Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Spirit of Life Plowshares

Hello Friends: It's hard to believe that it has been 20 years since some of us began preparations for the Pax Christi -- Spirit of Life Plowshares action at Goldsboro's Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Sadly, Plowshares founder and Pax Christi-Spirit of Life participant, Philip Berrigan died in 2002, but Bruce, John and Lynn are still working hard for peace and justice. Sadly, the air force is still working hard at killing. The F15E Strike Eagle (see below) is still an important war horse in the ongoing and seemingly endless U.S. War OF Terror. To commemorate that great and powerful witness by Phil, John, Lynn and Bruce 20 years ago, we are returning to Seymour Johnson AFB for a march and witness on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 20 years to the day of that prophetic action. Several of those involved in the support for that action want to bring together a steering committee to plan this witness. We will need to get permits, a place to gather, speakers (Bruce has already agreed to be with us that day), a march route and a plan for nonviolent direct action. This initial mailing is just to let folks know about this upcoming important event (in opposition to war, and to counter North Carolina's claim of being the "most military friendly" state). We are also looking for volunteers to help with the planning. Our first meeting will be in early September giving us three months to plan. If you cannot be part of the planning committee, please feel free to make any suggestions via Email. This event will be a major regional action promoting nonviolence and the possibility of a world without war. Thanks and Peace, Patrick O'Neill PAX CHRISTI-SPIRIT OF LIFE PLOWSHARES: Early on the morning of December 7, 1993, Phil Berrigan, a participant in three previous plowshares actions; John Dear, a Jesuit priest, author, and peace activist who works with the homeless in Washington, D.C.; Lynn Fredriksson, a peace activist who works with the homeless in Baltimore, and Bruce Friedrich, a member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C., entered the Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Coincidentally, the base was going through special war game exercises and maneuvers on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Wading through water and crossing rough terrain, the four made their way past hundreds of Air Force personnel and approached a nuclear capable F-15E fighter plane. (The F-15E, which costs $40 million, is capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional weapons, and was the mainstay of the U.S.-led attack on Iraq). They proceeded to hammer on bomb pylons, the main bomb guidance antenna, the cockpit undercarriage, one guidance light, and the Lantern all-weather flight pod. Additionally, they removed the air intake covers and poured blood in the air intakes and over the side of the plane. They also placed on the ground their statement and an indictment charging the base and the U.S. government with crimes against peace and humanity along with their banner which read: "DISARM AND LIVE." After several minutes, they were surrounded by hundreds of Air Force soldiers, some screaming: "This is the real world." They were charged in Federal Court with destruction of government property, a felony. Stating that they could not comply with a court order not to return to the base they were held without bond. After being denied advisory counsel by their judge, and after having their trial date changed three times, the four appeared in Federal Court in Elizabeth City, NC on February 15th to begin their jury trial. Before the trial began, the prosecutor introduced an "Motion In Limine" which would prohibit the defendants from being able to speak about their moral and political justification for their action. When they were not allowed by the judge to finish their opening statement to the jury, they turned their backs to the judge as about twenty supporters joined them in saying Lord's Prayer and singing peace songs. Lynn, John and Bruce were held in contempt of court along with six supporters. (David Sawyer, an African-American supporter, was assaulted by U.S. marshals and was, in turn, charged with assault. He spent three weeks in jail and was released bond -- a plea agreement was later worker out). Meanwhile, the other six supporters were given six-month sentences, however, five were released on March 9th and 10th and placed on 1 year supervised probation. Brad Sjostrom was imprisoned for three months and then placed on 1 year supervised probation. Judge Boyle later that afternoon declared a mistrial stating that the jury had been "contaminated." The four plowshares defendants were sent back to jail. Seeking to deter possible further courtroom resistance, Judge Boyle ordered that the four be given separate jury trials. He also ordered that each defendant have standby advisory counsel. With the judge threatening the defendants in advance with contempt of court should they defy any of his rulings, the prosecutor and the judge strongly enforcing the Motion In Limine "gag order" on the defendants and the U.S. Marshalls tightly restricting supporter’s admission into the courtroom, defendants and supporters witnessed what were perhaps the most repressive plowshares trials to date. In each of the trials the four were repeatedly objected to by vindictive prosecutors and were constantly warned by the judge that the Bible, their religious views, the role of the F-15E fighter plane used to bomb Iraq and U.S. nuclear war preparations were irrelevant. Phil was the only one of the four to take the stand to testify. And after Boyle's ruling that she could not give her opening statement to the jury because it was irrelevant, Lynn remained silent throughout her trial. Despite the court's attempt to suppress the truth, each of the four were able to powerfully and creatively witness to the truth of their action. Each were found guilty with the juries taking 1 hour for Phil, 30 minutes for John, 20 minutes for Lynn and 6 minutes for Bruce to return their verdicts. On July 6, 1994, the four were sentenced to the following: Phil - 8 months in jail, 4 months house confinement; John - 7 1/2 months in jail, 4 1/2 months house confinement; Lynn - 14 months in jail; Bruce - 15 months in jail. Each were given credit for time already served. They were also sentenced to 3 years of supervised probation and ordered to pay $2700 in restitution. ####

No comments: