Reflections on a Revolutionary Among Us
Peace activist Elizabeth McAlister, under arrest in 2001
On this holiday in which we celebrate independence and the courage of our revolutionary heroes, a word about a different kind of revolutionary, and her exercise of the free speech and religious practice the founders fought for.
Elizabeth McAlister has lived at Jonah House, on the West Side of Baltimore, for most of the last 50 years. She and her husband, the anti-war activist Philip Berrigan, founded Jonah House as part of a network of Catholic Worker Houses across the country. Philip was one of the Catonsville Nine, who burned draft records in 1968, setting-off a series of similar actions across the country. He died in 2002, but McAlister has continued to protest against violence and war, in particular, nuclear weapons.
In April, on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, McAlister and six others cut through a fence and entered the King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base in Camden County, GA, which is home to a fleet of Trident Submarines, which carry nuclear war heads.
The group’s purpose was to commit what they call a Ploughshares Action, based on a phrase from Isaiah in the Bible:
“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
The first Ploughshares Action took place in 1980. Since then, more than 100 similar protests have occurred in the United States and around the world.
When Elizabeth McAlister and her fellow activists entered the King’s Bay Naval Base, they were arrested, as they hoped they would be. They want a trial, so they can introduce evidence that contends that nuclear weapons are illegal, and that the United States is in violation of American and International law by using them, or even threatening to use them. It’s not a widely held legal theory.
In a world that presents the kind of threats it presents, making an argument for complete nuclear disarmament is a tough sell, and many abhor the group’s strategy of breaking the law in civil disobedience. But these activists are afforded the right under our constitution to press their case, and they do so, animated by an intense faith in God, and their understanding of the message articulated by Jesus in the Christian New Testament.
A pre-trial motion is scheduled for early next month. I spoke with one of their lawyers, who thinks that a trial might take place in November or December. Three of the activists posted bond, and were released from Federal prison. They are wearing ankle bracelets and are confined to their homes. McAlister and three others chose to stay in jail, in Brunswick, GA, and as they await trial, they’re engaging in prison ministry, helping their fellow inmates communicate with lawyers and families, and deal with the stress of incarceration.
We’ll have updates as this case proceeds in the courts. And on this holiday when we celebrate the conviction and commitment to the democratic principles of our revolutionary forbearers, let’s pause to consider Elizabeth McAlister, a former nun, who at age 78 is so completely committed to her principles of non-violence that she is willing to forego her own physical freedom, and exercise her right to freedom of speech to make a point about the world’s right to be free of the threat of nuclear destruction.
As we celebrate the courage and sacrifice of our founders, let’s also acknowledge the courage and sacrifice it sometimes takes to make use of the freedoms those revolutionaries fought for. I’m Tom Hall. Happy holiday.
Women in Asia Are Confronting Fracking in the US to Eliminate Plastic Byproducts
July 7, 2018
Heaps of plastic waste cover the shores of Manila Bay in the Philippines. Myrna Dominguez remembers when an abundance of fish inhabited its waters — locals would catch enough to feed their families and sell at the market. Today, she says, they are catching more plastic than fish.
“We’re very afraid that if this is not addressed, the bay, which 100,000 small fishers rely on, will no longer be viable for them,” Dominguez says.
In May, Dominguez and Indian labor organizer Lakshmi Narayan visited communities in the US that are affected by pollution from oil extraction and plastic production, to show the effects that these processes have on communities overseas. The “Stopping Plastic Where It Starts Tour,” organized by #Breakfreefromplastic and Earthworks, is part of a project that aims to reduce plastic consumption and production by raising awareness about the impacts of plastic production on the communities at either end of its supply chain.
Dominguez and Narayan, representing communities in Asia experiencing the effects of plastic pollution, visited places in the US experiencing the impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) oil and gas production — an industry that is producing the raw materials to build plastic.
Dominguez is the policy and advocacy adviser of the Asia Pacific Network on Food Sovereignty, which campaigns to protect the rights of small food producers such as fishers and farmers, and to preserve fishing grounds and cultural lands of indigenous communities.
Narayan is the co-founder of Solid Waste and Collection Handling, a cooperative of waste-pickers in Pune, India, who collect waste throughout the city and separate it into categories for proper disposal.
Both women represent groups from Asian countries that are dealing with the effects of plastic pollution — particularly plastic that is produced and distributed by US companies.
“I’m hoping this tour will change American people’s views of how they live every day, and how it impacts poor countries like us,” Dominguez says. “If America gets a cold, the Philippines gets the flu. We’re very dependent on the US, so whatever happens here affects us too.”
The Philippines is the third largest ocean plastic polluter in the world — it also has the most persistent poverty rate in Southeast Asia. In 2017, the US was the third largest plastic exporter in the world, exporting $6.8 billion worth of plastic items.
Single-use plastic products, such as straws and other utensils — and products packaged in plastic, including toiletries and food — are produced by transnational companies and marketed to people in places like the Philippines at low costs. The plastic waste from these products ends up in landfills or marine areas like Manila Bay.
Plastic manufacturers are not responsible for the disposal of their products, so the burden is placed on people in the Philippines, who do not have the resources to properly dispose of all the waste, Dominguez says.
“People have realized there’s no easy, technological solution to the problem of ocean plastic waste, and the only way to stop ocean plastic is to stop plastic,” says Jennifer Krill. Krill is the executive director of Earthworks, an environmental and social justice organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of mining and energy extraction.
“If we were to somehow recover all that waste from the ocean, we would still have to put it in a landfill or in an incinerator, and there would be significant environmental impacts from those solutions. The better solution would be to not make so much of it to begin with.”
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That’s why Dominguez and Narayan traveled to the US, where the women visited communities affected by fracking. In the US, a fracking boom is helping fuel plastic production worldwide by providing a necessary building block of plastic: ethane. Dominguez and Narayan visited communities experiencing the impacts of fracking in Texas, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They also visited Washington DC.
In Texas, for example, a major fracking boom is underway. A new report by IHS Markit shows the Permian Basin in West Texas is expecting a surge in oil production — more than double by 2023 — in large part because of fracking, which has made trapped oil and gas accessible.
Fracking involves pumping water, sand, and chemicals underground to release gas and oil from rock. The shale formations used for extracting oil and gas in the US are high in ethane, which is wasted in the extraction process unless the industry has a way to bring it to market.
“Currently what we’re seeing is a major build-out of new petrochemical manufacturing in order for the industry to recover that waste ethane and convert it into plastic, most of which is also going to become waste, but along the way they’ll make a lot of money manufacturing it into plastic,” Krill says.
In 2017, the US consumed around 1.2 million barrels of ethane per day, and exported around 180,000 barrels per day to countries overseas.
Earthworks — one of the organizations that organized the tour — has recently introduced a Community Empowerment Project to provide communities near oil and gas facilities with data on methane and ethane pollution from nearby oil and gas extraction sites by using an optical gas imaging camera that makes invisible ethane — and methane — pollution from these sites visible.
Not only does methane and ethane pollution contribute to climate change, but it also causes health issues for people who live near oil and gas facilities — in the US, that’s more than 17 million people.
Residents who live near these facilities have reported experiencing respiratory problems such as asthma and coughing, eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, dizziness, trouble sleeping, and fatigue.
The organization has been taking the camera to oil and gas wells, pipelines, and compressor stations to show government regulators and companies that the methane and ethane pollution problem is real. Gas imaging videos are available on Earthworks’ YouTube channel for citizens to use as evidence when urging regulators in their states to require operators clean up the gas waste.
“It hasn’t stopped pollution — it hasn’t been as effective as we’d like it to be yet,” Krill says about the project. But she hopes it will be. “The industry likes to say ‘There’s no pollution, we’re very clean,’ and with this video evidence it’s hard to deny that there’s a serious problem with oil and gas extraction.”
On a global scale, the #Breakfreefromplastic movement, made up of 1,000 organizations worldwide, has been focused on creating “zero-waste cities” in Malaysia, India, and the Philippines — teaching communities about separating organic from inorganic waste, composting, and recycling.
Narayan, who represents the waste-pickers who collect and separate waste in Pune, India, says the process of recycling plastics into reusable materials is so expensive that the waste is often not recyclable at all.
#Breakfreefromplastic also focuses on making the public aware of their consumption habits in hopes of reducing the use of one-use plastic products, and pushing for “corporate accountability,” says Jed Alegado, the Asia Pacific communications officer for #Breakfreefromplastic.
“Corporations that have the money to come up with these products should invest in more sustainable and ecological distribution systems for their products,” Alegado says. “They shouldn’t pass the burden to consumers and governments for the plastic waste they are creating.”
Growing up in the Philippines, Dominguez recalls using coconut shells as plates, and eating food with her bare hands — before large companies had convinced the world that plastic products are a necessity, she says.
Dominguez is optimistic that change can occur by educating and inspiring people to reduce their use of plastic products and become vocal about how the government handles waste.
“If we are going to stop plastic we need to stop plastic where it starts,” Krill says. “We can’t let greed get in the way of common sense and sustainability.”
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Isabelle Morrison is a solutions reporting intern for YES! Follow her on Twitter.
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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