NH Peace Action News -- December 1997

Bearing Witness
by Sean Donahue

"We are the ones we've been waiting for"

- Sweet Honey in the Rock

I had no intention of spending a night in Cumberland County Jail when I went to Portland, ME to observe the sentencing of the Prince of Peace Plowshares on October 29. The Prince of Peace Plowshares -- Mark Colville, Phil Berrigan, Steve Baggarly, Susan Crane, Tom Lewis-Borbely and Father Steve Kelly, SJ -- were arrested on Ash Wednesday when they boarded an Aegis destroyer docked at Bath Iron Works, and poured baby bottles full of blood on the deck to mark it as a weapon that would kill children, and hammered on its missile hatches to send a message to our government that it's time to beat swords into plowshares. The Aegis destroyer is designed to carry nuclear missiles - weapons that were essentially outlawed by the World Court in a landmark decision last year.

The Plowshares had called for people to carry on their mission by engaging in civil disobedience at Bath Iron Works. I told myself that other people would answer the call and that it was enough for me to support them in their actions. I marched to the shipyard with other Plowshares supporters, and stood on the sidewalk chanting "the crime is on the other side of the fence" as the police arrested Audrey and Jessica Stewart, eighteen-year old college students who had poured baby bottles full of their own blood on the Bath Iron Works sign and then chained themselves to the shipyard gate in an effort to stop work at the shipyard and make the purpose of the weapons that were made there visible to all who saw the sign. After the police had carried them away, Greg Phelan, a 65-year old Catholic from Brunswick, Maine chained himself to the fence and was arrested. Anna Allocco, a woman my own age (23) who had drummed and chanted with me outside the courthouse that morning, took Greg's place and was promptly arrested. Then the rush of activity slowed down. I stood, watching, waiting for someone to take Anna's place, but no one did. After a few minutes I felt a surge of determination rise inside me and, realizing that I was the "other person" I had assumed would take this responsibility, I sat down in front of the gate. I had barely reached the ground when four police officers came and dragged me away. Inside the paddy wagon, Audrey, Jessica, and Anna taught Greg and me a new song - "We are the one's we've been waiting for."

That night in my jail cell I studied the Bible and came across a passage from the Book of Isaiah - "You raise your hands in prayer, but I will not listen, for your hands are covered in blood. Go and wash yourself." I began reflecting on the blood that had been on my hands as a result of cooperating with a culture engaged in acts of organized violence. I thought of the blood of the women and children and old men who were burned alive when the U.S. bombed the Amaryea shelter in Iraq during the Gulf War. I thought of the blood of the two hundred people who were killed when Indonesian soldiers armed with American rifles opened fire on a peaceful funeral procession in Dili, East Timor six years ago this December. And I remembered talking with friends who had visited El Salvador and Guatemala and met the wives, husbands, parents, and children of people who had "disappeared" because they dared to speak out against the U.S - the blood of these missing mothers and fathers and children was on my hands too. I realized that all of this violence had occurred because the United States demanded to be extravagantly wealthy in a world of poverty. And I understood that it was this same desperate desire to remain wealthy that drove our government to build nuclear weapons - each one of them an Auschwitz oven that could burn a city alive. I had no choice but to speak out in order to wash this blood from my hands.

But washing the blood from my hands wasn't enough - Pontious Pilate washed his hands of Jesus' s blood before he turned him over to the mob that killed him. I had to actively resist, to do all that I could to stop this evil - and that was why I was in Cumberland County Jail.

The prophet Ezekiel said "If I tell you that an evil man will die because of his wickedness, and you do not warn him and he persists in doing evil, it will be his life that I take, but the responsibility for his wickedness will be on your soul." Our nation has become the largest arms exporter in the world, spreading death across every continent. We continue to build weapons of mass destruction in preparation for a nuclear holocaust. I shudder to think of what will become of us if we do not repent and turn away from this evil. The chaos in the former Soviet Union provides us with a glimpse of the fate of fallen empires. Each of us is called to speak out against this violence. We are the ones we've been waiting for.