Published on Monday, April 13, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
My Night in the
On Holy Thursday, at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, fourteen of us walked on to the Creech Air Force Base near Indian Springs, Nevada (about an hour northwest of Las Vegas) to pray and speak out against the U.S. unmanned drones which take off every two minutes in practice runs for bombing raids in Central Asia. After three hours, we were arrested, put in handcuffs and chains, then jailed for the night in
Our nonviolent action was beautiful, but dangerous. Praying and singing, our little group carried white roses in honor of the White Rose movement of Germany, the small band of students who were executed for leafleting and speaking out against the Nazis. We also carried signs calling for an end to the drones and
It's possible our action was the first protest ever at Creech, certainly its first civil disobedience action. They might have been expecting us to cross the line on Good Friday, so our surprise Holy Thursday presence may have caught them off guard. In any case, they were absolutely unprepared for the blessing of our peaceful presence.
At the first notice of our presence, a young airman approached, fear in his eyes, and he began yelling, ordering us to turn around. He had an M-16 slung over his shoulder and he swung it toward us. His order notwithstanding, we continued to walk and started to sing.
The poor airman was undone and started shoving, first a friend, then me. He was growing furious, so we knelt down. Soon three other soldiers approached, all of them toting machine guns. Together they shouted, as if that would make any difference. We assured them we were unarmed, and we offered them our roses. The poor airmen, they stood befuddled. Should they shout louder? Should they open fire? Whatever their script, it failed them in the face of nonviolence. Meantime another drone flew overhead.
And so we arrived at something of an impasse. Our group knelt and sat and sang for several hours, the befuddled airmen keeping watch, grimacing, pacing. Finally the
The police sergeant casually informed us: had we gone a few feet further, the airmen would have opened fire. "Do you think that would have been a crime?" our friend Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence asked, offering him a rose. "No, they would have been authorized to do so," he said with a smile. "Would it have been a shame?" she continued. "Yes, it would have been a shame," he admitted, rather glumly.
Most were placed in police cars and driven the hour to
The van arrived finally, a filthy white vehicle with metal benches and down the middle of the aisle a metal wall. The three of us were squeezed along one side, chained, buckled in, and off to Vegas we went.
Jerry, Brian and I prayed out loud for a good while--for our friends, supporters and the soldiers; for an end to the drones and
Night by now had fallen and we drove toward the towering lights of the casinos, the shows, the strip clubs, and the restaurants. The streets were mobbed, the scene was dazzling. But mesh on the windows kept us from getting a clear view, an appropriate perspective for the Christian in such a culture. We arrived eventually at the
For the next five hours, we sat in a large room with everyone else arrested in
I found the time difficult but bearable because of the prayer, our intent and the sustaining friendships. I felt blessed to be with many close friends and heroes, like Jerry and Brian, but also Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, Fr. Louie Vitale, OFM, and the great Kathy Kelly. We took the time to catch up with our lives and lament the suffering of the world. We kept an eye on each other, and tried to lift each other's spirit. The others arrested were: Dennis DuVall, Renee Espeland, Judy Homanich, Mariah Klusmire, Brad Lyttle, Elizabeth Pappalardo, Megan Rice, and Eve Tetaz. Fr. Louie, 77, was featured that morning on the front page of the "
The ordeal, while grim, also carried a spirit of playfulness, included summer camp antics. The women had wisely fallen right to sleep on the concrete floor of their cell--after, of course, Kathy Kelly, entertained them with a rousing song and dance routine that cheered them up. But they accused us, the men, of carrying on a party all night long. They could hear us talking and laughing the entire night, they said.
Alas, it was true. Steve, Louie, and most of our group never slept. Around 3 a.m., when our nerves were shot and exhaustion had set in, Steve told a silly joke that left us in stitches. We all cried we laughed so hard. We shared many stories about our life's work for peace, and found our spirits buoyed by the good company. The women and the guards did not know what came over us.
More solemnly, though, I regard our modest gesture as an act of prayer. As I marched into the teeth of the beast, I was mindful of the millions of people across the country attending Holy Thursday Mass, and the contrast of sitting in metal chains in the county jail. Some of us spoke of trying to be with the nonviolent Jesus who was arrested on that holy night. We reflected on his last words, "Put down the sword! Stop, no more of this!"--a message we had brought to Creech AFB.
We felt the loneliness of Jesus' arrest, jailing and trial, yet we felt grateful that we could taste his experience. Our nonviolent action, in the end, was a poor, but noble effort to follow Jesus and carry on his campaign of nonviolent resistance to empire.
Upon our release, we were ordered to appear in court on June 9th. Then, we went right back to Creech AF Base in time for the
We saw with our own eyes that these drones are real, that our country is dead set on killing, mechanically, soullessly. We tried to take action, to say as Jesus said in the Garden of
On Easter Sunday morning, we gathered for Mass at the
John Dear is a Jesuit priest, lecturer and peace activist. St. Anthony Messenger Press has just published, John Dear On Peace: An Introduction to His Life and Work  by Patricia Normile. John also has two new books, A Persistent Peace  (his autobiography, from Loyola Press), and Put Down Your Sword , (Eerdmans) a collection of essays on nonviolence. He writes a weekly column for the “National Catholic Reporter” at www.ncronline.org . On April 24-26, John will lead a weekend retreat on the lives and lessons of Gandhi, King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton at the Kirkridge retreat center, see: www.kirkridge.org . For info on his books and speaking schedule, see: www.johndear.org .
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs