"Geezer" Strikes Back At Empire

In mid-October, 2003, Michael Poulin traveled through four western states loosening the bolts of electrical towers. His sabotage was not an attempt to bring the towers down - confirmed in court by industry engineers - but rather to bring attention to the need to live very differently in the world, and to rise up and stop the U.S. government's obscene quest for Empire.

In a long, post-sentencing letter to family and friends, many affiliated with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, where he lived, Poulin described his action and the indictment - U.S. vs. Michael Devlyn Poulin as

"...A gratifying exclamation to the end of my life, the latter half of which was largely about contesting the almighty United States of America one way or another--a suicide mission for most.

"Suicide. What does it take? Personally, not hypothetically. I mean you, what does it take you to commit? And me? The question recurred to me with every suicide attack in Palestine, Iraq, wherever the requisite level of desperation prevailed. How unbearable, how desperate must life be? Even for the kids and mothers who commit. Unimaginable for most of us. Dismiss the thought, we must, because it is too painful to imagine. Otherwise discount and demonize the suicides when they must be considered. And never, never explore motivations. Remembering General Westmoreland discount orientals because "they don't value life as we do." Only we know better. How many of us remember the public self-immolation of the Vietnamese Buddhist monks? Suicide is the unwelcome movement of the elephant under the rug.

"I bear responsibility for suicidal desperation. My taxes paid for the Viet Nam massacre, for 35 years of Israeli occupation. My taxes are paying for the 12 years of sanctions, embargo, bombing, invasion and occupation of Iraq. Am I absolved by sharing responsibility with 200 million other taxpayers? Am I crazy to worry about it? Why not just change the television channel and have another beer?

"After dissipating my youth in the privileged milieu of middle class, I had for much of my adult years marched, demonstrated, picketed, organized, written letters to legislators, governors, presidents and editors, wrestled with U.S. marshals, even been arrested for civil disobedience. I marched and worked for the Central American struggles of the 70s and 80s, the anti-apartheid struggle for South Africa, the Irish hunger strikers, for Palestine, in addition to nuclear weapons and reactors. It made little difference. Throughout my life under eleven different administrations from liberal to fascist, everything got worse--more corruption, more unemployment, more imprisonment, more injustice, more inequality, more concentration of media, wealth and power, more poverty; internationally, more diabolic, comprehensive instruments and agencies of oppression, American troops quartered in more than 110 countries - largely in support of rapacious corporations which now own everything from national water systems to street signs. All of this was much worse than the world I was born into in 1941. I had, at age 62, little time remaining to make a difference, and I dearly wanted to make a difference. But how?...

"What is my responsibility in all this? I'm neither into suicide nor harming others. Nor am I particularly brave. What could I do? I took inventory of my strengths and weaknesses. On one side, I am little cowed by external authority or the force that it wields. I am less concerned with public opinion, "common sense" or the expectations of others. I am also white (privileged), educated, middle class, articulate, respectable looking, personable when I want to be. On the other side, I'm 62, partially blind, overweight, arthritic, diabetic with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, neuropathy, skin cancer, etc. ad nauseum. I take eleven pills a day and need to nap and take blood samples daily and see a diabetic nurse every three months. Reasons all to sit home and play with the grandkids as would any sensible grandfather who cared little about any other kids; but unable to get those Iraqi and Palestinian kids out of my head, it seemed like now or never, so let's get this geezer on the road.

"Now the hard part. What to do? Direct action always made the most sense to me. But what? Where? How? I was not a military person, let alone a commando or technician. Nor was I into hurting anybody. But damaging property--things--was OK. But what? How? So I took inventory of the apparent, the possible, the vulnerable. What might bite the gorilla in its homeland security? What might make him take notice? ...I finally came to decide upon the electric power towers as offering the most shock value with the least risk to people...

"High voltage transmission towers are both highly conspicuous and obscure, that is we both see them and we don't because we never give them a thought, and we never think of them as critical to our existence or, at least, lifestyle. More to my point, we never think of them as vulnerable to attack by anyone at all, let alone one old fart with a wrench, which is all it took to provoke the ensuing panic. While I never believed anything I did was going to cause injury, we later learned from a highly-credentialed high-voltage tower engineer that my work had negligible structural effect on the towers, that the fundamental pyramid configuration of the towers minimized the possibility of toppling in the strongest of winds."

After a week of work, the "bolt-weevil" was identified by witnesses and he learned from friends that the FBI was in pursuit. He contacted an attorney in Oregon who attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate a surrender and plea agreement. Days later, weary from the road and all that wrenching, this military veteran of some of the last atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific was driving towards Sacramento and the office of the U.S. attorney when he learned that the homes of friends and relatives were under surveillance. He found a convenient highway patrol station and turned himself in. The media had a field day, hooked by the blather of "activist turns domestic terrorist."

Michael Poulin agreed to plead guilty and was released on bail December 23. He was sentenced February 18, 2004, to 27 months in federal prison, and turned himself in on April 2. In the interim, he wrote:

"Time for reflection. What good did I do? What was the point? What else could I do? Legal means of dissent have not worked in a very long time, if ever. I had tried them all and then some. I was sitting on my hands at home watching the continuing brutal, illegal occupations of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan. I couldn't stomach the thought of another sign-carrying demonstration yet wanted to address the feeling of political impotence. So the answer is also the question turned on its head: What good did I do by not doing?"

Support action Letters of support should be sent to Michael D. Poulin 14793-097, Shelby B, POB 34550, Memphis TN 38184.

The Nuclear Resister
October 2004