Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We Are Standing Up to the Powers of the World

We Are Standing Up to the Powers of the World

by Liz McAlister

Speech given at National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance rally on October 5, 2009

Phil Berrigan would be 86 today. He disliked celebrations of his birthday. To give him a birthday gift meant using his birthday as the excuse to get something the community might need. But he'd so welcome the gift of this witness against weapons and war and the instruments of mass murder that you enact today. That kind of gift – he loved.

The war we resist today began in 2001; declared as a reaction to 9/11, it was fully prepared for prior to 9/11. In less than a year, Bush was agitating for war in Iraq – searching there for weapons of mass destruction. Three nuns found them in Colorado. Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson enacted a Citizens' Weapons Inspection – cutting the fence at the N-8 Missile Silo to expose the presence of a first strike nuclear weapon on high alert.

Their conviction – in the earliest days of the Second Iraq war – was a flagrant miscarriage of justice. The nuns did no sabotage; they did no felony destruction. There was no evidence for either. The judge and prosecutor coddled, coerced and lied to the jury that they might convict with no understanding of what they were convicting the nuns of doing.

For me it was the fall of the other shoe of my beloved Phil Berrigan's dying. We have loved so deeply, worked so hard, conspired, prayed and been through so much together. And we were separated by years of prison. But perhaps their trial and sentencing are a mirror of our times, a mirror into which we must look long and close to better understand the nature of this empire and what we stand for and what we stand against.

What I find myself reflecting on most is the long view – a tough perspective for North Americans who have yet to learn that the quick fix is neither. So I look at the struggle of South Africans against apartheid.  It was May 1986. I was sitting on my bed in the Federal Prison in Alderson WV; the radio announced that the struggle against Apartheid in S. Africa was being carried by 9 year olds. It seemed so impossible, so hopeless. Yet, in less than 4 years, on Feb. 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison; in 4 more years (May 94) he was inaugurated the first black president of South Africa.

And I look at the struggle of the Palestinians whose ties to their land go back centuries and whose children can only see giving their lives in that struggle. And I look at the Colombians and the peasants of Central America who have to renew their strength every day and every generation. And I look at the history of our own country and the struggle of working people and people of color and women. None of these struggles is won – like a ball game; each must be borne daily. Clearly, we don't get everything we struggle for but we have to fight for everything we get. One of the tragedies in this country is the sense that freedom is a possession. We can own it; it can't be taken from us! It has made us the most pathetic and enslaved people of the world.

In his last major talk, Phil pleaded with thousands assembled here in D.C.: Don't get weary! So I want to echo Phil today: Don't get weary in the face of a world that has embraced endless war and bankrupting military spending – ever newer weapons of mass destruction, $12,000 ever second of every day, a world where lies pass for truth, sound bites for wisdom, arrogance for understanding. And don't get weary as citizens of this premeinent rogue state – rife with deceit and treachery where leader follows leader from bad to worse, as though by a malign law of nature. One ruler, evil or stupid or violent, breeds another more evil or stupid or violent. This may explain our periodic nostalgia for the likes of L.B.J.

Social critics, politicians, religionists multiply moral and political confusion. Wearyingly, they advocate verbal drugs, promises of relief, formulas of salvation, invocations to the god of the moment, pointing fingers at enemies – immigrants, the poor in our midst, the axes of evil. Religious, political and military "experts" push their wares: violence, domination, prospering of a few, misery for multitudes.

All of the above are forms of practical idolatry, though they commonly go under more acceptable names like patriotism. All are evidence of the spirit of death at large in our world, hidden persuaders, beckoners of the mighty, urging them to further unconscionable folly. In our day, the same powers legitimate the "law of the land," act as guardian spirits of "justice systems" and world banks and prisons and torture chambers and death rows. They normalize the excesses of the Pentagon, the military budget, the necessity of military intervention. They grease the wheels of the domination system.

We have to be about something utterly different. We have to give the diagnosis of skilled surgeons of the spirit. We have to learn to touch all the places where spirit joins flesh and name them aright. The disease is sin and high crime. The times are circular and closed. The society is ill; its illness is genetic. This analysis, woeful as it is, is a unique gift of people of conscience.

The hope we have to offer is a literal hope against hope, promulgated in the teeth of the worst times. With a sense of lively contempt, it is up to us to shuck off the victim role; cease to be mute, passive, resigned, otherworldly – roles urged (no – imposed) by the culture

Our claims may, at times, seem morbid, curmudgeonly. But we are living a hope that is concrete, of this world, and offered against the despair of present circumstances. I think we can grab it only if we grab the despair and if in that despair we are driven deeper – into - something, somewhere, someone. And, from that geography we are able to hear and realize the promise of justice; the promise of a newness wrought precisely in extremis, in exile, in moments when, it seems, there is little we can do but cling there.

And you know what – it is happening: It is happening here today/ among us. It is happening all over our world. Things are way more dynamic and alive that those in power calculate. Those who believe they are in control are deceived. The good news is that we have not collapsed or imploded with despair at this war! Many of us understand that a deeper resistance is summoned of us. We are trying, praying, working – to be strategic, to be faithful, to be human. And we know that we must keep at it – in all those areas and more.

The powers of death and destruction reign – or so it seems. But they are undone. So, dear friends, let us not be awed by the mayhem with which the powers of this world seeks to bamboozle us. Let us embrace intransigent resistance; let us imagine that a new world is possible. And then let us live as if that new world were indeed among us and so live it into being. Let us then ABOLISH ALL NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND ALL WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION and ABOLISH ALL WAR FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN.

Liz McAlister lives in the Jonah House community in Baltimore, Maryland, which she co-founded in 1973 with Phil Berrigan (1923-2002) and others. 

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"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


No comments: