Guest Blogger, Amy Nee (part 1 of 2)
Monday morning, May 2, 2011, on a construction site outsideKansas City, fifty-three men and women stood in a makeshift circle–hands clasped, voices raised. We were surrounding a truck with two wary workers inside. These men were momentarily delayed from their task of building a factory that will be used to create “non-nuclear” parts for nuclear weapons. This factory is intended to replace and improve on the Honeywell plant already responsible for 85% of non-nuclear parts in theU.S.nuclear arsenal. We intended to stop them.
We were trespassing, and this is against the law. Until a few years ago, I didn’t see much point in getting arrested or in “activism” in general. My association with Catholic Workers and others of that ilk however, has served to soften my criticism of civil disobedience and symbolic action. It has broadened my perspective and my appreciation for ways of being a pacifist without being passive.
“Every choice,” Thomas Aquinas writes, “is a renunciation.” Active pursuit of just alternatives may mean active resistance to what has already, unjustly, been established. Active obedience to the law of love may mean active disobedience to laws that protect destruction, segregation, violence, oppression. Reframing the concept of resistance to injustice from civil disobedience, to “gospel obedience” and asking questions like, “who/what am I being obedient to?” and “by what standard is this deemed correct?” is tremendously helpful in discerning whether or not an action is appropriate. I believe in making a gift of my life, tuning my thoughts, words and actions toward harmony with God and neighbor and with this generous, forgiving earth; I believe in filling in the gaps created through accident or ignorance or active hate. Protesting, and demonstrating and risking arrest does not fill in the gaps, but I do hope it draws attention to them. It is a way of saying, “I see this and I will not close my eyes to it, I will not accept it.” I continue to remember and be influenced by words I heard spoken in prayer at the 2010 Midwest Catholic Worker Resistance Retreat, “We do not act this way because we are sure we are right. We act this way because we are compelled by love.” Ultimately, love is the fulfillment of the law and the light of living.
Still, I continue to feel an internal dissonance at the idea of acting in a way that to all appearances is soliciting arrest. I am wary of allowing the prospect of making a statement by going to jail to become a flimsy focus that becomes the priority of an action. These questions confront me: Am I entering the space of conflict, or creating a new one? Is this act a relevant means to a relevant end or a means to relieve my conscience and to stroke my ego? Am I presenting an alternative or only defying what is present? Thomas Merton writes, “nonviolent action must establish itself in the minds and memories of humankind# not only as conceivable and possible, but a desirable alternative [to force]…the temptation to get publicity and quick results by spectacular tricks or by forms of protest that are merely odd and provocative but whose human meaning is not clear may defeat this purpose.”
I find energy and truth in the sit-ins of the civil rights movement, and the salt marches of India’s liberation movement. These actions seem so practical and relevant; almost obvious in their direct confrontation of laws so evidently unlawful and their intimate tie to the uplift of individuals and society. It makes sense to me to do what I believe is right even if there is a law against it, but does it make sense to purposefully defy civil law? The answer is not readily evident to me. I find though that a direct response to a real need is not always accessible. I cannot physically stand in the way of a bomb, nor can I put my body between the earth and the seeping chemicals contaminating it, or between a worker’s body and those same destructive elements. I can bring my body to a site dedicated to manufacturing nuclear weapons. I can get in the way of business as usual and let my little body—multiplied in size and force through union with those around it—speak a “no” to foolhardy, fear-based destruction.
The Catholic Workers and other peacemaker groups inKansas City follow a way reminiscent of Gandhi’s three-tiered approach of Constructive Programme, Noncooperation, and Spiritual Renewal. Geographically and relationally rooted with neighbors their actions are not based on a theoretical idea of what is needed or what is right but a practical understanding and shared experience of the joys, sorrows, abundance and lack of those living in the city. The stands they take are carefully consistent and relevant to the concerns of those they live amidst.
They not only defy loveless laws but live by, and illuminate alternatives walking gently on the earth by living simply and sustainably, practicing the works of mercy, acknowledging our interconnectedness with God and others. In the context of this community, I felt an unprecedented confidence as I acknowledged the responsibility of my own complicity and moved forward with the plan to confront our culture’s worship of “the bomb,” of strength through destruction, by interrupting work at the construction site. This was not an isolated action. It was the extension of a lifestyle, of an understanding that noncooperation extends beyond a day of protest and is integrated into daily life—by sharing resources, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, resisting war taxes—by integrating beliefs with being.
I’ll leave you with these thoughts and continue to explain how I learned to stop worrying (and moved from contemplation to action that Monday morning) in tomorrow’s blog entry.