simply as possible so that others may live? Continuing to work against war is a life time work. Direct action must continue in our lives, so we hold banners in key spots, write articles, speak in forums, challenge groups with whom we meet, etc.
Ted: Have you been able to work with the higher echelon of the church to promote peace and justice per the bible (i.e. blessed are the peacemakers) instead of the covert and non-vocal disapproval of the war?
Yes, we continue to take corporate stances against war, for nuclear disarmament, in behalf of issues pertaining to justice. These are sent to Church leaders and governmental leaders.
Ted: Have you been able to get ministers or reverends to promote this (peaceful, nonviolent) aspect of their religion openly and ask their followers to read the bible for the peace that parts of it advocate?
In our presentations there have been a number of priests, ministers, pastors. Hopefully they are less afraid to speak out when other enjoin them. But we do not have a chance to follow them after the forums.
ShiftShapers: What is your vision for the future of the anti-war movement, and your peace work in particular?
Our vision is that all who believe in peace will begin to see the connections between nonviolence in their way of life and then begin practicing it, teaching it to the youngest, and helping create the peaceful family, neighborhood, communities wherever we are. All of creation is connected. All affect the other. All people must have the basic human necessities that will help them reach their fullest potential. Greed, ego, possessions must decrease so that all of the family of God will be able to sustain themselves.
This exclusive collaborative interview was compiled by GNN contributor and blogger Nathan Coe. Nathan is a guerrilla journalist and activist residing in the mountains of Southwest Colorado, where he is a senior in college working on his Major in Humanities. He can be contacted at free_world_alliance(at)yahoo.com or via his blog at ShiftShapers.gnn.tv.