Jesuit priest William “Bix” Bichsel reported to the SeaTac Federal Prison on November 10 after a prayer sendoff at Jean’s House of Prayer.
He was sentenced to 3 months in prison for his part in the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex resistance action in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on July 5, 2010. Michael Walli, Bonnie Urfer and Steve Baggarly are also currently serving prison sentences for that action.
Thursday – September 29, 2011 Tacoma – War Memorial Park Bill Bichsel On this September day I was sitting on the knee-high, semi circular wall that borders the viewing plaza of the Narrows Bridges. I don’t know if plaza is the right name but it s a place to get a good look at the bridges and the south Puget Sound. I was there trying to get inspired by thoughts that would lift me out of the lifeless malaise that I was feeling. No inspirational thoughts were coming to me when up the sidewalk to the plaza came five homeless looking people. There were three guys and a couple. I felt they were invading my space – my plaza. My control and ownership feelings yielded to the realization that the plaza belongs to everyone and that they were probably paying more taxes than I to maintain the park. I introduced myself to the man who had seated himself on the wall to my right. “I’m Bill”, I said as we shook hands. He introduced himself as George. I asked him if he was from Tacoma. “No”, George answered, “ I was born in Korea and lived my early years there. My mother is Korean and my father was a GI. We lived on Portland Avenue from my 7th to 10th year. I remember driving past the Dome shopping for groceries.” The man sitting on my left side said his name in a mumble, so I didn’t get it. He was straightening out a page of the News Tribune. Because I didn’t get his name, I referred to him in my head as ‘paper man’. An African American guy with a red hat was leaning on the Narrows Bridges sign. I said, “Bill” and he said, “Red” and our connection was made. The couple was huddling in the middle of the plaza. It looked like the woman was calling the plays. They sat down on the wall and the woman joyfully announced to me that they were on a honeymoon. “I’m really enjoying it”, she informed all of us. Her partner didn’t say anything. Paper man smoothed out the TNT newspaper and put a pill in the middle of it. He began to break the pill into pieces with his cigarette lighter. The woman jumped up and jerked her thumb at me as she warned Paper man and said that I may not be cool. Paper man dismissed her query with a wave of the hand. Then the woman confronted me, “Are you cool?” I answered her, “No, I don’t like to see anyone take drugs.” Paper man spoke out, “No biggie – it’s clonopin.” I answered that clonopin is a drug. Paper man connected the pill to bipolar treatment as he continued to crush the pill pieces into powder. Then he took a piece from the news page and rolled it into a thin funnel. He put a funnel into one of his nostrils and lowered his head so that the funnel sat in the middle of the powder pile. With one snort he sucked up all of the powder. Then he stood erect and bent his head back and breathed deeply. The couple sauntered down the walkway engaged in one-way communication. Paper man, Red, and George were quiet and into their own thoughts. In this quiet interlude I asked them if the name, Caroline Fick, was familiar to them. “Yeah,” said Paper man, “she jumped off the bridge.” Red added that she had hit the railroad tracks and not the water. I asked them how they knew about her suicide. Paper man thought that I was the one who informed him – over a year ago. Red and Paper man began to list guys who came into the park whom Caroline knew and had helped them with food, tobacco, and blankets. (She was very resourceful and knew where to go for supplies for her homeless friends.) Some of the guys that they mentioned had died in the last year. One of the guys lost his leg and another lost his foot because of diabetes. Most of the park homeless crew had teeth rotting out of their mouths. One of the reasons I had come to the Plaza this day was to remember Caroline. She was homeless the last year of her life after she had been evicted from the Flamingo Apartments on 6th Avenue where she had lived for 10 years. During the time that she lived there, she made sure that her stretch of 6th Avenue - from Skyline to Jackson - was clean of bottles and debris. Afterword’s, she would call me to let me know that she had completed a clean sweep of her adopted area of 6th Avenue. She would end her report with a crisp, “over and out,” finish. Caroline was a very compassionate and caring person who easily came to people’s aid. She was a small “c” Catholic who had a great devotion to Mary and the rosary. She would feel bad and at times indignant if she was treated poorly at her church. For the last year of her life Caroline’s dad tried hard to get her out of homelessness into a safe living situation. He was payee for the SSI (Social Security disability) check that she received monthly. Without his stewardship, all of her money would have been gone in a flash. I worked with her father to find a suitable place. On two occasions we had arranged for her to stay at the Family Shelter. The first time she didn’t show. The second time, the Family Shelter didn’t think she would be a good candidate because of her drinking. I was thinking of her staying at Jean’s House of the Catholic Worker where I live. However, the Catholic Worker has such a strong prohibition against drinking that I didn’t think it would work. After I learned of Caroline’s suicide jump off the bridge, I felt deep remorse and guilt that I didn’t do more to help her out of her homelessness. I felt the loss of a dear friend who would be ready to help anyone she could. I still question my caution about not taking her in. I taught Caroline’s father at Bellarmine High School and came to know Caroline as a teenage girl when I presided at her brother’s funeral. Her brother’s death in a car accident caused her and her family much grief and sorrow. In the accident, her brother was trapped in the car which burst into flames. Over the years Caroline suffered other pains and losses but never played the self-pity part. She took things as they came. After she completed high school she didn’t go on for further formal education. However, she was very bright and learned things quickly. I still feel a loss of her and remorse that I was too cautious in coming to her aid. Another reason that I came to the plaza is because of an experience of the Resurrection that I had in that place. I try to reconnect with that experience. The experience needs some background narration. A few years back, in my preparation to do a protest action at the Trident submarine base at Bangor, I traveled to the grave of Chief Joseph in Nespelem Washington on the Colville Reservation. His spirit speaks quietly and strongly to my soul. I wanted to spend some days there on retreat living in the Jesuit parish church next to the graveyard. Much of my time was spent being quiet next to his grave. The spirit of the chief who quit his heroic struggle with the US cavalry in order to save his people rises out of the earth. With his words, “From where the sun now sets, I will fight no more forever.” he stopped the violence of the US cavalry and the violence that comes out of battle. His compassion, humility, and strength lighted his path of nonviolence. Through the inspiration of Chief Joseph, I wanted to reflect more on nonviolence. I had a tape on nonviolence done by Father Charles Emanuel McCarthy which I listened to. In the tape, Charles McCarthy spoke of the uncanny power of nonviolence when it is practiced as a way of life. By way of example, he pointed out an incident in the life Clarence Jordan, founder of the Kornneia Community near Americus, Georgia. With the inspiration of Jordan, white and black farming families had joined together in the 40s to form this community. This did not set well with the white population of Americus. Once a week a segment of the white population would drive by the community and shoot their guns over the houses – sometimes into the houses. After failed tries for understanding with the belligerent white population, Clarence Jordan engaged the main perpetrators in a long conversation and was able to defuse the violence. McCarthy attributed the outcome to the life-power of nonviolence practiced daily by Jordan; and further explained that by his actions, Jordan had witnessed to the power of the Resurrection. In my time of retreat and prayer at Nespelem, I had been led by Chief Joseph to Clarence Jordan to the life giving power of the Resurrection. A week after my retreat in Nespelem, I drove to the War Memorial Park. I drove there often in the hope of enlightenment of heart and soul. Usually I would get an 8 ounce latte to take with me into the park for my quiet time of reflection. And usually I would fall asleep after a few minutes of trying to reflect. This day, I went down the sidewalk leading to the war Memorial Wall but which also has a branch sidewalk leading up to the plaza. As often was the case, I would meet and talk with homeless people sitting on the side of the walkway. This day some were familiar and some were new. I followed the branch sidewalk leading to the plaza and slowly walked in slow circles. As I walked I began to think of Clarence Jordan witnessing to the power of the Resurrection. A feeling of deep peace came over me. I was experiencing Resurrection as an outpouring of life and hopefulness. It was a feeling of being in a gently flowing river whose current was more like air than the ordinary river flow. It was lightsome and joyful and strengthening. I felt this deep life-giving power being present. I wanted, in some way, to witness to this power of resurrection in the place of death which was the nuclear weapon citadel at Bangor, Washington. A while after this experience I did a protest action with others at Bangor. We went to court and the case was dismissed because of faulty government evidence. Later on – November 2, 2009 – five of us cut our way into where the nuclear weapons at Bangor are stored. We all experienced a great joy after being arrested, cuffed, hooded, and forced flat onto the cold earth. It came to me that beyond my furthest hopes, we were witnessing to the power of the Resurrection. Even in this place of fear, death, and hopelessness, the power of life, hope, and love can rise. Well, on this September day I said goodbye to Paper Man, Red, and George and headed down the sidewalk. What will become of them? In the ordinary course of life in our cities and towns I know they will never receive the resources needed for a full human life. They will not be recipients of health care, education, employment, or housing. Nor will they become respected members of an established community. They will drift and die – unknown and un-honored. These thoughts led me to an inner feeling of futility. I imagined the inner workings of the US to be a robot-like monster with an insatiable hunger that needs vulnerable people to feed on. This robot needs homeless people, those losing their houses, prison and probation populations, black and Hispanic struggling people, children, laid-off workers, gay and lesbian people, and working poor families. This robot is at the beck and call of the corporate militarized power command of the US which sustains its functioning. These thoughts brought me feelings of futility; thoughts of how deeply embedded American people are in this culture of death when we allow our vulnerable to disappear and consent to the use of nuclear weapons which will bring global death to millions. I questioned whether my actions of resisting nuclear weapon were in any way helping the vulnerable ones. Once again the questioning brought the realization that it is through connection with these vulnerable ones that I can know what to do. They take me by the hand and lead me to know whether I’m helping or hindering our way out of the bondage to the death machine. They lead me in the way of compassion; if they are not free I am not free. As long as I’m in contact with them, I’m grounded in my work to resist nuclear weapons which divert resources from the vulnerable. The war Memorial Park is a good place for me to reflect. It houses the brave servicemen and women who have given their lives in US wars. I went to high school with some of the men whose names are on the memorial wall. They were young, generous, brave, and dedicated. I take time to honor them; I do not honor the wars into which they were drawn. In the evening in the war Memorial Park there is the song of the birds coming from the surrounding trees. The chirp and twitter of the song slows down my pace, and a tweet and whistle and cooing and crooning calls me to stillness – to listen to the harmony of creation. Their song heralds peaceful meadows where people can live in peace. As long as the birds can sing their different songs there will be an earth harmony that can quiet our souls and unclench our minds. The bird song announces peace and nonviolence in our land.