Entering the Lawrence District Court on March 8, 1999, the first thing that caught my eye was a young woman holding a book entitled, Religious Experience. Seeing that image had a profound effect on me as I recalled the religious thinkers who have been struggling through the centuries against gigantic odds to create a world without war.
Traveling to the Trial
It was difficult to get out of bed early in the morning in order to catch a ride to the District Court for the Monday session since I had spent all weekend at a leadership training workshop with Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), an anti-nuclear power group. In their "Statement of the Nuclear Free Northeast Campaign" it reads, "Commercial atomic power and nuclear weapons are inextricably linked, from the beginning of the nuclear fuel chain to the end." With that in mind I found the energy needed to get moving. I knew that these were the final days of the Nuclear Regime and I wanted to try to stop the insanity I witnessed all around me.
On our way to the trial I asked Marian Frazier, a long time activist sitting beside me in the car, how she became involved with the peace movement. She said it happened when she was living in Alabama before the Civil Rights movement began. One day when she was very pregnant and tired she entered a public bus to get a ride home. She saw that there were no open seats reserved for whites in the forward part of the bus, and took a seat in the black part of the bus. The white bus driver stopped the bus and demanded that she move to the white section. She told the driver that she had paid for a seat and this was the only empty one she found. The driver said that he would not allow her to sit with those "stupid niggers." A few people in the forward part of the bus reserved for whites stood up to give her their seats. But she told the driver that she no longer wanted to ride on the bus. He shouted back at her that she must have been carrying a "nigger's" baby. He opened up the back door of the bus, where the blacks exited, for her to get off. From that experience, she got a taste of white power and the need for civil disobedience.
Later, Marian moved to New York City and worked with Dorothy Day, the world famous Catholic Worker. Her story about Dorothy also moved me. Marian had gone to work one day wearing a new coat that her husband had bought her for her birthday. When Dorothy saw it she questioned her about it and asked her what had happened to her other coat. When Marian said it was at home, Dorothy demanded that she bring it with her to work the following day. She only needed one coat. Dorothy felt it was a sin against those who do not have to have more than one needs.
Arriving at the Courthouse
Finding the courthouse building, we made our way through the security and up the steel stairs that looked like jail bars until we reached the third floor. As people from various peace organizations from across New England talked with each other, a jury was selected. During this time I talked with a young woman who had been part of a delegation witnessing the effects of the bombing of Iraq. She said it changed her life. I also talked with Jonathan Leviett of the Massachusetts Green Party. I had worked with Jonathan years before when we were a part of a protest against the Department of Defense organized by Students for A Responsible University. Investigating the kind of military research being conducted at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the students had discovered that anthrax research was being carried out on on campus. Making that information public sparked off a campus-wide debate and protests that ended in student arrests. All these conversations seemed to turn the Lawrence courthouse into a community meeting ground for peace activists. As we waited for the trial to begin, Hattie Nestle, one of the defendants, even brought nametags with her so that people could get to know each other for the next protest.
As the day wore on, I was delighted to hear from Northampton activist and defendant, Frances Crowe, that the judge had ruled they could use the defense of "necessity" for the trespassing charge that they were facing on the Raytheon Corporation at Andover. Frances was excited. Being able to use the Necessity Defense meant the case would set a precedent. But, the Judge said that in order for the trial to proceed, none of the peace activists in the audience could say a word in the courtroom or she would declare a mistrial. We were warned not to make a sound in the courtroom: not a laugh nor a snicker.
The Necessity Defense
The trial got underway. The District Attorney for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stated the facts. On Oct. 26, 1998, a group of peace activists chanting religious mantras and prayers, some of whom were beating Buddhist prayer drums, began to walk over the line from public land to the private land owned by the Raytheon Corporation, a manufacturer of missile parts. The police described the protesters' actions as reciting little "ditties" and meeting together in "powwows".
The defendants' reason for walking into private Raytheon property was to conduct a citizens weapons inspection of the Raytheon plant. Two of the group members, Hattie and Marsha, had written a letter to Raytheon asking that their group of citizen weapon inspectors be allowed into the plant to see if there were weapons being made on the site. Raytheon security called Hattie to inform her that they were not welcome to inspect the plant and if they entered Raytheon property, criminal charges would be pressed against them.
The eleven defendants chose to defend themselves, each carrying out different tasks in their defense. How inspiring it was to see the peace activists working together to bring their case against the State! It was truly a display of collective democratic action at its best. After the police spoke, several of the defendants questioned them about their choice of words used to describe the protesters. One question was whether the police knew the difference between a "ditty" and a religious prayer. Another defendant asked the policeman on the stand if he knew that a powwow was a sacred meeting of Native Americans.
Again the idea of a religious experience entered my thinking, but this time I reflected on how few Americans seemed to have authentic religious experiences. Were they considering our collective heritage of brave souls who have stood for peace and justice even when it meant imprisonment or death? Were they being taught either in school or in church to understand the experience of acting in accordance with one's conscience for the salvation of humanity. Were they expected to learn to transcend to the level of feeling compassion for humanity while simultaneously embodying that knowledge in order to act on behalf of planetary justice. How else would we be able to overcome the manufacture of nuclear weapons and the politics that allow vast inequalities of material resources to be controlled by the wealthy few?
The first defendant to be questioned by the State was Marsha. The prosecutor asked her what she knew about Raytheon. She acknowledged having done 60 hours of research into the Raytheon Corporation. Much of her research was done over the web and by looking at the Raytheon Corporation's annual reports which are public. In their literature, it appeared that circuit boards of guided missiles used to create such missiles as the Tomahawk and the Patriot missile were being manufactured at the Andover plant. These kind of weapons were being used in Iraq to kill non-combatant citizens. If these weapons were indeed being manufactured at the Andover plant, then Raytheon was in violation of international law.
The Assistant District Attorney, Murata Akron, said that it was unreasonable to believe that the protesters' actions would stop the production of weapons. His line of questioning implied that their protest was futile since there were no visible signs that the protesters had accomplished their goal of stopping the production of weapons of mass destruction. His argument against their defense was that missiles were not being constructed at the Andover plant, only parts of the missiles. These parts were not harmful to people. Akron asked, "Is a radar system itself dangerous? Is a guidance system going to hurt anybody? Common sense would say no," he added. "Necessity is something real, something looking you in the eye, something that is a danger to you, your children, and your community, not people thousands of miles away. This is leagues away from that type of real necessity."
Marsha countered his argument by saying that the Assistant District Attorney failed to see that a circuit board of a guided missile is what guides the missile to its target. At the other Raytheon plants, the parts of the weapons are assembled. Even though perhaps only parts of the missile systems are manufactured at the Andover plant, it did not matter since the parts make up the deadly whole. In order to understand why guidance circuit boards are dangerous to the welfare of humanity one had to think in terms of the whole, seeing manufacturing in terms of systems.
I thought back to the idea of "worker's alienation" in which the assembly line of production made it so that workers had no understanding of exactly what product resulted from their work. It seemed perfectly clear to me that seeing only the parts created a system where workers were ignorant to the fact that they were part of a system of war, death, and mass destruction. Even the District Attorney, a highly educated man, could not see the whole picture. At that moment listening to this in the courtroom, my heart was crying out for religious and ethical vision.
The defendants were doing their best to provide a way for the Commonwealth to see the whole truth. But still the fact that the defendants had stepped on the private property of the Raytheon Corporation blinded their ability to see in whole terms what the outcome of guided missiles do to real living human beings. When the DA asked Marsha if she knew that she was trespassing when she walked onto the Raytheon property, Marsha said that to her all the earth is sacred. Hearing those words, and thinking back to the time before Europeans stole the land from the natives, a time when no land on the continent was under the tyranny of property deeds, I wanted to weep.
Why had traditional religions failed to help people see holistically? Why was it so difficult for people to comprehend that actions on one side of the ocean affect the welfare of the other side of the sea? "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Missiles kill people, even if they live on the other side of the world, speak in a different language, and have different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In an age of nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction, the social ethic of "thou shalt not kill" has become a necessity for the survival of the human race. It is necessary that we evolve beyond the system of war. Every living thing is under the threat of impending destruction until this new global consciousness liberates the court system from national laws that are designed to protect the rich and destroy the poor. These laws enable the plutocracy to condition us, brainwashing the labor force into contentment with being wage slaves by fragmenting their minds, bodies and souls in work that creates no positive future for the human race.
The DA argued that the defendants did not face imminent harm from the Raytheon Corporation. Raytheon Corporation did not possess the power to press the trigger of the bomb, only the President of the United States had that power. The DA asked, "Is Clinton employed by Raytheon?" Marsha who was on the witness stand at the time answered "yes" since campaign contributions from weapons corporations had help elect Clinton to office. I could not keep from thinking how Clinton's perjury to the grand jury has proven that truth is not the rule in the American court system. Why should anyone (except for lovolutionaries) swear to the whole truth and nothing but the truth when the President of the United States knowingly did not tell the whole truth, covering up his lies by ordering bombing abroad?
When former Attorney General, Ramesy Clark, took the witness stand for the defendants, he told the court about the missiles he had seen in Iraq, the cradle of civilization. They were the same kind of missiles being manufactured by Raytheon. During the Gulf War in 1991, there were 42 days of bombing, the equivalent to seven and a half Hiroshima bombs were dropped. The DA asked Mr. Clark, "What branch of government is Raytheon? Clark replied, "Raytheon has billions of dollars of contracts with the government. Their contracts employ military personnel. The US Government, that is the taxpayers, pays for Raytheon's research and development of missile systems. It is the military/industrial complex. If there was "perpetual peace" Raytheon would be out of business."
After lunch as we were going through courthouse security I asked Ramesy Clark how far he had to travel for the trial. He answered "no distance is too far to travel for a noble reason." Could there be a more noble reason than to put an end to the Nuclear Age?
Guilty of Trespass?
Two days later, the jury found the eleven defendants guilty of trespass. Judge Ellen Flatley did not allow the jury to bring in evidence that Raytheon Corporation had broken international law by producing weapons of mass destruction used to conduct illegal wars for the President of the United States. She imposed a sentence of one-year probation and a fine of $35 or seven hours of community service. Upon hearing the verdict, I realized that all of us are still faced with imminent harm as the preparation for war continues to threaten our species with extinction--continues to deplete our resources needed to shelter, feed, heal, and educate people to the necessity of creating an ecologically sustainable society of peace. Until we have a massive conversion towards the evolutionary understanding that we are one planet and must live in harmony with nature, until this holistic religious experience penetrates the hearts of all, we are faced with inevitable ruin, not only to us the living, but to the yet unborn.
To have witnessed the defendants, both women and men, challenge the malevolent deeds of the military-industrial, and I might add capitalist-educational complex on International Women's Day March 1999, made my heart sing with glee. To be such a witness for peace is indeed a religious experience!
Human Extinction or Lovolution ?