Report of Holy Innocents Retreat and Pentagon Witness in Honor of Dan Berrigan
by Art Laffin
On December 27 and 28, over 50 members from the Atlantic and Southern Life communities, and other peacemaking friends, gathered for a retreat at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church and a nonviolent witness at the Pentagon to commemorate the Massacre of the Holy Innocents – past and present. This year we honored in a special way, our friend and mentor, Dan Berrigan, SJ, who died on April 30, 2016.
After reflection, liturgy and action planning on December 27 (see * below), the community gathered shortly before sunrise on December 28 at Army-Navy Drive. While singing “Silent Night”, they processed to the Pentagon’s southeast entrance with signs about the plight of children, banners, and photos, cut-outs and quotes of Dan Berrigan. (Special thanks to Ellen Grady for the cut-outs of Dan and to Amanda for bringing photos of Dan displayed at his funeral.) Remarkably, there was not the usual squadron of Pentagon police waiting for us to arrive. In fact, there were only several police who were visible much farther away at the checkpoint. As members of the community made their way into the “designated protest area,” sixteen others proceeded down the sidewalk. While some of the group blocked the sidewalk, others made their way to a knoll not far from the sidewalk. Within a matter of minutes more police arrived at the scene. Once ordered by police to come down from the knoll, the entire group blocked the sidewalk leading into the main Pentagon metro entrance. The group held multiple life-size cut-outs of Dan and a large banner that had been cut into three pieces with a quote from the Catonsville Nine action statement: “The violence stops here, the death stops here, the suppression of truth stops here, this war stops here.” The blockade continued for a period of time as many Pentagon workers walked around it and onto the grass. When the sixteen refused to comply with an order to leave, police placed them under arrest. As arrestees were escorted past the designated protest area to nearby police wagons, the community sang the “Vine and Fig Tree” song.
Meanwhile, the rest of the community in the designated protest area continued the witness. Using a sound system, songs were sung, including the “Coventry Carol”, “A Voice is Heard in Ramah,” and “Love-Love-Love.” The Holy Innocents Gospel passage was proclaimed. An action statement (see below) was read, with a refrain after each paragraph: “The Massacre of the Innocents Starts at the Pentagon! Let Us Stop It Here and Now!” Five short accounts of children victimized by U.S. violence in Iraq, Cleveland and Standing Rock (prepared by Amanda and Leah) were shared, with the same earlier refrain chanted after each story. Then people were invited to share quotes from Dan that were on their signs. The witness concluded with everyone singing “Down by the Riverside” as the community processed back to Army-Navy Drive where they held a closing circle.
Upon returning to the church, there was a potluck breakfast and a reflection-sharing time about the Pentagon witness. Before departing we were treated to an amazing Talent Show by the youth, whose contagious spirit of joy carries us into the New Year, come what may!
The sixteen who were arrested, plus several cut-outs of Dan, were taken to the Pentagon Police center, which once upon a time served as a day care center. They were charged with “disobeying a lawful order.” All were released (except the cut-outs of Dan) and are scheduled to appear for a March 2, 2017 court date at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.
Ralph (Amanda Lawson)
* The retreat began at 2 p.m. on December 27 with introductions and orientation. Among those present included Melissa and Danielle, from Seedwork films, who were on hand to film and do interviews for a new documentary on Dan Berrigan. Steve Baggarly then offered a powerful scriptural reflection expounding on the slaughter of the holy innocents within the context of the whole Christmas narrative, imperial Rome and Pax Romana, and how the Roman empire was antithetical to the kindom of God and the Gospel of Jesus. He then spoke about how the U.S. empire today, with its vast imperial reach and unrelenting violence, including the use of killer drones, has made the entire globe its battlefield, claiming countless innocents! He concluded by sharing about the exemplary steadfast Gospel witness of Dan Berrigan. These are but a few highlights of Steve’s talk. (His entire talk will soon be made available.) Steve’s presentation prompted a very rich community sharing, which included how Dan’s inspiring nonviolent resistance to U.S. empire has, and continues to be, an inspiration for people worldwide. The session concluded with a communal reading of a moving unpublished poem by Anne Montgomery about the massacre of the holy innocents, past and present.
After a short break, the remainder of the afternoon was spent in preparation for the nonviolent witness at the Pentagon.
Following dinner, there was a beautiful liturgy that was led by Amanda Daloisio and Rev. Nathan Beall. During the liturgy Amanda offered a compelling reflection about the resistance of the Hebrew midwives. (This will soon be made available.) After the Eucharist, Sue Frankel-Streit, Clare Grady, Leah Grady Sayvetz and Travis Knapp shared about their powerful experience of joining the water protectors of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in South Dakota in their courageous nonviolent resistance campaign to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Pentagon Action Statement — Prepared by Art Laffin
The Massacre of the Innocents Starts at the Pentagon! Let us Stop It Here and Now!
Today, Christian churches commemorate the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, recalling how Herod, fearful of being removed from power , sought to destroy the child Jesus by ordering the slaughter of boys under two years old in and around Bethlehem. We, members of the Atlantic and Southern Life Communities and other peace groups, come to the Pentagon, the center of warmaking on our planet, to remember the innocents who have died–past and present–due to greed, oppression and war. Today, in this time of perpetual war, the lives of countless innocents, like those in Bethlehem, are endangered.
The United States military magnifies destruction across the globe, especially in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and throughout the Middle East. We are ever so mindful that the children are always the first victims of war. From overt wars to covert “dirty wars,” which now involve the use of lethal killer drones, countless lives are destroyed, displaced and disappeared. The violence of the U.S. power structure is unrelenting. Within our own boundaries it continues to crush the poor, target people of color, demonize Muslims, and oversee a mass incarceration complex. Fear and violence are pervasive, especially now as the Trump Administration prepares to take power. And always, the existence of nuclear weapons puts all life in utter peril. This threat is further exacerbated by the construction of the new naval war base on Jeju Island, S. Korea, increased U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems designed to threaten and contain Russia and China, and the U.S. militarization of space.
Every day, the world’s addiction to oil, natural gas and nuclear power is the cause of environmental contamination that is threatening global devastation. With nearly 800 military bases worldwide establishing its vast war machine, the Pentagon is the world’s single biggest consumer of fossil fuels, making it a major contributor to destablizing the climate. The Dakota Access pipeline is but one more example of the earth’s desecration, and which is courageously being resisted by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other water protectors. Acknowledging the long history of suffering by native peoples, tomorrow we remember that on December 29, 1890, the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The U.S. 7th Calvary killed at least 150 men, women and children of the Lakota Sioux, although it is estimated that as many as 300 may have been murdered .
During our witness this morning we remember in a special way Daniel Berrigan, priest, poet, peacemaker and author, who, along with his brothers, Phil and Jerry, was arrested here at the Pentagon on numerous occasions. Dan died this past April 30th. We carry his spirit with us in our witness and we invite you, who work here at the Pentagon, to take to heart his plea, rendered in the Catonsville Nine statement he wrote to decry the U.S. massacre in Vietnam. His words ring as true today as on May 17, 1968.
“The time is past when good men (people) can remain silent, when obedience can segregate men (people) from public risk, when the poor can die without defense. We ask our fellow Christians to consider in their hearts a question which has tortured us, night and day, since the war began. How many must die before our voices are heard, how many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, maddened? How long must the world’s resources be raped in the service of legalized murder? When, at what point, will you say no to this war? We have chosen to say, with the gift of our liberty, if necessary our lives: the violence stops here, the death stops here, the suppression of the truth stops here, this war stops here…
Redeem the times! The times are inexpressibly evil. Christians pay conscious, indeed religious tribute, to Caesar and Mars; by the approval of overkill tactics, by brinkmanship, by nuclear liturgies, by racism, by support of genocide. They embrace their society with all their heart, and abandon the cross. They pay lip service to Christ and military service to the powers of death. And yet, and yet, the times are inexhaustibly good, solaced by the courage and hope of many. The truth rules, Christ is not forsaken.”
The violence, racism, massacres and disregard for the truth and human life stops here today at the Pentagon. Now is the time for personal and societal transformation as we resolve to renounce all killing, beat swords into plowshares, abolish torture and war, and celebrate God’s creation with joy. As we move in to a new year, we invite you to join us as we strive to create the beloved community and a nonviolent world.