Thursday, March 10, 2011






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Spotlight UB brought a panel of local peace activists to the University of Baltimore to discuss their work and legacy.

By Dave Kiefaber | February 15, 2011


Liz McAlister, Max Obuszewski, Alfred Guy, Dave Eberhardt, Joe Tropea

Liz McAlister, Max Obuzewski, Alfred Guy, Dave Eberhardt, Joe TropeaDave Kiefaber

George Figgs, Liz McAlister, Max Obuzewski, Alfred GuyDave Kiefaber


Spotlight UB, the University of Baltimore's performing arts series, sponsored a civil disobedience panel prior to the Feb. 10 performance of their winter show, Daniel Berrigan's The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.


The panelists were Baltimore Four member and poet Dave Eberhardt, film historian and activist George Figgs, Jonah House founder Elizabeth McAlister, the Baltimore Non-Violence Center's Max Obuzewski and filmmaker Joe Tropea. Dr. Alfred Guy of the Hoffberger Institute of Business Ethics acted as moderator for the panel.


By way of context, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine is a play about the trial of nine Catholic war protesters, two of them priests, who burned nearly 400 draft cards with napalm in the parking lot of a Catonsville draft office.

Dr. Guy began with an overview of political protest during the Vietnam war, adding that “if the draft were reinstated, we might have more interest [in protesting].” He then invited the panelists to explain what got them started in the peace movement.


McAlister went first, explaining that her political awakening came from news reports of the Baltimore Four pouring their own blood on draft files to protest the Vietnam war. The tone of those reports, she said, “was so hateful and disgusted, [she] wanted to know more.” She also spoke about the power of symbolic action and how the Catonsville Nine's napalming of draft cards was powerful because it was public, and used an instrument of war in the interests of peace.


Max Obuszewski described his hometown of Erie, PA, as “not Mississippi conservative, but it's not Berkeley, either.” He remembered being amazed that priests were going to jail for protesting, and later met McAlister and her late husband Phillip Berrigan as he got involved in the movement. He talked about Norman Morrison, who immolated himself at the Pentagon in protest of the war, as an extreme example of what people were willing to do in the name of activism.


Eberhardt kept his portion short, noting that he was a “Trial of the Catonsville Nine groupie” and a fan of Spotlight UB's production specifically, describing the play as “guerrilla theater in the style of the Yippies.” He raised the question of how the modern movement can cultivate leaders like the Berrigans, drawing parallels with the situation in Egypt and noting that “without leaders, revolution can be hijacked.”


Figgs piped up earlier in the evening by saying that “unemployment is the new draft,” and focused his official statements on local figures in activism, namely newsstand owner Abe Sherman, whose shop carried international newspapers and, “out of sheer cussedness,” every subversive publication available at that time. Figgs also talked about coffee shops as a place for flyer drops and discussion, and how people in the Baltimore community were crossroads for anyone with alternative ideas.


Tropea approached the topic as a historian and filmmaker, describing the Catonsville Nine's action as the most clearly articulated of its kind, and also as the first big protest trial from which other groups learned, often changing their legal strategies in the process. Tropea brought a wealth of statistics to the discussion, most notably that 279 draft boards were attacked between the start of organized anti-Vietnam protests and 1971.


After everyone on the panel had spoken, they took questions from the audience.


Spotlight UB's next production will be their annual African-American Arts Festival, Feb. 24 and Feb. 25, featuring UB alum Latonia Valincia's one-woman show, Bootprints, and a jazz performance by Lafayette Gilchrist and double bassist William Parker.


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