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Where Your Treasure Lies


In the theme song of The Wizard of Oz, "Somewhere under the rainbow," the idea of our treasure is surprisingly closer than we think. While it's a truism we can overlook "the rainbow." We risk impoverished lives, persuade ourselves our head is on straight, ignore neighbors, neglect friends. We take for granted the people with us on our journey who accompany us. 

Since Covid many new possibilities, these neighbors, have come alive. Our block, some 70 multi-family houses, began to recognize each other. Then school began and as we form a stream heading to the local school, the four families with pre-school kids become a set. This past Halloween rainbows poured over the block as Emily and I opened our home for a pre-Trick-or-Treat gathering, mixing neighbors and old friends. When a community meeting around a backyard cottage was called last January, on a list gathered by our City Councilor, one single respondent raised a hack. This past week on the same email chain the announcement for a second meeting led to 49 exchanges, the creation of an email-list and slack channel for our street. Meanwhile, the cranky neighbor has been heard, and heard and recognized and appreciated. All of us our better connected, enriched, and yes, radicalized into the hyper-local politics involved.

 I used to not have the privilege of ignoring neighbors. Ten years ago I served as Boss of a hygiene crew in SeaTac Federal Detention Center. The call for work duty came and we put on our brown outfit, lined up at the Unit door, where we were escorted to the giant elevator and descended to the basement kitchen. For supervising my crew as we swept, mopped and polished the floors, sprayed and buffed out markings from the walls, I made $0.70 cents an hour. My crewmates made $0.10 cents an hour. My letter of protest ought to have been copied and circulated, perhaps it would have made it to Prison News. Fortunately a blog hosted by a friend for supporters got word out that I was in solitary confinement, upstairs on the eleventh floor, far from the guy locked up whispered for crimes against humanity, but across from a guy who banged and screamed in a terrible condition. A Federal decision recently vindicated my protest of forced labor, as my father broke the news:
Well...your efforts have been vindicated Chris. Check out this story re a federal jury and the minimum wage awarded for detainees. The jury is also awarding $17M in back pay to several thousand who were detainees -- which may include you.  But that's obviously beside the point. Your issue was vindicated big time.  Very big deal!


Congratulations Chris--your cause is recognized by the WA State Attorney General's office  (they litigated this case) and now the entire State of Washington and arguably throughout the USA where private companies run our detention centers. This helps in some small way to restore some economic justice to past, current and future detainees. The legal system can still work on occasion and as a trial lawyer handling hundreds of lawsuits, arbitrations,  mediations, jury and judge trials over the past 2 years, I am really delighted to see justice done here. Powerful and inspiring to see this jury do this. And some great lawyering by the AG to help make this happen.

Perhaps the pleasures of "good trouble" are something I can share with you in the rest of this article. But I will have to end with theology of love, discernment of the heart. My experience of jail did not deter me from taking the calling further. 

For those who have no knowledge of the plowshares that is for a reason. The Government has brought terrorist charges against actors, saddled them with tens of thousands of dollars in fines, locked them away for years in jail--all to defend the nuclear weapons, a counter-offensive against the actors to deny all wrong-doing whatsoever related to the designing, building, maintaining, possessing or trafficking of such weapons--ruled illegal by the UN Criminal Court in 1996 and as of this past January 22, in the Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, known as the Ban Treaty, signed by 122 countries and ratified by 56 countries (and counting). Chile was the latest to sign. 

The mystique of the plowshares owes to the culture wars of the seventies, their character very much stamped by the Berrigan Brothers. If from the beginning of the Plowshares Movement, which celebrates over one hundred actions, actors have expressed their sincere religious beliefs that nuclear weapons are morally wrong. In the case of the Kings Bay Plowshares, actors felt compelled to visit the "site of sin" as one recent defendant put it, drawing not on the language of international law, the so-called Nuremburg or Necessity Defense, but instead and rather curiously on the Religious Freedom Act. 

In a quest to confront the agenda-setters, the authorities and the myth makers, I attended meetings for the Transform Now Plowshares in 2012. Meetings opened with the question "Who plans on acting?" This past August I told this story to an academic who hastened to tell me at the beginning of our interview that she saw the action as necessary and her aim was to normalize direct action. She did not include, perhaps for that reason, my outlandish description of an altar, made the night before the action, at a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, where, in a few hours, we would load into a van and head through the inky dark to a church parking lot near the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Facility. Actors would climb the ridge and seek to Transform the construction site of a highly-enriched uranium processing plant that would cost $18 billion.

The old stove arranged by Michael Walli with the spraypaint cans, candles, saying of this altar arrayed with the tools of entry and the instruments of peace, the baby bottles and the cooler with the blood of Tom Lewis, here candidly I dropped off speaking further of the faithfulness, the age old prayer of St. Francis, Lord Make me and Instrument of Your Peace, but such stood the objects left like works of human hands at the altar awaiting the prayers of resistance. When I spoke to Greg the next day on the phone and he depicted their arrival as miraculous [1]--they shared this faith in the living breath of God's own son, taken into the arms of guards Jesus said to Peter, "Put down your sword." Our friends were arrested in custody of the Empire saying of their endeavor God performed the miracle.

Miracles of direct action. A part of me has the courage to believe this without the brains to express this, hence I opened with the image of the rainbow in the popular film, and I could add that I dressed as the scarecrow-- Dan Zach writes in his book Almighty that during their initial confinement, Greg and Sr. Megan made calls expressing their joy, telling a supporter "We accomplished everything we set out to do (141). It was a miracle." Paul Magno, a veteran plowshare activist explains, saying it isn't surprising in these actions that God intervenes. The Biblical story of the Exodus, the parting of the red sea, he compares to their safe passage through the Y-12 Security complex to expose the out of control spending for the construction site of another highly enriched uranium processing facility (171). That's the kind of support activists need when they face the backwash. Holding the action's significance up to the light of God's powerful liberation, Paul lets us appreciate the joy Sr. Megan expresses.  

[see my article marking the death of Sr. Megan Rice, posted by Massachusetts Peace Action here]

This enjoyment is the aim of Adrienne Maree Brown's Pleasure Activism. While writing the book, Adrienne addresses the idea in a conference (1:07:28):

"How do we enjoy this, instead of horrible meetings, when we all feel were wasting time, I like the people I'm working up, I believe we're doing it the right way. Find something that nourishes you and brings justice to the world. And get to it now, talk to your families and your loved ones and let them know this is what you're about."
Compare this urgency to the mission of plowshare activists. The following is from the appeal drafted with legal team titled Opening Brief of Defendants-Appellants, United States of America v. Michael Walli et. al. 
"Sister Rice’s stated mission is to “transform nuclear weapons by dismantlement and recycling [them into] new industries focused upon by the profit saved by not making more.” As with her codefendants, she believes maintenance of nuclear weapons contravenes domestic and international law and feels “with all [her] heart . . . that the use of nuclear weapons is wrong,” that “all life, not just human life, is imperiled by each atom bomb,” that nuclear weapons are “a disruption in the harmony which God has made possible for us,” and that the alleged “nuclear deterrent” “keeps every American in threat by . . . anybody who would try to use a nuclear bomb or manufacture one.” It is for this reason that she hopes that we can one day “transform [such] weapons into real, life-giving alternatives to build true peace.”


Perception of the rainbow, or the lens--how do we get to a standpoint of faith? Elizabeth Johnson's She Who Is remains a womb-trembling source of theological inspiration for me. "Negating the literalness of this symbol enriches understanding, loosening the hold of particular philosophical interpretations and setting our minds in the direction of holy mystery," she writes. "The triune God is not simply unknown, but positively known to be unknown and unknowable--which is a dear and profound kind of knowledge."

Many write about emotional intelligence now, and of course the idea was demonized, coupled and used in the oppression of women. In the section "Freeing the Symbol from Literalness" . And about to begin "Directing the Symbol toward Meaning"--Johnson quotes Augustine De Trin 15.2.2.2. Below I quote the passage at length. The passage is an outstanding example of the quilt-making style of writing more common in the 4th century, gathering from the Psalmist, the prophet Isaiah, and the book of Ecclesiasticus. At its core, Augustine says that symbols make sense to the heart. Joy impels the believer. It is the sweetness of discovery in the face of the "incomprehensible" face of God, that leaves one wanting and searching more the bosom of Her love.


Augustine De Trin 15.2.2.2.
2. For God Himself, whom we seek, will, as I hope, help our labors, that they may not be unfruitful, and that we may understand how it is said in the holy Psalm, Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Seek the Lord, and be strengthened: seek His face evermore. For that which is always being sought seems as though it were never found; and how then will the heart of them that seek rejoice, and not rather be made sad, if they cannot find what they seek?

 

For it is not said, The heart shall rejoice of them that find, but of them that seek, the Lord. And yet the prophet Isaiah testifies, that the Lord God can be found when He is sought, when he says: Seek the Lord; and as soon as you have found Him, call upon Him: and when He has drawn near to you, let the wicked man forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. If, then, when sought, He can be found, why is it said, Seek ye His face evermore? Is He perhaps to be sought even when found?

 

For things incomprehensible must so be investigated, as that no one may think he has found nothing, when he has been able to find how incomprehensible that is which he was seeking. Why then does he so seek, if he comprehends that which he seeks to be incomprehensible, unless because he may not give over seeking so long as he makes progress in the inquiry itself into things incomprehensible, and becomes ever better and better while seeking so great a good, which is both sought in order to be found, and found in order to be sought?

 

For it is both sought in order that it may be found more sweetly, and found in order that it may be sought more eagerly. The words of Wisdom in the book of Ecclesiasticus may be taken in this meaning: They who eat me shall still be hungry, and they who drink me shall still be thirsty.--Augustine De Trin 15.2.2.2

Epilogue
Reaching the end of the rainbow, right? We have no closure, only new discernment, but always another season, another reason, as I wrote my fellow organizers from Witness Against Torture. I told them my direction--For a few obscure particulars, the treasure of memory, read the following email  sent to Carole Sargent, whose book on the Transform Now Plowshares is forthcoming December 2021.

Hi Carole,
Yes. And no. If some meetings could open that way, please include "study" in list of what could follow. As I described the learning was mainly oral, but there were texts for study. Michael Walli taught me not only scripture by his rote memorization but he gave me to study the print copy of the International Court's opinion on the illegality of nuclear weapons.[1] While Greg Bourtje-Obed shared stories of previous plowshare actions and their legal aspects, he also pointed to singular texts such as Daniel Berrigan's The Dark Night of Resistance. While we practiced liturgy with a jesuit priest or again with a laicized priest, our life histories and the overall mode of discernment were introductory, and going deeper meant pointing to the resonances we felt with the Bible and Tradition. While I forget the name of the book by a protestant theologian, loaned me by Greg, I was encouraged to draw from Catholic Social Teaching in drafting the statement of intent, for example. 

If a meeting opened in such a way, it inevitably ended with homework. Sr. Megan brought copies of the most recent WILPF publication with world policy briefs on nuclear weapons and disarmament. To her credit, the needs of the movement were part of our discernment, not simply the individual activist. To mention WILPF as a material for study is to illustrate this, but interestingly in July 2012 during the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWD) WILPF participated in "Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women's Rights and Justice" [2] the analysis of economist Seymour Melman to our conversations in discussing the significance of "Transformation" referring to the text of his she had on hand, After Capitalism (Knopf, 2001). Not a contemporary voice, Melman was featured in a 1976 conference that led to a "conversion" plank to the Democratic platform, but he had died in 2004. [3] Sr. Megan proposed Transform Now, following Disarm Now Plowshares, proposing "transform" along with the economic analysis for us to be aware gave its meaning grounding for debate in real terms of congressional military spending. The appeal would stress her mission using "transform" to call for a Melman-esque plank of debate, the "dismantlement and recycling [of nuclear weapons into] new industries focused upon by the profit saved by not making more.” [4] 

As far as someone like myself was concerned, Sr. Megan was ready to make a teaching moment out of the existential barriers to our action. With knowledge we could confront the deterrence. Such studiousness was much like the study of the signs of the times referred to in post Vatican II social analysis methods of theology. Just as Fr. Steve Kelly talks of clipping a lock as "capturing" a hearing,[5] and as Mark Colville writes of " the prison witness as an ongoing articulation of the action itself. My days here have in large part been centered on journaling with the daily scripture readings from the Catholic Lectionary...." [6]

[1] Accessed 20 August 2021 <https://www.icj-cij.org/en/case/95>. 
[2]The session organized by WILPF was titled "From the Beijing Platform to Resolution 1325: Military Expenditure and its Consequences for Women's Security" see p49 of .pdf <https://wilpf.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Annual-report-2012_for-programmes-FINAL.pdf>
[4] Opening Brief of Defendants-Appellants, United States of America v. Michael Walli et. al. page 20. <https://transformnowplowshares.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/defs-opening-brief-6th-cir-8-4-14.pdf> . "Sister Rice’s stated mission is to “transform nuclear weapons by dismantlement and recycling [them into] new industries focused upon by the profit saved by not making more.” R. 193, Trial Tr., Vol. 3, PD# 1879. As with her codefendants, she believes maintenance of nuclear weapons contravenes domestic and international law and feels “with all [her] heart . . . that the use of nuclear weapons is wrong,” that “all life, not just human life, is imperiled by each atom bomb,” that nuclear weapons are “a disruption in the harmony which God has made possible for us,” and that the alleged “nuclear deterrent” “keeps every American in threat by . . . anybody who would try to use a nuclear bomb or manufacture one.” Id. at PD# 1856–57, 1881–83. It is for this reason that she hopes that we can one day “transform [such] weapons into real, life-giving alternatives to build true peace.” R. 192, Trial Tr., Vol. 2, PD# 1789."
[6] Personal correspondence dated 3 August 2021 from Mark Colville #03610-036, Metropolitan Detention Center, P.O. Box 329002, Brooklyn, NY, 11232

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