Report from the Nuclear Resister, Nukewatch, and the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
The weekend was bookended by a lot of hugging — starting Friday evening in front of the registration table as old friends reunited, and ending Monday afternoon outside the Clinton, Tennessee jail as prisoners were released into the hot July sun to await trial. In between, it was a powerful celebration of nonviolent resistance marking the thirtieth anniversaries of Nukewatch, the Nuclear Resister, and the first Plowshares disarmament action.
There was music, there was talking, there were puppets and Fourth-of-July burgers and watermelon. And on Monday morning, July 5, a new Declaration of Independence was delivered at the gates of the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, after which thirteen people crossed the property line and twenty-three more stretched a long banner across the road to block the entrance to the bomb plant.
They were arrested — the thirteen on federal trespass charges and twenty-three on state charges for obstructing a roadway. The penalty for the federal offense can be as much as $100,000 and a year in prison; for the state charges, $50 and 30 days in jail.
The charges vary and not all risked arrest, but the depth of commitment and the passion for the future was uniform — hundreds of peace cranes were tied on the barbed wire fence expressing the deep desire for a world free of nuclear weapons.
The Declaration of Independence said:
“Under principles of democracy we exercise the right of every citizen of this republic and this planet to peacefully resist the nuclear threat; attacking as it does every core concept of human rights.
“We act to exercise our basic rights to life and freedom from violence and we exercise our duty to protect children and future generations.
“We act to ensure that our government fulfills its promise and responsibilities to unequivocally pursue and achieve nuclear disarmament in good faith.
“We call on this government to end the use of our tax dollars to wage permanent war and demand clean up all chemical and radioactive contamination.”
Most of those arrested on state charges – Marcus Atkinson, Jon Blickenstaff, Ed Bloomer, Stephen Clemens, Barbara Corcoran, Frank Cordaro, Susan Crane, Paul Fesefelt, Nancy Gowen, Clare Grady, Joe Gump, Judith Hallock, Martha Hennessy, Steve Jacobs, Elizabeth McAlister, Joan Noyes, Tom Palumbo, Pepperwolf, John Schuchardt, and Janice Sevré-Duszynska – were released without bail, with court dates scheduled in early July. Three women who remained in jail – Alice Baker, Beth Brockman, and Billie Hickey – were arraigned Thursday afternoon, July 8 in Anderson County Court. Alice Baker and Billie Hickey were sentenced to five days in jail plus a $50 fine and court costs, and a jail fee of $50 per day. Beth Brockman was sentenced to ten days in jail, plus the same fine, court and jail costs.
Crossing over a disused railroad gate and crawling through barbed wire, thirteen resisters moved onto the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex and were jailed over night. Steve Baggarly, Bill Bichsel, David Corcoran, Dennis DuVall, Carol Gilbert, Jean Gump, Jackie Hudson, Mary Dennis Lentsch, Bradford Lyttle, Ardeth Platte, Beth Rosdatter, Bonnie Urfer and Michael Walli appeared before Judge Bruce Guyton in U.S. District Court in Knoxville the following afternoon for a detention hearing. All were released without bond on their own recognizance, pending trial.
The weekend gathering, held on the campus of Maryville College in nearby Maryville, Tennessee, was attended by more than 200 anti-nuclear activists from across the United States to advance the role of nonviolent direct action and civil resistance in the movement for a nuclear-free future.
Saturday morning began with plenary presentations summarizing the status of nuclear power (with Glenn Carroll from Nuclear Watch South/NoNewNukes.org and Mary Olson of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service), nuclear weapons (with Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico), and the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex (with Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance).
It was followed by a roundtable report from more than a dozen nonviolent anti-nuclear action campaigns around the country. The morning presentations brought everyone up to speed on the state of the movement and the challenges facing it.
Afternoon workshop sessions included in-depth presentations on new nuclear bomb plants, the nuclear power relapse, nuclear waste issues nationally and in Tennessee, and more. Workshops focused on issues for resisters also included presentations on war tax resistance, nonviolent blockading, the Plowshares movement, songs to sing at protests and in jail, representing yourself in court, and doing time in prison.
The Saturday evening celebration was kicked off by event organizers Ralph Hutchison, Bonnie Urfer, John LaForge and Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa, who performed an anti-nuclear rendition of Malvina Reynolds’ “It Isn’t Nice.”
Former anti-nuclear prisoner of conscience and Voices for Creative Nonviolence cofounder Kathy Kelly delivered a keynote address.
Singing was led by song pioneers of the civil rights movement, Guy and Candie Carawan of the Highlander Center, with their son Evan joining in on mandolin. A tribute to the Plowshares Eight began with Steve Jacobs singing “The Hammer Has to Fall”, a song about the disarmament action.
The four members present – Fr. Carl Kabat, Molly Rush, John Schuchardt and Sr. Anne Montgomery – each spoke, as did Elizabeth McAlister, Plowshares activist and wife of the late Plowshares Eight member Philip Berrigan.
Sunday events included nonviolence training and preparation for Monday’s action, and presentations on noncooperation in court and in custody (Fr. Steve Kelly), and international law regarding nuclear weapons and a citizen’s duty to resist (attorneys Kary Love and Anabel Dwyer).
Participants joined members of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, who hosted the gathering, for their weekly Sunday afternoon vigil at Y12. Music was provided by a local acoustic trio, The Emancipators.
Back at the college, the July 4th cookout was followed by a theatrical performance. Local cultural workers enlisted the help of both children and adults at the gathering to perform Bombs Away!, a colorful, lively production with costumes, music and large puppets.
Among those present for the weekend events was 94-year-old Gordon Maham, who helped build the Y12 plant for the Manhattan Project. Maham quit when he heard about Hiroshima and his role in building the bomb. He then lost his war-industry draft exemption and served three years in federal prison as a post-war conscientious objector.
The 13 activists arrested on federal trespass charges were jailed overnight. They appeared the next afternoon, July 6, before Judge Bruce Guyton in U.S. District Court in Knoxville for a detention hearing. A separate court-appointed attorney represented each of twelve of the defendants, with Steve Baggarly defending himself. They each entered a plea of not guilty, and were released without bond on their own recognizance, pending trial. At a status hearing in November, most of the attorneys were in court, and Steve Baggarly was on the phone from his home in Virginia. Together with a busy judge and two prosecutors, they agreed to a jury trial date of May 9, 2011.
Of the 23 arrested on state charges, most were released later on July 5 on a promise to appear in court on July 12. Three women with prior protest convictions at Y-12 stayed in the Anderson County Jail. At a hearing on July 8, Alice Baker and Billie Hickey pled guilty and were fined $50 plus court costs and sentenced to five days in jail. Beth Brockman, with multiple priors, was fined $50 plus court costs and sentenced to ten days in jail. The three women were released after serving their full sentences. Marcus Atkinson was also in court on July 8, pled guilty and paid the fine and court costs.
On July 12, eight of the remaining state defendants were in court and pled guilty or no contest. Each was fined $25 and given 30 day suspended sentences, plus court costs. Bench warrants were issued for 11 who didn’t appear in court.
At a March 4, 2011 motions hearing in federal court, Knoxville, Professor Charles Moxley of Fordham University testified for the defense that nuclear weapons not only violate international law, but also contravene U.S. law and the military code of conduct of U.S. armed forces. Defendants Mary Dennis Lentsch and Beth Rosdatter testified at the same hearing about their reasons for crossing the barrier at the Y-12 complex.
In his decision issued April 29, Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton granted the government’s motion to preclude certain defenses and evidence. His words swept away the defendants’ right to tell the jury why they committed their act:
The fact that the Defendants felt compelled to enter onto the Y-12 National Security Complex by their own moral, political, and religious beliefs; their desire to exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech or religion; their desire to comply with international law; or their desire to prevent future death and destruction from the use of nuclear weapons does not constitute a legal defense to the charge … and is not relevant at trial. Testimony to this effect is not admissible at trial.
“With this sweeping ruling, Judge Guyton clearly intends to deny the defendants the right to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,’” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA).
The federal trial began May 9, 2011 in Knoxville, and three reports may be read here:
Bonnie Urfer, Sr. Jackie Hudson, Sr. Carol Gilbert, Sr. Ardeth Platte, Jean Gump, Michael Walli and Steve Baggarly refused to sign agreements promising to return for sentencing and were jailed, along with Fr. Bill Bichsel, who at the Y-12 sentencing was already in custody serving his sentence for the Disarm Now Plowshares action.
Due to family concerns, Jean Gump agreed to sign a promise to return, and was released June 9. Sr. Jackie Hudson, who became serious ill while in custody, was released June 10. After hospitalization in Tennessee, Hudson returned to her home in Washington state. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and passed away August 3.
Sentencing at separate hearings occurred over eleven days in September. At the time of their sentencing, six of the defendants were in custody, five since trial. Each of the defendants names, following, links to a report of their sentencing and their statement, where available.
Jean Gump, who went to jail after trial before agreeing to conditions of release due to family concerns a month later, and Fr. Bill Bichsel, who was already in custody during their trial, serving time for the Disarm Now Plowshares action, were the first to be sentenced on September 12.
Gump, an 84-year-old veteran of the 1986 Silo Plowshares nuclear missile disarmament action in Missouri, was spared a return trip to Tennessee from her home in Michigan that morning, and with the court’s permission was represented by her attorney, Francis Lloyd. She received a sentence of time served plus a $500 fine and $25 “special fee.”
Srs. Ardeth Plate OP and Carol Gilbert OP were both sentenced to time served on September 16, and released from custody.
Bradford Lyttle was sentenced September 20 to one month house arrest plus one year probation.
Sr. Mary Dennis Lentsch rescinded her release agreement and reported to prison on June 21. She was sentenced to time served on September 21 and also released from custody.
Beth Rosdatter and Dennis DuVall were sentenced on September 21 and 22, and each was sentenced to one month in prison, no fine, and no probation. Both were immediately taken into custody and have since completed their sentences.
On March 21, 2012 the last of the 13 nuclear disarmament activists went to court. David Corcoran was sentenced to 150 hours of community service, a $1000 fine and 2 years of probation. His case had been postponed due to poor health.
Click here for selected links to more reports, photos and videos from the gathering.
Other links from the gathering:
Statement from the International Law Workshop (by Anabel Dwyer, J.D. and Kary Love, J.D.)
Declaration of Independence (statement carried into Y-12 by 13 people charged with federal trespass)
The Doctor is IN – the National Insecurity Complex Hotline – a reader’s theater on youtube from the July 5 rally and action (Script of skit by Ralph Hutchison)
all that bombs can do is kill (poem written by Ralph Hutchison, read by Shelley Wascom at Y12, Oak Ridge vigil on July 5)
It Isn’t Nice (by Malvina Reynolds, lyrics adapted by Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa, performed by Ralph Hutchison, Bonnie Urfer, John LaForge, Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa at celebration on July 3, Maryville College)
Some (poem written for the Plowshares Eight by Fr. Dan Berrigan, SJ, read by Allison McGillivray at celebration on July 3, Maryville College)
Statement for gathering sent by Plowshares Eight member Dean Hammer (read by Sam Yergler at celebration on July 3, Maryville College)
For more information, contact:
Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa
The Nuclear Resister
Bonnie Urfer and John LaForge
Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance