Honouring the Prophets On Retreat – Transforming the Earth

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 21, Spring 2001

By Liz McAlister

Liz McAlister has lived at Jonah House since 1974. Using non-violent symbolic actions, the community has resisted militarism and war, poverty and violence on all major feast days since that time. This Faith and Resistance Retreat took place during the Feast of the Transfiguration, which coincides with the 56th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. The theme was ‘Transfiguration and Signs of Hope’. We print this article to honour their prophetic witness to the ideals of the Gospels and the truth of Christ’s transforming power.

We began Sunday evening with dinner and a presentation by Art Laffin. Art ran down the history of the Pentagon and spoke of how the Gospel defies powers of death. We went to the Pentagon Monday 7AM. We stood in lines on two sides of the South entrance steps – on one side; folks had put tape on their shirts spelling HIROSHIMA NO! (Holding signs is certain arrest; we didn’t provoke that). At one point, Lenore Yarger and Chris Schweitzer of the Silk Hope Catholic Worker knelt with a banner reading HIROSHIMA, NEVER AGAIN! They read the prayer of St. Francis, which we recited with them. They were arrested. Chris fainted. He was fine and after signing a zillion release forms, was processed without going to the hospital. They were charged with ‘admission to property’ and given the court date of 19 October.

Back at our retreat centre, we had Morning Prayer followed by a sobering presentation by Jeff Winder of SOA Watch on his trip to Colombia – Transfigured even as they would be disfigured. Tears flowed several times during his talk, once when he drew the connection between his human rights work in the US and the murders of human rights workers in Colombia and the persecution of their families, which would be the persecution of his family. He said one indigenous person said to him, ‘We are worth less than the cigarette butt on the sidewalk.’ After lunch, Matt Kennis of Boston talked about his time in Chiapas with the Abejas community and his senior (college) thesis on hope. Dorothy Day CW did Evening Prayer and Morning Prayer.

Tuesday we went to one of the World Bank buildings and then processed to the Blight House (Pentagon). Bill Frankel-Streit and Liz Walz were prepared to be arrested there for standing in the picture-postcard zone, but the cops weren’t pushing it. In fact, the whole group of us stood still, so the cops didn’t really know that 28 of them could have left after the first warning. A group of North Koreans who were fasting in protest of US military presence there joined us – it was beautiful and spontaneous – a real moving of the Spirit. On Tuesday evening a Hibakusha woman joined us and gave a moving account of the bomb drop. She also drew connections to depleted uranium and the current political state. She said there are many more Hibakusha now in many different countries as a result of US nuclearism. This comment really impacted us.

Evening Prayer was organized by Little Flower CW folks. Bill and Sue Frankel-Streit have four women with them these days and three of them were at the Retreat, as well as a ‘token male’ friend, Jamie. We hung peace cranes as we verbalized our mourning of all that’s been lost because of US nuclearism… individual people, ethnic groups, innocence, the poisoning of the earth, etc.

On Wednesday morning, we reviewed plans for our action at the Israeli Embassy and heard a presentation from Anne Montgomery on Hebron and Israel/Palestine. During our presence at the Embassy, a group of Arab-Americans who had seen our signs from their office window joined us! We read a powerful statement written by Barry and Euridice and chanted ‘Free Vanunu’ in English and Hebrew. When we tried to leave figs and a scroll of scripture readings, the two or three cops who had been on constant guard there were joined by about eight more. No arrests were made.

On Wednesday evening, Mary Anne and Anna Grady talked about Vieques – again, a powerful witness. Mary Anne also touched us deeply when she talked about how at the trial of the Plowshares vs Depleted Uranium she was prepared to leave after just one day but her daughter Anna said, ‘We can’t go home, Mom, I’m old enough to understand this.’ They learned about depleted uranium from Doug Rokke who was prevented from testifying in court.

When they went to Vieques last year at the invitation of Sue FS, things just fell in to place – Mary Anne has a history with Puerto Rico beginning with her father – and she really felt this was destined. She wept during part of her story telling and we were all moved by the beauty and shame of our occupation there, and her arrest and trial for crossing into the bombing zone. Anna (15 years old) was also great and told wonderful stories of the people who know the bombing zone so well they evade and follow US soldiers hunting for them. Isaiah, Mary Anne’s 18 year old son, was arrested Sunday for being in the bombing zone. Norfolk CW did the Eucharistic liturgy that evening, with bread made by the children.

On Thursday we prayed and reviewed plans for the Pentagon witness. Michelle Naar-Obed, Sue Frankel-Streit, Rose Harper-Winder, MJ Parks and Brigid Monarcy entered the Pentagon at the River entrance as a delegation sent by children of the world asking the Pentagon to stop the war-making. Michelle had a tape player taped to her leg and turned it on to play a song about peace and children. They also taped pictures and signs onto the wall of the vestibule where they were stopped. They were arrested and charged with ‘admission to property.’ The court dates are 5 and 19 October. We learned that no more than five protesters are to be assigned the same court date.

Outside, the kids taped a banner to the wall and the rest of us held signs. When told we’d be arrested if we didn’t leave in five minutes, most folks put down their signs and picked up blank ones and covered their mouths with masking tape. Art Laffin, Brandon Passmore and Scott Wright declined to move and were arrested for continuing to hold signs. Liz McAlister was also arrested while holding a blank sign, having tape over her mouth and walking backwards. Euridice was almost arrested for the same thing, but another officer intervened. We slowly left the Pentagon. During our closing circle in the parking lot, we were approached by an officer who threatened to arrest us if we didn’t leave in five minutes and threatened to take the kids to social services. (I later joked that they should indeed try to take the kids to SS – they would rue the day they took on that group of children!)

And so here we are back at Jonah House. We learned that Maureen Kehoe-Ostenson gave birth to a baby girl this morning at 5AM — Frances Anne Marie. Signs of life abound these hot summer days. Signs of hope. Love to you all.

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