Three gates blockaded in April; banner hangers descend to arrest in May
Peace protesters at the last, full-scale operating nuclear weapons production plant in the United States closed the plant in a nonviolent direct action on Sunday, April 9. Wearing T-shirts that read "Claim the Future, DISARM NOW" eighteen protesters, supported by more than 200 demonstrators, successfully blockaded all three entrances to the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge.
At one entrance, protesters closed and locked a security gate, stretched a thick cable across the roadway to prevent traffic from circumventing the blockade, and took up residence on the road behind a large mock missile that was stenciled "DISARM NOW." After more than thirty minutes, two fire trucks arrived and the cable was finally cut with the "jaws of life," equipment usually put in service to save lives rather than facilitate their destruction, and the protesters were taken into custody.
At the West Bear Creek Road entrance, peace demonstrators rode and walked nearly two miles onto DOE property, making a human chain to block traffic, before they were intercepted, arrested, and charged with trespass.
At the main entrance on East Bear Creek Road, protesters held a huge banner which pointed out that nuclear weapons production violates international law. Five protesters were dragged from the street, flanked by singing supporters, and all seven were arrested for blocking traffic.
The action at Y-12 attracted more than 65 students from around the southeast. The students participated in a day-long workshop, "Building the Nonviolent Community" on Saturday, followed by contra dancing. On Sunday, a workshop on "Researching University and College Ties to Nuclear Weapons" was presented. The workshop was followed by a march through Oak Ridge to the bomb plant, a rally, and the direct action.
Closing the day, more than 80 people gathered for the weekly Vigil for Peace at Y-12. The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), sponsor of the weekend's activities, has vigiled each Sunday afternoon since late November.
Of the eighteen arrested, seven were charged with trespass in city court, ten were booked on state charges of blocking traffic, and a juvenile was not charged.
In city court, two pled guilty and were fined $100, with the option to provide community service in lieu of paying. Two later pled no contest and were sentenced to provide 16 hours community service in lieu of a fine. Mary Dennis Lentsch and Betty Coleman presented a defense using international law arguments, but the judge would not permit any testimony about what goes on inside the plant because he said it is all supposed to be a secret. The women were convicted and fined $500 each, and an additional $500 fine - suspended by the same judge after their conviction for a protest at Y-12 last August - was also imposed. After Lentsch explained that she lived in voluntary poverty as a member of a religious order, an alternate sentence of 50 hours community service was granted.
Gordon Maham, facing the state charges, appeared in court, not to contest the charge but to tell the judge, "I don't believe I did anything wrong." Maham was also fined in city court after his arrest last August at Y-12, but the issue did not come up in the higher court. On this occasion, he was sentenced to 30 days unsupervised probation. Maham, 83, worked at Y-12 until the Hiroshima bombing awakened him to the truth of his secrecy-shrouded labor. He resigned in protest, losing his draft exemption as a vital worker, and served a post-war prison sentence as a conscientious objector.
On April 20, the Anderson County District Attorney General Jim Ramsey announced he would not prosecute the remaining state charges, suggesting instead that the city should have filed breach of the peace charges. "I am disappointed by your chosen course of action," he wrote to the Oak Ridge police chief after the action. Ramsey later told a reporter it was difficult to imagine protesters blocking traffic since the demonstration occurred on a Sunday when the bomb plant is minimally staffed. "If the national defense were at stake, Janet Reno would have been down here with federal marshals," he added.
The events of April 8-9 were part of the ongoing Stop the Bombs campaign sponsored by OREPA and two dozen other regional and local peace groups.
For more information, contact the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, 100 Tulsa Rd., Suite 4A, Oak Ridge, TN 37380, (423)483-8202; email@example.com or on the web at www.stopthebombs.org
(thanks to OREPA for this report)