Reflection by Sue Frankel-Streit in collaboration with Bill Frankel-Streit
Little Flower Catholic Worker Farm, Virginia, USA
I don’t know what effect hammering on a B-52 bomber actually had on the first Gulf War (other than that particular bomber not bombing). But I know that the effect that action had on me was immense; likely immeasureable. I don’t think about the ANZUS Plowshares action that often. I don’t speak about it unless someone asks. It was 20 years ago, after all. There have been so many creative, risky, beautiful acts of resistance before and since, that I don’t dwell often on that one.
Still, though, those few solid thwacks of my hammer on that huge plane in the early hours of the New Year 1991, and all the preparation leading up to them, and all the court time and, most especially, all the jail time that followed, have pretty much informed every aspect of my life since.
For one thing, I believe without doubt that there is a power greater than I that supports liberation and creativity, and that any time we enter into the flow of that spirit of life, (which is really what we are meant to be doing) we open ourselves to grace and unexpected, amazing things happen. So every day I try and be there; I try and look at the world, and at my little corner of it, and see what I can be a part of that will be a part of that flow.
Second, I hate prison. I find prison, and punishment in general, to be cruel, ineffective, uncreative, stifling, and shame-inducing. As does most anyone who spends any time in there, I permanently lost a part of my freedom when I went to jail, because I discovered how many of my brothers and sisters were, are, and will remain in prison. Though I found a year in jail to be personally transformative in many positive ways, I mostly found it to be heart-breaking– day by day, week by week, unjustly imprisoned cell-mate by unjustly imprisoned cell-mate. I lost any illusion I might have had about the “justice” of our legal system. I lost any sense I might have had about our country’s progress in dealing with racism or sexism. I lost the ability to walk through the woods, or sit in silence, or hold a baby, without remembering all those for whom such basic elixirs are prohibited by the system. So I write to prisoners. I read prisoners’ writings. I support, in any way I can find, prisoners and those fighting to abolish prison. And I live with the longing of the imprisoned permanently lodged in my peripheral vision.
And I know viscerally that the imprisonment of brothers and sisters is hopelessly tangled in our willingness to support war. War and weapons of war imprison us just as thoroughly as the prison industrial complex. The money and energy that go into war making take away from the creation of a society where, to quote Peter Maurin, “it is easier to be good”, ie, to get our needs met without breaking laws (which leads, for those of us without means, to prison). And the enemy mentality needed to maintain war is the same mentality that justifies imprisonment. Not to mention that any war results in prisoners of war, who are accorded even less rights than other prisoners—witness Guantanamo.
Finally, I need community in order to resist all of this, and I need resistance to survive community. It took a lot of people to get us to that bomber and support us through that jail time. And it took a great action (“an act of personal and political disarmament”, as Phil Berrigan used to say) to bring together all those people. So in the years since, I’ve continued to try and build community, and to engage in direct actions against systemic violence.
If this planet is going to survive much more of us, we first-worlders are going to have to learn how to live together again. “To know each other is to love each other,” Dorothy Day said, “and we know each other in the breaking of the bread”. And if we break bread together on a regular basis, we’ll also get to know that some of us don’t wash dishes well. Some of us have a weird sense of humor. Some of us use too much fire wood or don’t take out the trash or drink too much or neglect our kids. And we can still love each other. And we can still even live together. But all of that’s a lot easier to deal with if we feel that we’re part of a movement—that our struggles to overcome our inclinations towards isolation and individual fulfillment at the expense of the common good are part of a universal struggle for liberation; that our willingness to keep living with other people in underheated, overcrowded houses, sharing refrigerators and bathrooms and cars and money, is the very thing that grants us the ability to engage in direct action; because we are not solely responsible for our household or our children, but we have community and can therefore act boldly.
Over the last 20 years, Bill and I have spent a lot of time and energy on what Gandhi referred to as “the constructive program” – living simply and communally, growing food and raising kids, offering hospitality to those in need, and supporting the work of marginalized activists and young folks. We’ve made, and continue to make, our share of mistakes. We continue to struggle with community, authentic living, and authentic loving. But we have continued to place nonviolent, direct action at the center of our lives. We have never regretted any direct action that either one of us, or any member of our community, has taken. Though I lost a part of my freedom forever when I went to jail, I also gained a part of my freedom when I hammered on that plane, for I was able to act in that moment because I was free from the fear of prison—not that I did not fear prison, but in that moment my fear of prison did not stop me from acting. To have lived that possibility is a great gift and a frightening challenge, and that effect of the ANZUS Plowshares action continues to help me help the liberation struggle every day.
Giuseppe Conlon CW House, London, England.
July 2009, I was kneeling on an isolated bush track in Outback Australia with Jim Dowling. We were blocking 7 truckloads of U.S. marine equipment attempting to enter a military exercise area in central Queensland. Jim and I had first met in ’78 when we linked arms and got bashed, arrested, jailed and framed during an illegal march in our hometown of Brisbane Queensland. With other good folks, Jim and I had pursued the faith based vision of Dorothy Day and the Berrigans in the vacuum of Australian Catholicism. We have laughed, cried, screamed at each other down through the years of a life together in Catholic Worker (CW) attempts in Brisbane. Here we were again, 33 years on, trying to realise the peace and justice of the Kingdom of God on this bush track and consequently for four days in a small cell in the Rockhampton watchhouse, praying the rosary, sharing stories and catching up.
Like that Czech dissident Milan Kundera reflected, “life is either significant or it is nothing”. Every act of mercy, every act of resistance, every attempt at realising community is heavy with significance or it is nothing, disposeable and expendable.
My memories of the ANZUS Plowshares community, resistance, trial & tribulations and prison time nourish me still. It was great to speak to Bill, Sue and Moana on the phone while trying to get this anniversary thang together! Phil Berrigan instructed me once that “Sentimentality is not love!” and Abbie Hoffman once quipped “Nostalgia is a mild form of depression!” but Ched Myers speaks of the gospel as “a dissident memory nourishing present and future resistance”. So maybe it’s because of the Irish and Aboriginal Australian influences on me that I think this anniversary thang is worth doing? As Frank Cordaro says “We all come from somewhere..” and the good news is that where ever we come from and whatever baggage we carry…it’s all redeemable!
In February 1990, Moana and I had landed on the east coast of the U.S. and had initiated a plowshares formation process involving the now dearly departed Pat Litkey, Phil Berrigan and Elmer Maas. When we had initiated process, the Cold War had just concluded and “peace seemed to be breaking out all over”. Six months into this process, Pat Litkey, Moana and I who were commited to act were frustrated with our inability to find the pre-requsite fourth person to complete our plowshares community! By August 1990 we had been meeting every second weekend with Phil and Elmer on 48 hour intensive retreats and had been through 11 prospective candidates who had decided at various stages not to proceed. There was a growing opinion amongst others that the need for plowshares and serious nonviolent resistance may have passed and that the movement should be focussing on how to spend the “post-Cold War peace dividend” on meeting human needs! I kid you not!
On August 6th. 1990, Moana, Pat Litkey and I were at the Pentagon along with Phil, Liz, Elmer, assorted Grady’s, Bill, Sue, folks from D.C. Dorothy Day CW, Jonah House and the Atlantic Life Community (ALC) crew to mark the annual Hiroshima Day anniversary. A few days earlier, Saddam Hussein had sent his troops in to occupy Kuwait. We became aware that U.S. President George Bush Sr. and British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher had arrived at the Pentagon to announce the initial sanctions on Iraq. Sanctions that were marketed as a nonviolent means to remove Saddam from Kuwait and that were to go on to kill millions of Iraqi children.
In response to the U.S. mobilisation for war on Iraq, Bill and Sue immediately joined our plowshares process. They quickly resolved to act in response to these new dramatic developments and we locked into final preparations. Up to this point the U.S. plowshares movement was primarily focussed on nuclear weapons. “ANZUS Plowshares” were to break new ground with a primary focus on resisitng anti-interventionary warfare. This development would play itself out years later in the acquittals of the ’96 “Seeds of Hope Ploughshares” in Liverpool, the ’06 “Pitstop Ploughshares” in Dublin, the ‘ 08 “Raytheon 9” in Belfast and the ’10 “EDO 9” in Brighton.
Pat left the group to join his brother Charlie Litkey and Fr. Ray Bourgeois to carry out nonviolent resistance at the “School of the Americas” (SOA) on the first anniversary of the slaying of the Jesuit and Salvadoran martyrs (Nov 16th). Along with other people, we four ANZUS Plowshares donated our blood to that first 1990 action which was poured by Pat, Charlie and Roy in a huge volume in the offices of SOA at Ft. Benning, Georgia. We four were later to attend their sentencing in Colombus Georgia, while out on bail awaiting our own sentencing in Syracuse New York. A year later, Pat Litkey, claiming to Texas prison authorities to be my “dying Uncle”, found his way to visit me in Pecos County Jail, to visit me on his release from Terminal Island, Federal Prison California! The annual Nov 16th. anniversary now sees 20,000+ folks assembling at the gates of SOA. Griffiss Air Force Base is no more and the site hosted “Woodstock ’99 Festival” there where once B52’s roared and where we had resisted. From small things, big things grow!
My memories of the ANZUS Plowshares are good ones. We were a mix of cradle and convert Catholics, varied cultures German, North American, Jewish, Irish, Polynesian, Aussie, Kiwi, class backgrounds life and movement experience. To me now looking back, Moana was so young at 22, Sue had an interesting optimistic pessimism that went something like “In the long term, we’re all going to die, so don’t worry too much about present difficulties it will all work out in the meantime!” seemed to be her approach. Bill went through so much post-arrest with such dignity and good humour – wisdom teeth extraction, denunciation by those who were close, excommunication, his mother’s death, refused communion by his priest uncle at his mother’s funeral, recently a second hip replacement (under local anaesthetic) and being stuck in jail with me!
Bill and Sue probably found the “aggressive intimacy of Australians” (Ched Myers) relating to each other a bit difficult to witness first hand. Moana and I probably still had anti-Yank prejudices concerning the geocentricity that seems to be relative to the centrality of one’s locus imperium. Even though such prejudices are shared and celebrated by most of the world, that still doesn’t make them right or helpful! We all did our best to transcend these and other class, gender, cultural differences and prejudices to form a community of nonviolent resistance & solidarity to do what we did!
The four of us were all blessed with good & varied senses of humour and we all loved to party! We partied in the lead up to the action, partied on release on bail, staged “Celebrations of Hope” in Philly, NYC, DC, Worcester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Ithaca, partied during the trial, partied at Bill and Sue’s wedding, partied at Bill’s excommunication, partied on the eve of sentencing, partied on release from prison, partied on the eve of my deportation.
The biggest cost for Moana and I, individually, was the deportation and exile from the context in which we had acted and the movement that had nourished us up to the disarmament of the B52, through the trial and the prison time. To be taken from such an intense four year experience and be dropped back into Australia and New Zealand, coping with the isolation, displacement, abandonment, grief, post-prison rage was extremely disorientating and traumatic. It took years for both of us to find our feet. We tried and failed to keep our partnership going first in Christchurch and later in Brisbane.
Moana went on to new things, connecting with her Polynesian culture, having three children, becoming a barrister and now working for Maori Legal Aid in Christchurch. I went back to what I love, and do best, doing two more plowshare actions/ 5 consequent trials and other nonviolent resistance/ more jail time, organising solidarity around 8 plowshare trial scenes in Australia, England and Ireland and helping to kick start new Catholic Worker communities in Brisbane, Liverpool, Dublin and London. Some people call me the “Johnny Appleseed” of the Catholic Worker movement! Others think I’m more “Johnny Rotten” than “Appleseed”. I have been described by the New Zealand media as an “aggressive pacifist” “I am what I am! (Popeye), I guess?
We are now 20 years into a war on Iraq and 10 years into an invasion of Afghanistan. I truly believe if 1% of the people who marched against the invasion of Iraq on Feb 15th 2003 had gone into nonviolent resistance like the ANZUS Plowshares in the spirit of MLK, Ghandi & the Berrigans AND the other 99% had proactively & practically (not sycophantically) supported them we could have stopped that war or at least have a buoyant anti-war movement today. What we have instead is a war with no popular support but little visible opposition. The more solidarity generated the easier the resistance is to sustain and expand.
What we did at Griffiss Air Force Base was simple beautiful and human! We found what spiritual and human resources we needed to resist within an imperial culture that is obsessed with the subhuman (porn) and the superhuman (celebrity). An imperial culture that wreaks death and destruction on children from Iraq to Afghanistan.
SUMMARY, STATEMENT AND BIOS FROM THE 1991 ANZUS PLOWSHARES ACTION
ANZUS PLOWSHARES – 20 Years ago on New Year’s Day ’91, we four came together at Griffiss Air Force Base, in upstate New York, to disable a B52 Bomber and shut down a U.S. Air Force runway on the cusp of the “Gulf War/Massacre”.
At our July ‘91 trial, we learnt that we had shut down the Griffiss USAFB runway for a number of hours during a time of mass mobilisation for war. The B52 Bomber we had engaged had gone from “scramble alert” status to not flying for the length of the “Gulf War”. While we were initially remanded in New York county jails, other B52’s in working order from Griffiss AFB were deployed to England. On January 15th. 1991 they began a daily routine of dropping their deadly cargo of napalm, cluster bombs and fuel air explosives on the people of Iraq. A volley of B52 air launched cruise missile comprised the opening shots of the Gulf Massacre. B52’s went on to drop 30% of all munitions in the 1991 “Gulf Massacre”.
The 2 month “Gulf War” was itself to be the opening shot in a 20 year on going U.S. led war of intensive & drive by bombardment, genocidal sanctions and now outright invasion and occupation of Iraq. A legacy left of millions of Iraqi’s slain, 2 million exiled and 2 million internally displaced. We were put on trial in Syracuse, found guilty, refused to co-operate with sentencing or walk into custody, we were literally dragged across the court room floor. Bill and Sue served a year, Moana & Ciaron served 13 months due to immigration charges being filed and inflated bail being demanded before their release. Moana was granted a voluntary deportation, Ciaron forcibly deported, both exiled from the movement that had nourished them.
Today, New Year’s Day 2011, the ANZUS Plowshares are back to send a message of hope and solidarity down through these bloody decades to y’all who continue to resist war making and war preparations. We honour those who have since passed – Phil Berrigan, Peter DeMott, Pat Litkey and Elmer Maas – and those who will remain nameless until their passing – who got us to the B52 Bomber & onto the runway of Griffiss Air Force Base on New Year’s morning 1991. We thank all those who got us through the trial and the prison time in New York, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Texas and Louissianna, the deportations and consequent exile. We extend our hearts to those today in the imperial firing line in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, Bagram, Guantanamo and our solidarity to our brothers and sisters before the courts and in prison for peace and justice sake. Our prayers go out to U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, Royal Navy medic Michael Lyons, plowshares activists Susan Crane, Sr.Anne Montgomery RSCJ, Fr. Bill Bichsell SJ, Fr. Steve Kelly SJ, & Lynne Greenwald, S.O.A. prisoners Fr. Louie Vitalie ofm and L.A. Catholic Worker David Omondi and many more whose “presence in jeopardy for peace and justice sake speaks to our conscience which is the way God speaks to us” (Phil Berrigan)
ANZUS Plowshares Community
New Year’s Day 1991
Griffiss Air Force Base, New York
Statement of Faith
We come to Griffiss air Force Base on this First Day of 1991 to begin the new year with an act of peace. We follow the Old Testament prophets Micah and Isaiah who teach us how to be peacemakers; “do justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8) and “beat swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4). We follow Christ, who tells us to love God, to love one another and love our enemies and who said, “I am the way,” and then laid down his life in the nonviolent confrontation of injustice.
It is in this spirit that we present ourselves to the world as followers of Christ, in the form of the ANZUS Plowshares Community. ANZUS (Australia/New Zealand/United States), because we come from these nations to join in an act of justice. Plowshares because we come to enflesh Isaiah’s prophecy of beating swords into plowshares. And community because Christ is present when we come together in truth and justice and love.
We reclaim the acronym ANZUS from the ANZUS Treaty, a pseudo defense pact signed by these three nations in 1952. The partnership was ended in 1984 by New Zealand’s refusal to host nuclear warships from the United States, thus exposing that treaty as an offensive pact of preparation for nuclear and interventionary war. We come from the nations of Australia, New Zealand and the United States. We come together in a new pact, a pact of preparation for peace, which is the way of the Lord. We come to Griffiss to enflesh a biblical promise.
“God shall decide for strong nations far off;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nations shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Micah 4:3)
This vision of peace has inspired dozens of courageous and faithful communities to begin to transform weapons of war into tools of life. We act to continue the process of disarmament which they began. We recognise this symbolic act of disarmament and transformation as a response to Christ’s ultimate command to “love one another.”
“Love is the only solution,” said Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. As Catholic Workers, we come to this action out of a deep experience of sharing the lives of the poor. We act in the personalist and pacifist traditions of the Catholic Worker, which for over 50 years has both shared the lives of the poor and addressed the injustices that cause poverty. These traditions call for love in action as the only solution to the problems of greed, oppression, apathy and fear; we are resolved to begin this year with an act of love, in accordance with our Catholic Worker tradition.
The New Year’s resolution of the President and the United Nations seems to be WAR; they threaten the destruction of thousands of children, of millions of soldiers, of whole cities, of our already precariously balanced environmental system – in the end, of all life. We cannot sit by and watch such wanton irresponsibility. We have just celebrated the advent of Christ, who came to reconcile all people to each other, to bring true peace, and to remind us that the way to peace is to place our allegiance in God alone and to lay down our own lives in nonviolent confrontation of injustice and oppression.
The Gospel assures us that the way of the Lord involves great sacrifice, separation from family and community, persecution, jail, even death. Today, thousands of people wait in the desert of Saudi Arabia, willing to make these same sacrifices for the false gods of “oil” and “lifestyle.” They are there because war is part of “the American way of life.”
We believe Americans must begin to come together with those from other nations not as soldiers preparing to kill, but as people of faith preparing for Life. We act today to say that we are willing to make these sacrifices for peace and justice. We come out of Love, in a spirit of nonviolence, to begin this year with an act of Peace.
— Moana Cole, Susan Frankel, Ciaron O’Reilly, Bill Streit.
New Year’s Day 1991, Griffiss Air Force Base
* Moana Cole, 22: “Moana” means the “the ocean” in Polynesian. She was born in Christchurch and is a New Zealand citizen. Moana spent the first six years of her life at sea before her family settled in Australia. In 1988 she became involved in the “Disarm the Seas” resistance against nuclear warship visits. For the past 18 months she has been working with Catholic Worker and nonviolent resistance communities in the United States
* Sue Frankel, 27, Sue was born in Munich, Germany and was raised in Kensington, Maryland. Before converting to Catholicism and joining the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker IN Washington D.C., she worked as a journalist in Dortmund, Germany and in Tokyo, Japan. For over three years she has been part of the Dorothy Day community, editing the community paper and living the Catholic Worker vision of hospitality and resistance.
* Ciaron O’Reilly, 30: Ciaron was born in Brisbane, Australia. He has been experimenting with the acts of mercy and resistance since high school. In 1982, he co-founded the Catholic Worker community in Brisbane, Australia. The community in Brisbane has continued its work of hospitality, resistance and cooperative work. Ciaron has spent the past two years working with Catholic Worker and resistance communities in the United States.
* Bill Streit, 35; Bill was born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. He attended seminary at St Pius X at Dalton, PA. and Christ the King near Buffalo N.Y. In 1982 he was ordained a priest from the Scranton diocese and served 7 years in parish ministry before joining the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker community in Washington D.C. where he has been engaged in the works of mercy and acts of resistance for the past 2 1/2 years.
And now, in 2011: ANZUS Plowshare community member’s links
Moana Cole, 42, mother of 3. Barrister, Maori Legal Aid, Christchurch, Aotearoa/ New Zealand. http://lestweforget.org.nz/profiles/moana-cole
Sue Frankel-Streit, 47, mother of 3, Little Flower Catholic Worker Farm, Virginia, USA.
Bill Frankel-Streit, 55, father of 3, Little Flower Catholic Worker Farm, Virginia, USA.
Ciaron O’Reilly, 50, Giuseppe Conlon Catholic Worker House, London, England.
Youtube (4 mins 37 secs) “War is Over… if you want it!” – Merry Christmas from the London Catholic Worker http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DOR7Ml4XF0
Youtube (15 mins) honouring the Plowshare communities of the last 30 Years