On the “Sunday” programme 26 January BBC Radio 4 reported favourably on 83 year old Sister Megan Rice who will be sentenced on sabotage charges in a court in Knoxville Tennesee by the time we go to press. Along with Catholic Workers Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, Rice breached the security of the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge Tennessee where the US built the Hiroshima bomb and where it is enriching Uranium for new modernised nuclear weapons. They poured blood, graffitied, and did a small amount of symbolic damage to the edifice with household hammers, answering what for them was a calling, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, to “beat swords into plowshares”.
I met Michael about 5 years ago at a Pacific Life Community retreat, a gathering of mostly Catholic Workers who live in voluntary poverty and serve the poor. With untied shoe laces, disshevelled clothing and slightly scattered thoughts he struck me as a “fool for Christ”. Little did I know then just how divinely “foollsh” he would prove to be . When I first heard he was facing such a heavy sentence for this action I must admit I worried slightly for his safety in prison.
The sympathetic Radio 4 feature focused on Sr Megan’s faith and mentioned her many years of work in Africa. In a clip from a Washington Post interview she said nuclear weapons can “never be used without helping to extinguish the planet” and that the money spent on them is “denied to serve the poor and causes people to sleep on the street tonight.” Click Here and then listen 26 minutes into this week’s Sunday programme for the full Radio 4 feature.
With the government prosecutor asking the court to sentence the trio to a minimum 6 years (they could face up to 30 years) more than a thousand letters, have been sent urging Judge Amul Thapar to resist the governments portrayal of the faith based activists as “terrorists” and use his discretion to impart lower sentences. In one letter, Diane Randall of the (US) Friends Committee on National Legislation wrote, “They carried flowers to symbolize ‘forgiveness and reconciliation’, candles to show that light “transforms fear and secrecy into authentic security” and a Bible to inspire their ‘acts of conscience’. We ask for your compassion, wisdom and mercy in sentencing. There is a huge difference between non-violent protesters and terrorists….who would indiscriminately maim and kill.” The Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and supporters wrote to the Judge and the prisoners. In December we received replies from Greg, Michael and Megan. Greg praised the courage and commitment of “all the people (in Scotland ) organizing against Trident.
Greg, who has taken part in other Plowshares actions and spent several years in prison, requested the Court hear recordings of “My Name is Lisa Kalvelage” by Pete Seeger and “By Breath” sung by Sara Thomsen to be played at the sentencing hearing. The deeply moving song tells the story of Kalvelage who, born in Nuremburg, later recognised the responsibility of citizens for “mass crimes”, advised draft resisters at the San Jose Peace Centre and delayed a shipment of napalm to Vietnam in a nonviolent blockade. By Breath beautifully speaks of the oneness of all beings in our breath, blood, water, fire and earth. The Judge allowed the lyrics to be submitted but will not hear the deeply moving recordings. Readers can listen to Lisa Kalvelage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOHxAvGu5X4 and By Breath here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKwf7MpnvVI
Urging the Judge to consider downward departures from the high guidelines in sentencing Greg has cited Judge Ulf Panzer who testified at the trial of the Trident Three in which Sheriff Gimblett directed the jury to acquit Angie Zelter, Ellen Moxley and Ella Roder. Panzer was himself arrested for blocking the entrance to a US military base in Germany where nuclear weapons were deployed. Judge Panzer stated: “Many judges in Germany—almost all of them—committed immense crimes during the Nazi regime. We feel that by being silent today, we judges would be guilty again. In the Third Reich, we allowed ourselves to be used to legitimate the most cruel crimes. We feel that we are right at the point of being used again to legitimate instruments of mass murder, of omnicide, really. We do that in our courts by declaring them to be legitimate property, which they are not”…“[T]he true criminals are those who produce and possess nuclear arms and who may some day use them. If you protest or resist nuclear arms, you are on the right side of the law…. You are obeying the law by resisting nuclear arms.”
Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance said that the three did not fear lengthy prison sentences. Megan has the attitude that she will “serve God wherever I am”. “There is a world of suffering behind the bars and alot of people in need of the kind of compassion and care which Megan will bring to them.”