On a bright Sunday afternoon last month, my friend Ashley and I went to an “anti-militarist field day” outside the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It was organized by a group of recent college grads and was part of the Boeing Arms Genocide campaign. My desire to learn about anti-war efforts like these is rooted in my faith, particularly Jesus’ way of radical nonviolence, which is why I wanted to attend.
People were making anti-war art and large signs depicting how Boeing profits from weapons and how science should contribute to the flourishing of the human community, not to its destruction. “Better without Boeing,” read one sign; “Invest in life, not war,” said another.
Most people recognize the name Boeing as a company that makes airplanes, which is part of what they do. Boeing wants people to think of them as airplane-makers first and foremost, because it protects their image. In reality, Boeing also makes and sells bombs, missiles, drones, helicopters and other technologies to militaries around the world, making “tens of billions of dollars of profit from war and militarized violence every year,” according to the Boeing Arms Genocide petition.
In 2020 the city of Chicago gave Boeing a $2 million tax break to build their corporate headquarters in the city, money that should be used for mental health clinics, public schools, housing and more. In 2022 the Boeing Arms Genocide campaign, led by young people, successfully stopped Boeing from building their headquarters in Chicago.
Now, though, the state of Illinois is funding the construction of a new Boeing facility in southern Illinois at MidAmerica airport. It is a facility that will specialize in making autonomous military drones on behalf of the United States Navy.
The anti-militarist field day took place on the lawn in front of MSI because the museum displays a Boeing 727 plane and, in the past, has received funding from Boeing. The Museum of Science and Industry is a historical Chicago gem — it was built in 1893 for the World’s Fair and it became a museum in 1933. It is spectacular, and one could spend days going through all the exhibits in it. The museum is always full of families and kids on field trips.
It matters that the name of a war-profiteering company is displayed at a museum where kids learn about science and discover their passions about it. Learning about planes and how they operate is cool and exciting, but do they know that the names that adorn the planes are companies that make money from violence, like Boeing?
Ashley and I spoke with some of the other people at the event about how anti-war efforts have changed over time. She and I did a fellowship together with Sojourners magazine from 2020 to 2021, where we lived in an intentional community together with other fellows in Washington, D.C. Sojourners started in the 1970s as a faith and social justice community and drew many young anti-war Christians. Many were heavily involved in Vietnam anti-war efforts like draft dodging. They were associated with and supported the Catonsville Nine, the nine Catholic activists who poured blood on and burned Vietnam war drafts in 1968 and went to jail because of it.
There has been, and continues to be, a strong Christian witness in anti-war efforts. The elders I met through Sojourners are people I hope to emulate in my life; like the Catholic Workers who, every Monday morning for decades, have been praying and protesting outside the Pentagon.
Now it seems there is less of an immediate personal stake in anti-war efforts as when people were receiving war drafts. Companies that make money on war are secretive about it, and it’s hard to know how to track state and federal funding recipients when it’s not the big news of the day.
But looking closely, war is personally impacting us, especially as young people. I was four years old when the Afghanistan war started. For many my age, this has been the backdrop of what we think of when we think about war and U.S. militarism — a war that, muddled with American propaganda, seemed forever unending and confusing in the background of life.
One event attendee said that from their experience, college students in the tech world are presented with few options: securing “good” jobs with big tech companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook or working for war-profiteering companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Other tech jobs for smaller or non-tech companies are not paid as well or are considered “inferior.” The job field feels like a trap.
Tech and science are amazing, as long as they are used for the flourishing of human beings. Kids should be exposed to life-giving ideas, science and tech that serve people and the planet. Even something as simple as a science museum can present an opportunity to make our world a less violent place.
Even though the anti-war movement, with new technology and systems, looks different than it has in the past, the same, rotten violence shows up. I want to remain committed to believing there is a different way, that there is always an alternative to killing and violence. I draw on the wisdom of those who have walked this path before — Christians who followed in their own messy and radical ways the way of nonviolence and peace.
It is hard to know what to do when I feel so powerless in the face of war, but I do believe that peace starts with each of us, that Jesus shows us how to practice peace by loving our neighbors. I must advocate for my neighbor across the world who risks being killed by a drone, and I also must treat my immediate neighbors who I see every day with respect and love. The older anti-war activists I’ve met show me that we need community and each other to resist violence and work for peace. We can’t do that work alone: Jesus shows us the way, even in a world with advanced technologies and militarized drones. It is the same peace in our hearts that God’s love, throughout time, has inspired human beings to say no to killing and systems of death and say yes to life and peace.
Cassidy Klein is an essayist, journalist and creative writer based in Chicago, Illinois. She grew up in Denver, Colorado, and attended Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, to study journalism and philosophy. After college Cassidy moved to Washington, D.C. for a fellowship with Sojourners Magazine, where she worked as an editorial assistant. Now in Chicago, she lives at The Fireplace, a community of artists, activists and Catholic sisters. She is a freelance writer, editor and assistant with adults with intellectual disabilities at L’Arche Chicago. Find more of her work at cassidyrklein.weebly.com.