A Catholic Worker discussion on property destruction and nonviolence

Christian Nonviolence: Theory and Practice

by Tom Cornell

[Tom Cornell is a longtime editor of The Catholic Worker and former co-founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship. In a slightly different form his essay was published in the December 2017 issue of The Catholic Worker. With Jim Forest and Robert Ellsberg, he co-edited A Penny a Copy, an anthology of writings from The Catholic Worker.]

“To me nonviolence is the all-important problem or virtue to be nourished and studied and cultivated” (Dorothy Day, Diaries, Oct. 1968). And Thomas Merton agreed: “You are right going along the lines of satyagraha [Gandhi’s term for nonviolent action; literally the power of truth]. I see no other way….”  Merton held nonviolence to be essential. Nonviolent action embodies a moral truth in response to a serious moral crisis by way of protest and acts of resistance, including civil disobedience, that do no harm, conducted in openness and truth with willingness to pay the legal penalties. Nonviolent action may be acts of witness only, but they may also lead to mass mobilization and real change.

U.S. military troops had been engaged in the Vietnam civil war for five years. Fifteen thousand of them had been killed when, on October 27, 1967, Father Philip Berrigan and three accomplices entered the Baltimore Selective Service headquarters carrying a pitcher of blood. They opened the file cabinets containing the records of men eligible for the military draft and poured the blood over the files. The Baltimore Four, as they came to be known, were convicted six months later on felony charges. Days before they were to stand for sentencing, Philip Berrigan, together with his brother (and fellow Catholic priest) Daniel and seven others, raided the Selective Service offices in Catonsville, Maryland, hauled hundreds of draft files out onto an adjacent parking lot and incinerated them using homemade napalm, hardly a plea for leniency.

On hearing of the Berrigans’ action, we at the Catholic Worker house in New York City were astounded by their escalation of tactics. Philip was a dear friend–he had baptized my daughter the year before–and now I admired his daring, wanting to believe that he had enlarged the boundaries of nonviolent action. Not everyone was so enthusiastic. Dorothy Day, the radical pacifist founder of the Catholic Worker, while not criticizing the Berrigans publicly, remarked pointedly: “These acts are not ours.” Property damage, in her view, was not part of the nonviolent arsenal.  

The Catonsville Nine, as they were called, received prison sentences of two to six years. The Berrigan brothers and three others refused to surrender and went underground. Dorothy considered this a major breach of nonviolent principles. Consistent with Dorothy’s reservations, the Catholic Worker newspaper remained largely silent about the Catonsville action and the trial that followed, despite widespread coverage in the mainstream media. (An article in June 1968 was the lone exception.) And in the four decades that followed, we published virtually nothing on the Berrigans and the Plowshares movement that, in 1980, they would help launch. Then we gave over an entire issue to Dan Berrigan on his death.

For the past thirty years or so, Carmen Trotta and I have argued, no, tried to reason together, about Plowshares. Is it genuinely nonviolent? Is it just? Should we encourage, discourage? And, “What would Dorothy say?” These acts may not be ours, but many of the people are, and so many of them so transparently genuine, loving people, not least of them Fr. Dan Berrigan, Greg Boertje-Obed, Michael Walli and Sr. Megan Rice.

The May 2014 issue of The Catholic Worker featured an eloquent tribute to the Transform Now Plowshares, by Patrick O’Neil, entitled “Sr. Megan, Mike & Greg, Thanks!” On July 2012, they had broken into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which houses the world’s biggest supply of enriched, weapons-grade uranium. Cutting through four perimeter fences, they reached the site’s Protected Area unobserved, and hammered on the uranium storage structure, while pouring human blood they had brought, and hung banners and crime-scene tape.  The action garnered international attention, largely because it exposed the vulnerability of nuclear-weapons sites. So we have come to some kind of terms with Plowshares. But what matters is nonviolence itself.

From the Christian point of view, weapons that are intended to kill the innocent may surely be destroyed in justice. Justice may even demand it. But is it nonviolence? Is it disarmament? Disarmament occurs when people lay down their weapons, not when their weapons are taken from them. That only moves belligerents to procure more and better weapons if they can. When activists destroy weapons, do they effect any conversion or change of heart in their opponents? Do they lead any to lay down their arms? Are such actions what we need?

There are practical concerns as well. The secrecy involved in Plowshares activities invites infiltration by spies and agents provocateurs. Openness and truth must be laid aside. Secrecy breeds suspicion within the group and creates a class system of those “in the know,” the “serious,” and those who merely attend to chores or lend moral or financial support. At trial, too often, it has come out that many “in the know” were actually spies.

A nonviolent army has no cannon fodder. Many in the anti-nuclear movement have literally put their lives on the line, risking being shot when they entered restricted areas. When Sister Megan was asked about these risks in an NPR interview, she answered that she was perfectly at peace with the possibility of being killed. Straight to heaven for her, no sweat! But how about the young security guard who might be obliged to shoot her? What of his mental and spiritual health after that?

The basis of Christian nonviolence is the same premise that underlies all of the Church’s social teaching: that every man, woman, and child is created in the image and likeness of God. Persons are never a means to an end; they are ends in themselves, and thus are not to be violated in any way, either in body, mind, or spirit. Persons are not disconnected individuals in a war of all against all, as in the capitalist model; nor are they to be subsumed into a larger whole, as in the collectivist model. Instead, all are formed in, by, and for community. Thus Pope John XXIII, in his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, grounded his hope for peace in human rights. But how to establish and protect human rights? Most people throughout history have assumed this is only possible through physical force. An ancient Latin adage goes, Si vis pacem, para bellum–if you desire peace, prepare for war. That’s like saying, “If you desire grapes, sow briars.” Christian peacemakers would rather say, Si vis pacem, para pacem–if you desire peace, prepare for peace.

Christian discipleship will be judged by the criteria of the Last Judgment: the works of mercy that Jesus describes in Matthew 15. War may be judged by these same criteria, for the works of war are the exact opposite of the works of mercy. Feed the hungry? No, destroy their crops! Give drink to the thirsty? No, poison their wells! Shelter the homeless? No, bomb their village! The weapons of Christian nonviolence include the spiritual works of mercy; again, the works of war are the exact opposite. Instruct the ignorant? No, lie to them! Counsel the doubtful? No, draft them or imprison them! Console the bereaved? Give them more deaths to grieve! Forgive injuries? Not on your life! Make them pay, ten times over!

Authentic nonviolence must be revolutionary because the social, political, economic order we live under violates the human person in fundamental ways–body, mind, and spirit. The present order is more accurately called disorder. It kills and maims the body by war and by withholding the means to life from the poor. It violates human intelligence because it thrives on lies–truth is always war’s first casualty. And it violates the human conscience, which instinctively shrinks in horror from killing our own. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a West Point psychology professor pioneered the conditioning technique known as killology to overcome our natural aversion to homicide, a prime task of military training. Wars can be fought only by stilling the voice of conscience. By contrast, nonviolence recognizes the humanity of the opponent and appeals to “that of God in everyone,” as the Quakers put it–that which the Creator breathed into our first parents and which we all share, even the boss, the landlord, the racist, the oppressor, the warmonger.

In struggle, the nonviolent activist does not seek victory but reconciliation, the redemption of opponents, never their humiliation much less their annihilation. Therefore, the nonviolent activist always allows the opponent a way to retreat with dignity, an honorable way out of any conflict. The principal weapon of nonviolence is dialogue. Genuine dialogue assumes the good faith of partners and avoids invidious language and ad hominem argument. Dialogue may be suspended at an impasse, but resumption is always a goal. The nonviolent armory includes protest, public dissent, noncooperation, and active resistance, but always with the purpose of re-establishing dialogue. Civil disobedience is the last weapon to be used, not the first, and should be undertaken after careful discernment under spiritual direction.

Christian nonviolence is a way of life, not a tactic. Often adopting nonviolence is part of a conversion process. The nonviolent activist is a man or woman of spiritual discipline, who has peace within, for one cannot give what one does not have. In order to practice Christian nonviolence we have to prepare ourselves through study– nonviolence doesn’t come naturally for most of us. Thomas Merton pointed to the superficiality of much of what he saw coming out of the peace movement of the 1960s. The years since have seen worse. We Christians need to recover what our ancestors in the faith knew about peacemaking. And we need a revolution of the heart. To purify our wills we need to pray. To tame our lusts we need self-control, discipline, and fasting in one way or another. Only then can we come to the study of nonviolence with the realistic hope of putting it into useful practice. One need not be a saint, but the intellectually slothful and the self-serving will not make effective nonviolent practitioners. The way of nonviolence must proceed person by person.

At this point, a reasonable objection confronts the pacifist. Jesus counsels that I turn my own cheek, not my neighbor’s. Do we not have an obligation to protect the innocent? Does it not happen sometimes that the only effective way to protect the innocent is by force, even force of arms? Is it not a crime that cries to heaven that the international community did not intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda and in Sudan? Refusal to support military force in defense of the innocent for reasons of conscience does not extricate anyone from this moral dilemma. Advocates of nonviolence have pioneered peaceful ways to resist aggression or home-grown tyranny. Religious groups such as Maryknoll and the Quakers have long prepared for re-entry into conflict areas in Asia. Other groups such as Christian Peacemaker Teams and Voices for Creative Nonviolence have sent trained activists into conflict areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, and Central and South America as “accompaniment teams” to document abuses and to train others in the work of resistance and reconciliation.

Another response, suggested by Gandhi, is to build up community, creating “cells of good living” in a violent world. This is what Catholic Worker groups, the Bruderhof, and other intentional communities strive to do in ever increasing numbers. All the same, there is weight to arguments for forceful intervention to protect the innocent. The innocent do need protection, and the world as we know it does need a police force. International police action is different from war. It is a perversion that, in this country, the police are being militarized.  

There has to be another way. Imagine solid ranks of Catholic conscientious objectors heeding the call of Pope Paul VI at the United Nations on October 4, 1965: “No more war, war never again!” His message was echoed by Pope John Paul II when he addressed the youth of Ireland at Drogheda in 1979: “On my knees I beg you to turn from the paths of violence and return to the ways of peace…. Violence only delays the day of justice. Violence destroys the work of justice…. Do not follow any leaders who train you in the ways of inflicting death. Love life! Respect life, in yourselves and in others. Give yourselves to the service of life, not the service of death…. Violence is the enemy of justice. Only peace can lead the way to true justice.”

The Catholic Church is becoming, if not a pacifist, then a peace church. In his 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, John Paul II again pleaded, “No, never again war, which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems that provoked the war.”  And Pope Benedict XVI: “I would like to call out to the consciences of those who form part of armed groups of any kind. To each and every one, I say: Stop, reflect, and abandon the path of violence!” (Angelus message, Jan. 1, 2010). And more: “It is impossible to interpret Jesus as a violent person. Violence is contrary to the kingdom of God; it is a tool of the Antichrist. Violence never serves humanity, but dehumanizes” (Angelus message, Mar. 11, 2012). Let us hear no more, “Yes, but….”

When war is outlawed, as it must be if humanity is to survive its penchant for self-destruction, our progeny will look back on justifications for war with the shame we do today on justifications for slavery by Christian theologians a mere one hundred and fifty years ago. If Christians are not in the vanguard of the war against war, if that is left to nonbelievers, then we will have deserted the field, cowards indeed, and other generations, if there be any, will have to restore the credibility of the gospel of the Prince of Peace and the integrity of his Church. Disarmament must be a top priority. Most people would agree in principle–popes and presidents included–but there is no will to do it. It’s been over fifty years since we had a broad-based disarmament movement in the United States or the world. Meanwhile the nuclear threat has only become more severe as nuclear weapons capability proliferates.

In the Catholic Church, a grassroots peace movement among the laity has been growing–and not just among the usual suspects in the Catholic Worker, Pax Christi, and Plowshares movements. Academic groups such as the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame are contributing too.

Merton again: “The duty of the Christian in this [present] crisis is to strive with all his power and intelligence, with his faith, his hope in Christ and love for God and man, to do the one task which God has imposed upon us in the world today. That task is to work for the total abolition of war” (The Catholic Worker, Oct. 1961).

So let us get to work. The first words I ever heard Dorothy Day speak, sixty-four years ago: “There are great things that have to be done, and who will do them but the young?” No cause is more noble or more necessary. I’m old now; it’s your turn, young people. Pray and study, then get out there!

* * *
from Ciaron O’Reilly
     Tom Cornell had plenty of time to have those arguments with the Berrigans when they were alive. He couldn’t win them then, why does he still think it may count to win them now when they are dead and have no right of reply.
      The Berrigans renewal of the Catholic Worker Movement as anti-war/ anti-imperialist nonviolent force gave it a relevancy and an intellectual depth and depth of praxis it would have lacked and before they engaged and is sorely missed now.
      The fetishness on what someone did or did not hear Dorothy say on any given day is a poor replacement for theological insight or political analysis.  She celebrated Castro (he executed prisoners for Christ’s sake!).  The  willingness to embrace a court jester/ token pacifist in U.S. society is a poor replacement for the prophetic action that is required.
       If you’ve shot your load and can’t face the jail time anymore, your role is to be in proactive solidarity with those  presently before the courts and in chains …. as you your younger self once were……..

PS: Frank’s 2 cents … It is regrettable that the NYC CW would run Tom’s long standing, well known minority position on the Berrigans, the Draft Board Raids and the Plowshares movement., an argument he has pretty much lost through the years.
Ciaron O’Reilly 

Blog  http://ciaron.wordpress.com/

from Michele Naar-Obed
Can a Catholic Worker Beat Swords into Plowshares and Still be a Catholic Worker? by: Michele Naar-Obed

(Michele and her husband Greg have been CWers and Plowshares activist for over 30 years, they have collectively served years of jail time for Plowshares Witnesses over the years They are currently at the Hildergard CW in Duluth MN.

I could be wrong, as I often am, but my understanding of the Catholic Worker Movement is that it is a movement consisting of autonomous communities and individuals that agree to live by certain tenets and principles and at least try to incorporate the 3 pillars of a program as suggested by Peter Maurin. Those pillars are houses of hospitality, clarification of thought and the agro-university. Further, we attempt to study and follow the aims and the means and we recognize the Sermon on the Mount as our manifesto, so to speak.Our Catholic Worker website states, “Today 240 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms.”Now, we have what seems to be, self-proclaimed Catholic Worker monitors who want to police how we live out those principles and precepts in our lives and in our actions. This has become particularly evident with regards to plowshare actions.The plowshare action, again in my opinion, is a highly spiritual act that is meant to bring to life Isaiah’s prophecy, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not wage war against nation, nor shall they study war anymore.” This, if we believe that Isaiah was, in fact, a prophet, was God’s direction given to us through the mouth of Isaiah. When any of us participate in a plowshare action, we are bringing God’s words into life. That’s really the bottom line.The plowshare action is an attempt to follow our Judeo-Christian teachings, upon which Dorothy and Peter based our principles and precepts. There is nothing in that prophecy that says we have to meet some kind of effectiveness quota, nor does it say we have to divulge all the details to everyone that is mildly curious, nor does it say we have to worry about how the weapons producers might respond to such an act.

So who gets to decide that someone’s attempt to follow God’s command is Catholic Worker sanctioned? Peter Maurin made it clear that he wasn’t in the market to promote or sanction strikes and boycotts. Strikes didn’t strike him at all. Yet, we have self-proclaimed Catholic Worker monitors stating that the only acceptable acts of nonviolent resistance are simple trespass and non-cooperation.

And who gets to decide what level of effectiveness needs to be met in order to be worthy of recognition? Is the conversion of former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark not enough? What about former General Butler? Or how about the young sailor who saw the leaflet from the the Jubilee Plowshare East action and went to the Quakers for help to become a conscientious objector? And if that isn’t good enough, what about the German judges who left the bench to convert the intermediate nuclear missiles into plowshares, or Judge Miles Welton Lord who chastised the real criminals, ie, Sperry Software Corporation for its work in nuclear weapons development with computer software. The fact is, we have no idea how many hearts or minds have been changed by the over 100 acts of beating the swords of our time into plowshares.

As to the charges that the acts have been done in secrecy, that the acts cannot be done by ordinary people, that the acts might cause a guard to do harm to the person or persons carrying out the act, or that physically converting these weapons is an act of violence, I propose that the accusers look at the life and example of Jesus. He knew when to be open with his followers and when not, and he knew with whom he could be open. In part he protected his followers until they also were ready to face the consequences of their actions. Anyone who wants to support a plowshare action and can accept the consequences of the action is welcome to know the details. If you can’t, then why would you want to know the details? Jesus told his followers that in order to be a disciple they were to pick up their cross and follow him. There was nothing extraordinary about his ragtag bunch of followers. They were fishermen, tax collectors, doctors, housewives, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. And what are we who have answered the call to enact Isaiah’s prophesy but a bunch of ordinary human beings who are willing to pick up the cross and follow him to the end? And maybe, just maybe, the question of effectiveness can be answered that in doing so, we also bring to life the Resurrection. I’d say that is pretty dang effective. And my final argument is that Jesus didn’t alter the course of his actions in order to save Pontius Pilate from making the decision to kill him.

I submit that the issue here isn’t whether the plowshare action is Catholic Worker or not. It is more about betrayal. Jesus was born to bring God into the world. Many people, including some of his followers had their own expectations of what he would do. They cheered him on and marched with him in the streets but in the end he was betrayed by some of his followers and by the masses. By human standards, he was a failure, ineffective to say the least.

We are so sorry that our actions didn’t meet your expectations, that we too are ineffective failures in your eyes. But many of us are Catholic Workers, and in the end it is God who will judge us.

from Kara Speltz, CW Oakland, CA

It is distressing to me to see this very judgmental topic raising it’s head once again.  As much as I loved Phil Berrigan, he was constantly making such judgments and it always made me unconfortable  It wasn’t until years later when another minister, Rev. Mel White the founder of Soulforce helped me understand that the cornerstone of nonviolence was LOVE.  Nonviolence’ most powerful armament is that love.  And, I believe we are constantly challenged to hold fast to that love.  Resistance without love loses iit’s power.   

Far too often in the history of resistance, love has had a very low priority.  I suspect it’s because it is the most difficult thing Jesus called us to — loving our enemies.  Certainly I struggle with it daily as I find the President to be one of the people I find the most difficult to love.  So every day as another idiotic, hateful tween is written, I find my anger rising, and try to find my way back to loving my advesaries.    
It seems to me that there is no ONE TRUE WAY – one path everyone is called to.  Some of us are called to be resisters, some are called to feed the hungry, some are called to do both, but in very different ways.  But if this is not being done with love than it is for naught.  
While the discussion can be beneficial to our thinking, it can also cause divisions that hurt the work we do.  Perhaps the secret is (besides love) speaking about what path “I” feel called to, rather than telling others what path we believe God is calling them to.  Tom, Phil Michelle, all of us are called to follow the path God has designed for us, not to lockstep with Dorothy or Phil, or anyone else save Jesus.  We are each very different people and our paths are unique because of that.
Can’t we focus on learning hot to love and accept, and celebrate those differences?
from Bernard Survil
To assist in the clarification of thought, or perhaps muddy the waters even more,  I send side one of a two-sided flyer Pax Christi Greensburg is circulating in SW Pennsylvania  these days as a contribution to the debate before the Penna. 18th Congressional District special election slated for March 13, 2019. As can be seen, it quotes Molly Rush of the 1980 King of Prussia Plowshares action as she offers to be a write-in candidate, but says she is more interested to raise the issue of abolition of nukes, rather than seeking the  power of federal office. The same offer is posted as an online petition at:  Goo.gl/iT9sKb   
Bernard Survil, for Pax Christi Greensburg, PO Box 17, Adamsburg, PA  15611
MOLLY RUSH appeals for support for her write-in candidacy for the March 13, 2018 special election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Tim Murphy as Representative of PA’s 18th US Congressional District.
Ms. Rush was one of the first Plowshares Action on September 9, 1980 when she and seven other people trespassed onto the General electric Nuclear Missile facility in King of Prussia, Penna where they damaged several MK12A nuclear warhead nose cones.                                
At the November 2017 Vatican Summit on the abolition of nuclear weapons, Pope Francis stated that the very possession of them is immoral.  Ms. Rush hopes to put those words into action. She would introduce legislation calling for an annual reduction in the U.S. stockpile of these bombs until they have all been destroyed. This is in keeping with the recent over-whelming vote in the UN on a treaty to totally abolish nuclear weapons. The United States with other nuclear weapons nations voted against the treaty.
“I believe these two very important achievements may be a new beginning of the struggle to end the threat they pose to our entire civilization. This will require the active support or ordinary citizens concerns for the future of our children and their children,” stated Ms. Rush.
“The real threat of a possible nuclear war with North Korea poses an immediate and present danger. Our complacency as a nation to the threat these weapons pose has been shaken.”
Her proposed legislation would redirect federal spending toward providing jobs for workers in the nuclear bomb industry that benefit, not threaten humanity. Rather than spend a trillion dollars to ‘modernize’ our nuclear weapons, we must move our priorities toward addressing the real threats to our nation: peace, global warming, obscene inequality driven by federal policies, with all the attendant results, including stagnant incomes, poverty profit driven health-care and so much more.
However, if either of the candidates Conor Lamb or Rick Saccone make a nuke-abolition offer equal or  better than the one Ms. Rush envisions, she will encourage her supporters to cast their vote for that candidate. At age 82 and after raising six kids and with numerous great grand- children wanting Grandma’s attention, she has enough to occupy her golden years.
Ms. Rush directs readers to any of the following organizations whose efforts re-inforce her hopes for a NO NUKE FUTURE.
from David Eberhardt

(David Eberhardt was a member of the Baltimore 4 1st Draft Board Raid. Check out the movie  “Hit and Stay” http://www.hitandstay.com/ , a documentary of the Draft Board Raids of the 1960’s. And visit David’s website http://davideberhardt.webs.com/ or e-mail him at  moz…@yahoo.com )

Agreeing totally with Ciaron O Reilly’s statement re the Cornell piece (which contains many great points and arguments) may I add 1, We blood pourers did not use “a pitcher of blood” at the Customs House”; 2 some property INDEED has no right to exist- such as rail lines to Auschwitz or nuclear storage facilities; and in order to turn swords into plowshares, the swords have to be addressed practically,3 such actions as the draft actions (see DVD documentary “Hit and Stay” and several books (including mine)- are hard to undertake and need more, not less, practitioners; they are one more tactic, arrow in the non violent quiver; 4 going to prison is a helpful endeavor, as helpful as soup kitchens; 5 there were simply NOT, as Tom claims, “many” spies in the actions- I can think of Hardy in the Camden 28- that was ONE! Activism is a good- and I for one love philosophizing such as Tom’s.

To me Tom is quibbling, straining at gnats, e g

“From the Christian point of view, weapons that are intended to kill the innocent may surely be destroyed in justice. Justice may even demand it. But is it nonviolence? Is it disarmament? Disarmament occurs when people lay down their weapons, not when their weapons are taken from them. That only moves belligerents to procure more and better weapons if they can. When activists destroy weapons, do they effect any conversion or change of heart in their opponents? Do they lead any to lay down their arms? Are such actions what we need?

There are practical concerns as well. The secrecy involved in Plowshares activities invites infiltration by spies and agents provocateurs. Openness and truth must be laid aside. Secrecy breeds suspicion within the group and creates a class system of those “in the know,” the “serious,” and those who merely attend to chores or lend moral or financial support. At trial, too often, it has come out that many “in the know” were actually spies.

from Jim Forest
Dear friends,
The current discussion of weapon damage as a method of war resistance that has been ignited by Tom Cornell’s article on nonviolence in the current Catholic Worker has got me thinking.
One of my problems with property destruction is secrecy. If you tell the people making or guarding the weapons that you’re coming, they won’t let you in. It’s that simple. The only way around it is to take pains not to be expected. You are obliged to be secretive. There are events in life where secrecy is necessary, even contexts in which life-saving actions are difficult or even impossible unless there is secrecy. For example here in Holland, my home since 1977, one had to be highly secretive about the people you were hiding during the period of German occupation. Think of Anne Frank.
My guess is that even in circumstances where the only way to save life and struggle against evil powers is to live and operate in secrecy, everyone pays a price. What I noticed in the resistance groups I was a part during the Vietnam War was how much suspicion there was within the groups preparing major acts of civil disobedience. Inevitably there were worries about FBI infiltrators. Time and again the question was, “Is so-and-so to be trusted?” Various people were suspected of working for the FBI and were forced out of the groups they were a part of. For those wrongly suspected it could be deeply embittering. Eventually, in courtrooms, it became absolutely clear who the actual informers were. I don’t recall the people suspected of spying ever having been the right people. Ironically, sometimes it was people who had been trusted the most who turned out to be helping the FBI. (Think of Boyd Douglas, mailman for Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister, in the Harrisburg case.)
 So we are talking about forms of action in which secrecy is a given and about the suspicions that secrecy, of its nature, tends to generate, and the possibility that considerable interpersonal damage may be the consequence of misdirected suspicion. Apart from other factors, this ought to make us very cautious about getting involved in actions in which secrecy is essential.
Another issue that must be considered: Things very rarely go as planned. In the case of the Milwaukee Fourteen action, in which I was a participant, I am still troubled by the cleaning woman — an elderly refugee — who discovered us emptying files inside the draft boards, was deeply upset, and tried to call the police. When two members of the group restrained her, she became hysterical. What if we had caused her to have a heart attack? What if she had died? While I don’t regret our action, what we did could have gone very badly off tracks and generated headlines that centered on a dead cleaning lady.
Another problem that has long bothered me was the way in which people were at times manipulated — “guilt-tripped” — into taking part in high-risk actions. This is not only a problem of actions aimed at property destruction but just about any act civil disobedience likely to result in long sentences. Any group involved in trying to get other people to take part is going to have to struggle with the temptation to become manipulative. The kind of civil disobedience in which I was deeply involved came to involve a lot of guilt-tripping. At that time we had people who tended to talk about actions in which there was a likelihood of long prison sentences as being “Serious.” As in: “Are you ready to take part in a Serious action?” One felt the capital “S” in the way such questions were asked. Anything that didn’t involve the risk of long-term imprisonment was dismissed as less than serious if not inconsequential
While we are all called to be peacemakers, we are each in the permanently awkward position of having to work out what that means in my particular case — who I am and what God calls me to do with my unique mixture of gifts and tendencies and limitations. This involves ongoing struggle with not only demands that governments may make but also our peers and heroes, and that last part is often even more difficult. The most important thing I can possibly do is what God leads me to, which may seem quite minor to others, even to those whom I most admire. But if I do otherwise, however useless or irrelevant or unimportant or meager it seems, I am leaving my conscience behind.
The shaping of one’s conscience is about as hard a piece of work as I can think of. It’s the search for one’s real identity, finding out who we really are. It’s finding out what it would be like to fully recover in ourselves hat it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.
A question raised by all this is, of course, what do we make of Jesus throwing the money changers out of the Temple? Is this the prototype for Christian resistance to militarism?
It’s a lightning-like event in Christ’s life: turning over the tables of commerce in a place of worship and using a whip to drive away the money changers. If the story does nothing else, it should at least shave away the sugar-coating that often gets put on Jesus. The Lamb of God breathed fire.
Yet it’s striking to notice that Jesus didn’t enter the armories of the Roman occupiers or their collaborators. He didn’t even disarm his own disciples. At the time Jesus was arrested, Peter had a sword. Jesus’ last miracle before the crucifixion was to heal the injury Peter caused. Only afterward did he tell his followers that whoever takes up the sword will die by the sword. (I suppose Peter intended to strike a deadly blow in Jesus’ defense, but all he did was chop off an ear; it seems Peter wasn’t very skilled in handling weapons. In the gospels we hear no more of Peter’s using a weapon. He seems to have thrown away his sword that night and never got another.)
The point is that Jesus didn’t force Peter or anyone to be disarmed.
Most of the civil disobedient actions I was closest to — all during the Vietnam War — involved the destruction of draft records. After that war finally ended in 1975, the Plowshares movement gradually emerged with its focus on damaging weapons. Some of these actions have helped raise awareness important questions, but I wonder if the damage caused makes it any more likely that the people who make the weapons or want them are brought closer to disarmament? I can imagine that if I had a gun and someone damaged it or stole it from me, I would be inclined to get another and maybe even two. I think I might become more suspicious, more fear-driven, more dependent on police and armies.
I understand that for those now in prison for Plowshare actions raising such questions probably makes for hard reading. I recall writing to Dorothy Day from prison, taking issue with her criticisms of draft record burning. I didn’t change her mind, but her response made clear that she had a deep sympathy for what motivated me. She pointed out that we were performing one of the major works of mercy: visiting the prisoner.
In Christ’s peace,
Jim Forest
from Scott Schaeffer-Duffy
Dear Michele, Ciaron, Joanne,  Frank, Art, and Mark, 
Peace! I have really appreciated all the sharing that has gone on regarding the questions of property destruction and nonviolence. I especially appreciated your reflection, Michele, because it was written in a humble “I could be wrong” approach which I think is more invitational than blunt propositions. I felt hurt and anger in your response Ciaron. Given how much you have devoted to the Plowshares movement, I am not surprised.  I can understand your feelings  in many ways. When I was sent to jail for a year, I received a letter from a friend criticizing my presentation of nonviolence. This friend has not been jailed  or been in a war zone. Similarly, those of us who went to Bosnia with Mir Sada took quite a bit of criticism in Year One. We only saw the articles while we were en route to a campaign which might well have cost us our lives.  In both instances, some good criticism and some that was faulty was raised, but I wasn’t in the space to hear either at that time.
I think we all can agree that it is better to take action, even if it is flawed (as every action ultimately will be), against injustice than to do nothing. I think we all can also agree that every action should be evaluated and, if possible, improved in the future.
The Plowshares, like Catonsville, were deeply spiritual actions with the destruction of property integral to the taking of lives. The actors took responsibility for their actions and did all in their power to prevent harm to others. They, as Michele pointed out, moved many people in court and in  jail. I especially recall, as Michele did, Judge Lord’s comments. 
For me, today’s question of the relationship between property destruction and pragmatism. We all want to see lives saved, but, as Catholic Workers, I hope we do not want to compel our opponents. Ideally, our actions and the spirit in which they are undertaken will move hearts and minds closer to peace. If we do maximum destruction and use the language of pragmatic change, disparaging other actions of nonviolence as lesser, ineffectual, or cowardly, we risk tearing apart the peace community and alienating those we hope to reach.  
From my experience, the question of effectiveness is best left up to God. I have seen some actions bloom into huge affairs and others make no apparent impact at all. Sometimes those actions have been just a letter or an article or a talk and at other times they have been acts of civil disobedience after months of outreach, vigils, and fasting. Sometimes those actions have taken place in war zones or in jails. The results have been so varied that I have given up calling any action in advance anything other than what seems to need to be done at a given time. God sorts it all out. In one instance, I met a woman who worked in a nuclear plant where we vigiled every Friday for 8 years, who is now a peace activist who comes to our weekly vigil. She says it was the slow drip, drip, drip of our presence in all weather. We had no idea at the time if anyone in the plant was moved at all.
Like all of us,Tom Cornell writes out of his experience. He is plagued by a belief that his draft card burning led to Roger Laporte’s self-immolation. I think he is too hard on himself and he’s making too big a leap, but he is entitled to his view and could be right. Like all of us, his experience color his reaction to  property destruction.
Jessica and her co-defendant are passionate about the urgency to see chance, to achieve results. They disparage other actions, they have employed and others continue to employ, as ineffectual. They have raised the question of whether or not peacemakers should do maximum destruction and even do so without remaining at the scene to be arrested. They are facing very serious consequences for their actions. In that context, they, as I was, might resent criticism.
Nonetheless, I think Catholic Workers need to weigh in on what nonviolence means to them and whether or not various tactics are good for our movement. If we share our views as our views and not Gospel truth, maybe we can gain from each other.
Some of Jessica’s ideas were raised years ago by Peter Lumsdaine, a Plowshares activist who felt we should do maximum damage, leave the scene, and do the same thing over and over in other locations. Phil Berrigan strongly disagreed with him, but that doesn’t make it wrong per se. Arguments could be made that such an approach would lead to more governmental oppression, violence from the opposition, and a public perception that we are terrorists rather than peacemakers. Whether or not such tactics would achieve the speedy results Jessica and all of us hope for is far from as clear as she believes.
I am curious to know if any of you have  concerns about Jessica’s approach. I respect you  all and value your opinions. 
Tom’s article in the NY CW objected to all property destruction. I think he went too far. Dorothy may have had misgivings (like Thomas Merton and a lot of people in the 60’s, she had well-placed concerns about  the prospect of violence), but she did speak in support of Catonsville and did not condemn The King of Prussia. The Catholic Workers who removed the sword from the statue of Christ in Australia, like those who hammered on the side of the Trident submarine, conveyed to me faithfulness more than pragmatism. The actions spoke to me of hope. Jessica’s statements speak to me of fear, anger, and anxiety. Those of you who know her personally  have a different take I’m sure. We should not disrespect each other. Although some of you may not have taken it this way, I know that Joanne makes a conscious effort not to use the NY CW paper to tell other CW communities how to or not to act. At the same time, the NY CW and each of us has to do our best to present how to or not to apply CW principles, the Gospel, and inspiration from the Holy Spirit to new challenges and times. 
In any event, I hope we can all continue to exchange ideas and inspire each other to redouble our own efforts to be faithful followers of the Prince of Peace. Let’s discuss tactics, philosophy, and theology, but refrain from personal attacks. We are not and will never be a community of absolute conformity, and, as far as I’m concerned, we shouldn’t be. Our strength is our diversity. I don’t want to cast anyone out and couldn’t even if I tried.        
 Onward friends, ever onward!
from Mark Colville
Thank you, Scott (and Ciaron and Michelle and Frank) for your attempts to direct this into a dialogue about nonviolence and Christian witness in the present context. While I appreciate the unique burden that many New York City-based Catholic Workers seem to feel they need to bear more than the rest of us, I’ve outlived the desire to engage a discussion of the aims and means of the Catholic Worker as if we should be trying to preserve some kind of “orthodoxy” based on what Dorothy said or didn’t say.  In fact, I like to think that if Dorothy and Peter are consciously present to us now, this very thing is what probably pisses them off the most! Also, I’d ask you to keep in mind, Scott, that there’s a difference between “personal attacks” and statements that hurt the feelings of people who, on some level at least, regard the legacy of either the Catholic Worker or Plowshare movements as something they are personally invested in articulating or defending.  And that describes basically all of us who are talking here, not just my friend Tom Cornell.
With that preface, I’ll briefly add a couple of points to the discussion, the ones that hit closest to where I’m living right now… 
I’ve come to regard Plowshares as an essentially inescapable commitment in the attempt to practice Christianity as a U.S. citizen.  Here’s why: 
Looking at what Tom wrote, there are a couple of gaping holes in his position as he articulates it.  One of these is the willingness to engage in that familiarly vague equation of property destruction with violence, which seems so inarguable in a capitalist consumerist culture, while he completely neglects any mention of idolatry.  According to what I understand to be biblical faith, there is simply no way to worship God authentically without addressing idols, or specifically that with which we have replaced God in the grasping for personal power and ultimate security.  
Nuclearism in the U.S. empire has become a compulsory religion, one that demands assent and allegiance, punishes non-participation, and above all, requires a faith that is utterly incompatible with the teachings of the Bible.   Nuclearism doesn’t simply stand apart from Christianity. It refutes all of the basic tenets of Christian faith (beginning with the one that demands I place my ultimate security in God alone), while at the same time claiming that the U.S. has the exclusive right and duty to take up these weapons precisely because we are a “Christian nation” and a chosen people, destined to dominate the world as well as preside over (and survive) its end.  These are the perversions by which my country claims the right to build and possess these weapons with the intent to use them, again.  It follows, then, that the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal is a collection of idols, actively worshipped by a nation that simultaneously claims the mantle of Christ, and allowed to continue to exist largely beyond the moral scrutiny of its churches, virtually all of which have made their peace with the American Empire.  It further follows that the U.S. Christian has a unique responsibility to smash these idols, as a constitutive  dimension of a life dedicated to the liberation of self, church and community from this stockpile of mortal sin that possesses us like a New Testament demon. Idols are not property, nor are they something that the Bible counsels us to avoid, ignore, argue with or vote against. They are to be acknowledged and removed, with the understanding that nothing less than the worship of God in spirit and truth is at stake.
Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple because those tables, located there, were a powerful symbol of the assertion that God approved of and cooperated with the oppression of the poor. The action Jesus chose as a response was prophetic because it exposed the meaning of the symbol while at the same time pointing toward its conversion.  (Was it violent?  Personally, and particularly in light of the oppression of the poor, I’ve always considered that to be a ridiculous question.)  Plowshares actions do exactly the same thing.  End. Of. Story.
Finally, I’ll say this: Most of us are familiar with the argument proffered by some Plowshares activists; that if we lived in Nazi Germany and knew about the concentration camps, none of us would be engaging in the absurdity of a discussion about the violence/nonviolence of tearing up the railroad tracks that led to the ovens at Aushwitz.  We would simply either do it ourselves, or give as much support as we could to those who were willing to do it in our name.  And yet some of us apparently have no problem with a nearly forty year debate about the morality of personally dismantling a nuclear weapon.  Why?  Because we’ve become delusional, comfortably numb under the spell of empire, to the point where we refuse to acknowledge what these weapons are. 
The existence of nuclear weapons is an ongoing, relentless assault on the human community and the planet itself.  They are the empire’s big stick that authorizes every other violence, neuters the rule of law,  entrenches white supremacy,  perpetuates endless war and environmental destruction and ensures impunity for all manner of crimes against humanity. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s public life was centered on exposing what he called the “triplets of evil” in our society: Racism, militarism and materialism. Near the end of his life, he said this: “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.”  Nuclear weapons are not only a threat to our future. They are used every day.  They kill, every day.  They are the ultimate logic of the delusions to which we as a nation are addicted.  Aushwitz is still open.  The emergency is now.  Swords into plowshares.
from Bob Graf
Catholic Workers and People of Peace,
From Tom Cornell and others burning draft cards in 1965 to Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya vandalizing the Dakota Access Pipe Line in 2017 where do Catholic Workers draw the line on destroying property that destroys people?
In November 1965 Tom Cornell and others burn draft cards in New York City.
In May 1968 Dan Berrigan S.J., George Mische and others destroy draft records in Catonsville, MD. 
In September, 1980 Philip Berrigan, and seven others (the “Plowshares Eight”) damaged K12A nuclear warhead nose cones at the General Electric Nuclear Missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
In July 2017 Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya claim responsibility for Dakota Access pipeline equipment vandalism on February 1st.
Most of us admire and support these Catholic Workers and others who destroyed property that harms people.  The question is when is destruction of property, not people, a nonviolent action in the spirit of Catholic Worker.  Should we even ask this question?  I think so, if we hope to create the environment for a nonviolent revolution.  What say you? Where do you draw the line, if at all?

“One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible.” 

Daniel Berrigan
from Br. David Buer, OFM

Here comes one more voice……from one follower of St. Francis of Assisi

I began reading the Catholic Worker in 1977, while on retreat at Gethsemani Abbey in KY.  Hard to believe–40 years ago.  I remember well just before Dorothy died in 1980, she commented cautiously, about the first Plowshares action.
For me, I have a problem even carrying a hammer to a protest, for example.  There is something in my gut, that it doesn’t sit well.  Also, as has been discussed, I have a problem with the secrecy.  Here in AZ we have two groups who put out gallons of water in the desert for the migrants.  One group is more “in the face” of the authorities aggressively putting out water, the other group is less aggressive, but works on the state and national level lobbying government officials to be more accommodating to humanitarian groups.  I work more with the later group, but I highly respect and support those who are called to be more aggressive in their defense of migrants’ lives.
Personally I think the Catholic Worker should be open to both the Plowshares folks and those who are not comfortable (like me) with the secrecy, the damage of property, etc.
Reflecting on St. Francis, my position is that he would not tell people “you are not a Christian” if you participate in war as a soldier, or if you use weapons as a police officer, etc.  But he would set the example of “not bearing arms against anyone” and he would challenge folks to follow his way of following Christ.  He invites folks to his way, he doesn’t castigate others.  For St. Francis, the relational part is important.
We have a unique moment in history now, with our Pope Francis.  He exudes Franciscan values.  His 2017 World Day of Peace talk (a year ago) focused on expanding studies and efforts in non-violent social change.  Some want to argue with him about the Just War theory, they’d like him to declare it null and void, so that all Christians would be called to “laying down their arms.”  I have sympathy with that position, but my prayerful reflection is that, at this moment that is too big of a change.  What about a more modest proposal?
80-90 years ago Peter Maurin approached the Secular Franciscans and the Franciscan Order [See Gay Believer, page 88] to promote his program, quoting from Papal Encyclicals, but they did not act.  Perhaps now is the time to approach the Pope of our time, to invite the Secular Franciscans–who are “not to bear arms against anyone” to take up Pope Francis’ challenge for the Church to study and explore intently, ways of non violent living and social change.  If the Pope invited the Secular Franciscans around the world (and the Franciscan Order) to pursue this part of our original charism from St. Francis himself, a concerted effort could be made to bring this more fully into the larger church and societies.
To say it bluntly, is now the time to be protesting at Jesuit universities their ROTC programs? Or is now the time to invite Pope Francis to call out to the world wide Franciscan Family in this 21st century to lead the way in promoting non-violence so that the larger church and societies are not only aware of Jesus’ way of non violence, but are learning to promote and study these ways in a world full of conflict, in a world that is closer to nuclear disaster than it realizes.
Thanks for allowing this reflection.  I am grateful to Peter Maurin for his program of Round Table Discussions, and I thank you Catholic Workers for your life and witness to peace and with the poor and for allowing this friar a few words.
Yours in Christ and Francis,                      David Buer, ofm
from Don Whitman

I am writing to respond to Tom Cornell’s article from a somewhat different point of view.

I was at the Catholic Worker in New York City from 1978 to 1981. After that in Seattle I was in a community called Seattle Agape which was not gospel based and, along with a community called Ground Zero, was involved in a campaign directed at the Bangor Submarine Base. It was a campaign based on Gandhian beliefs. After that I was in a community called Galilee Circle which was formed by a reading of Binding the Strong Man and Mark’s gospel. After that we studied John’s gospel. A member of the community, Wes Howard Brook, wrote Becoming Children of God partly based on that reading. I am currently engaging Luke’s gospel with Wes and others.

I wrote what is above so that people understand what experiences have helped to form what I believe. There is a lot of truth in what Cornell says but his emphasis is wrong.

One of the problems with what Cornell wrote is that it is much more Gandhi than Jesus.

Jesus did not believe in an ideology based on nonviolence; he did not believe in an ideology of any kind. I understand that people write often claiming to be of Jesus while concentrating on nonviolence. Jesus renounced violence for himself and his followers. This however is not the same as having an ideology of nonviolence.

Years ago I wrote an article for Jesus Radicals in which I tried to explain the difference. Part of it follows:

John Dear often writes about his speaking engagements.  He writes that people ask if Jesus intends that we not kill.  In explaining how he answers he writes, “Jesus, Gandhi declared, was meticulously nonviolent.  He embodied nonviolence; it determined all his actions—from his eating with “sinners” to his confrontation in the Temple.”
It is no surprise that Gandhi sees Jesus from the standpoint of Gandhi’s ideology.  There is nothing wrong with that and it is inevitable.  What he does not see is Jesus from the standpoint of Jesus’ own tradition. 

Jesus never articulated an ideology of nonviolence.  What Jesus articulated was a relationship with God set in the context of Jesus’ tradition.  Jesus renounced violence for himself and others but that is not an ideology of nonviolence.  The important thing to Jesus was God and the day to day relationship with God.  It is a hard thing to live according to an ideology of nonviolence but harder still to live day to day according to the heart of the living God.  All ideologies serve to limit the reality and action of God and that is something that we must never do. The God of Jesus manifests both powerlessness and power.
The God of Jesus is the God of Exodus and Revelation. Yahweh is the Lord of the Nations and the Lord of History.  The people “cry to the Lord” and the Lord sees their pain and responds.  At times, as in Exodus, the Lord uses the natural means at his disposal and frees his people.  At other times, as in the time of Jeremiah, when the Babylonians are riding down on Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord is punishing his people but as Isaiah says Yahweh promises them a new beginning and a new life.  In Revelation Jesus tells his people how to live on earth in the midst of Empire as the battle rages in Heaven.  The followers of Jesus are told that there will be a “new Heaven and a new Earth”.  The renouncing of violence is always in the context of the Lord of the Nations and the Lord of History and never in the context of an ideology of nonviolence.  

 When Jesus was on the cross he became powerless.  His death was followed by God’s power resurrecting him.
In th ideology of Gandhi there is no Yahweh.  There is nothing wrong with that.  The ideology of Gandhi and the way of Jesus are simply different.  Gandhi and his followers courageously confronted the oppressor and in so doing tried to “melt the hearts” of their opponents.  They sought to appeal to the conscience of their opponents and to seek the truth together.  On this level there are certainly similarities when it comes to the ideology of Gandhi and the way of Jesus and if followers of Jesus can learn from Gandhi that is a good thing.  At the same time for Gandhi there is no God of power to appeal to as there is for Jesus. 

Jim Douglass’ book, The Non-Violent Cross, is nearly a primer in the distortion of the way and belief of Jesus by grafting on Gandhian nonviolence.  In the book Jim writes, “For it is true of the suffering poor who fill the earth that there is God in these people, like the fire that smolders under the ashes.  There is no God other than the Fire under these ashes.  If God appears dead in the Nuclear Age, it is because he has not been sufficiently liberated from his bondage in suffering man….God lives where men are beaten and die, but He lives to bring them and their murderers to life, and His life comes to life only when He emerges from them as Truth and as Love.”  Later Jim writes, “The God who protected man from his own history is dead.  The God who suffers in man through that history and thereby raises him to life is the only God of the living.”  

These are extremely eloquent and powerful statements and reflects very well the belief of Gandhi and Jim Douglass.  However, when it comes to the belief of Jesus it is nonsense.  Jesus did not believe in a God who only lived in people and did not believe that God could only be manifested through people.  The God that plants and uproots can work around, over or under people or any other way he likes.  Actually, when applied to Jesus, this is worse than nonsense. The Hebrew scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann says that to say that God can only work through people is blasphemy.
Jim also writes, “Does not a full commitment to Jesus’ humanity of suffering servant-hood necessarily involve an existential commitment to the overcoming truth of his divinity as well?  To answer yes with particular reference to Gandhi’s witness is not to claim Gandhi for Christianity, but to claim to see the full meaning of Christ through Gandhi, in a living cross and resurrection which would be true to Gandhi’s own understanding of what it means to live and to die.”  And this is the heart of it.  The followers of the tradition of Jesus must never see Jesus through Gandhi or anyone else.  To write or speak of the nonviolent Jesus, if that is meant to indicate an ideology of nonviolence, is to say nothing.  

Nothing above is meant as a criticism of Gandhi.  I have read Gandhi’s autobiography and other books about Gandhi.  I was part of a Gandhian campaign for five years.  I have learned from Gandhi.  I simply recognize the obvious: the way of Gandhi and the way of Jesus are different.

 I have great respect for Jim Douglass. I was in a community with him for five years. He is a person of integrity. I do not know John Dear but I do know that he goes into war zones to minister to the people there. Both are praiseworthy. However when it comes to Jesus and an ideology of nonviolence both are wrong.

Cornell in what he wrote hardly mentions Jesus. What he does write about is nonviolence. Jesus never said that actions should be judged by how nonviolent they are. We engage in speech and action according to how Jesus leads us. What we say and do should originate in the heart of Jesus and not be subjected to nonviolent principles. The given is that we renounce violence as Jesus tells us to. For disciples to engage in a debate about nonviolence is sterile and absurd. The discussion, debate or argument about what disciples should do should be about Jesus and on what Jesus has said and done and what people believe that Jesus is saying to them. If we are arguing about Jesus than we are arguing about the one who matters. There will be disagreement about what Jesus wants which is inevitable. But if we are not talking about Jesus we are talking about what is irrelevant.  

The comments of Tom Cornell are banal because they have been repeated so many times. However parts of it are similar to the way of Jesus but there is much that is not. Cornell says that the nonviolent armory” always has the purpose of re-establishing dialog. Jesus never said that. When Jesus calls the Pharisees and Scribes sons of Satan, brood of vipers, liars and murderers Jesus is obviously not trying to establish dialog. The purpose of that is to shock people because they are in denial. Many people believe that all we have to do is explain to people what is going on and they will change but most of the time that is not true. Dialog is important when Jesus leads us into it. It is not always the goal as Jesus makes clear. It also seems that Jesus engages in the invidious languageand ad hominem argumentthat Cornell warns us against.

Cornell seems to have no understanding of prophesy. The Catonsville Nine action and the Ploughshares actions were, if they were truly led by Jesus, prophetic actions. The purpose of prophetic speech and action is to disrupt the interior and exterior status quo so that people can be free of domination by empire. And again arguments about whether property destruction is nonviolent or not are sterile.

Cornell asks, Is it nonviolentDisciples ask Is it Jesusand that is the only question that should be asked. It must be said that it is abhorrent for anyone to coerce anyone else into doing something. That is the way of empire. Speech and action come out of the heart of Jesus.

 Applying the nonviolence of Tom Cornell to the way of Jesus only domesticates Jesus. Jesus cannot be reduced to a set of moralistic principles and precepts. Jesus is an indigenous healer, storyteller and prophet. He will not be confined by ideology and he will lead us into places that we do not want to go and do things we do not want to do. We should learn from Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Phil Berrigan, Dan Berrigan and so many others. However it is only Jesus that determines what we do. We can follow ideology or we can follow Jesus. That is the choice.

from Steve Baggarly


For what it’s worth, here’s a couple thoughts that helped me finally decide to participate in a Plowshares action after having done support for three actions, but still was questioning whether or not hammering on weapons was itself an act of violence. These reflections didn’t  settle the question completely in my mind but made me feel that I wanted to do the action in the midst of the questions. 
One thought was that most people in the world hate war; so that if everyone who hated war refused to participate, war would pretty much end tomorrow. And so what really perpetuates war is silence. As counterintuitive as it seems, perhaps silence is the greatest violence.
Also, what is violence–the industrial casting, welding and riveting that go into assembling weapons that can kill millions of people, or the use of household tools to begin to disassemble weapons that can kill millions of people?  
It was also food for thought that for Jesus’ action in the Temple he probably could have been charged with property destruction (tables). John’s gospel is the only one in which Jesus makes a whip, and there he only uses it to drive out the animals (he doesn’t use it on people). He perhaps saves the animals from being sacrificed and could be brought up on some kind of property charge as well.
peace,  Steve Baggarly, Norfolk CW
from Brian Terrell

Friends, all,

A contribution to the discussion on nonviolence and the Catholic Worker sparked by Tom Cornell’s piece in the Catholic Worker paper-

First, along with Mark Colville, I am uninterested in “trying to preserve some kind of ‘orthodoxy’ based on what Dorothy said or didn’t say,” and with him, I imagine “that if Dorothy and Peter are consciously present to us now, this very thing is what probably pisses them off the most!” When people ask me how well I think the CW today is following in Dorothy Day’s footsteps, I tell them that when I arrived at the CW in New York as a teenager in 1975, Dorothy would have put me on the next bus home, had I told her that I came to follow in her footsteps!

I don’t think that it is fair, though, to characterize Tom’s article as such an attempt. In fact, I detect in some of his critics in this discussion an attempt to preserve an orthodoxy based on what the Berrigans did or didn’t say. I can also imagine that Dan and Phil would be pissed, too, being used this way, especially if their own positions are misunderstood or misrepresented. While I don’t think that it was their intention to renew the CW movement, I agree with Ciaron O’Reilly that “The Berrigans renewal of the Catholic Worker Movement as anti-war/ anti-imperialist nonviolent force gave it a relevancy and an intellectual depth and depth of praxis.” We are well served to be informed by the words and witness of Dorothy, Peter, Dan and Phil and others, but to paraphrase Ciaron, neither is a fetishness on what someone did or did not hear Phil say on any given day a replacement for theological insight or political analysis.

I don’t defend Tom’s opinions as stated in his article. He and I, friends that we are, are often in open disagreement and there are points in his article that I take issue with. I agree with Scott Schaeffer-Duffy that Tom has tended to emphasize the doubts Dorothy sometimes expressed about certain tactics at the expense of the support of them that she also expressed at times. I believe that Tom’s assertion, “we published virtually nothing on the Berrigans and the Plowshares movement that, in 1980, they would help launch” is objectively untrue. I share Mark’s dis-ease with Tom’s “vague equation of property destruction with violence, which seems so inarguable in a capitalist consumerist culture, while he completely neglects any mention of idolatry.” I differ with some of you, however, in that despite serious disagreements, I read Tom’s article as a thoughtful contribution to the discussion.

Is Scott being entirely ingenuous when he asks “I am curious to know if any of you have concerns about Jessica’s approach”? Of course, this is what we are talking about, the “elephant in the room,” the sabotage and arsonry (their word) by Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya of the Des Moines Catholic Worker in protest of DAPL and Jessica’s earlier smashing of a door and windows at a Northup Grumman office. Scott points out, “Some of Jessica’s ideas were raised years ago by Peter Lumsdaine, a Plowshares activist who felt we should do maximum damage, leave the scene, and do the same thing over and over in other locations. Phil Berrigan strongly disagreed with him.”

To their credit, Jessica and Ruby have not pressed their identification with the Plowshares movement, nor the CW very much for that matter, but others have. Frank Cordero has particularly identified their protests as being consistent with the tradition of Phil Berrigan, disregarding Phil’s objections to such actions in his lifetime. Ciaron says of Tom Cornell that he “had plenty of time to have those arguments with the Berrigans when they were alive. He couldn’t win them then, why does he still think it may count to win them now when they are dead and have no right of reply.” It is a bit troubling that Phil’s name is being attached to methods he once vehemently argued against, now that he is dead and has no right of reply.

Michele Naar-Obed says “Now, we have what seems to be, self-proclaimed Catholic Worker monitors who want to police how we live out those principles and precepts in our lives and in our actions.” This may be true, but if Michele is referring to Tom as one of these, she is being unfair. Tom offers his opinions and what he remembers to be Dorothy’s, but he is not presuming that his is the last word. “So we have come to some kind of terms with Plowshares,” he admits, even if reluctantly.

Most CW houses have received an open letter from Peter King of Unity Kitchen in Syracuse, dated November 29, sent via the US Postal Service. (Peter, God bless him, is an unreformed Luddite and you will not see him on an email list.) Michele’s observation of “self-proclaimed Catholic Worker monitors who want to police how we live” could, I think, be fairly applied to Peter’ letter.

Peter writes this: “Acts of sabotage and destruction, such as were committed by Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya of the Des Moines Catholic Worker in protest of DAPL, are not in accord with the vision of the Catholic Worker movement.   A line has been crossed, and the Catholic Worker movement must answer for it.” Peter’s remedy for this problem: “I propose an international meeting of CWs in Houston, Texas, no later than June, 2018, three days for discussion and discernment, culminating in a statement approved by consensus or by a vote so that the CWm may go on record where it stands.”

I confess that I am promoting my own version of CW orthodoxy by suggesting that Peter’s proposal for “a statement approved by consensus or by a vote so that the CWm may go on record where it stands” would, if implemented, mark the end of the 85 year old CW experiment. Further, if I may be forgiven my own hubris and for speaking entirely tongue in cheek, any Catholic Workers who might participate in such a conclave in Houston (!?) or endorse its findings would be cutting themselves off from the movement. I am sorry Peter, but my decision is final.

Strangely, Peter has something in common with some who object to Tom’s article. Peter, along with Ciaron and Frank, at least, want the issue, this argument over tactics, to be over once and for all dissent among us to be suppressed. Scott put it well, “We are not and will never be a community of absolute conformity.”

Dr. King wrote from the Birmingham Jail, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension…” Plowshares type actions should not be condemned, but neither should they become so accepted, even in the CW movement, as to lose their power to create crisis and tension or to shock us, even. Participants in direct action should expect and even welcome the controversy it raises, even among coworkers and friends. I believe that Jessica and Ruby, again to their credit, regard the questions raised by their actions as a positive outcome and are not offended by them as some of their defenders are.

David Eberhardt and Jim Forest, from personal experience, both share Tom’s moral and practical concerns about the use of secrecy without passing judgement of those who employ it. As Jim puts it, “everyone pays a price” in clandestine actions, even when secrecy is necessary. This is one more question that we should never regard as settled, but one that needs be continually wrestled with.

In this conversation, has there been a resort to “personal attack” as Scott suggests? Ciaron’s reference to Tom’s alleged “willingness to embrace a court jester/ token pacifist in U.S. society” and “If you’ve shot your load and can’t face the jail time anymore” come too close to a personal attack to be dismissed, as Mark does, simply as hurt feelings.

Kara Ann Speltz says, “While the discussion can be beneficial to our thinking, it can also cause divisions that hurt the work we do.  Perhaps the secret is (besides love) speaking about what path ‘I’ feel called to, rather than telling others what path we believe God is calling them to.  Tom, Phil Michelle, all of us are called to follow the path God has designed for us, not to lockstep with Dorothy or Phil, or anyone else save Jesus.  We are each very different people and our paths are unique because of that.” She asks, “Can’t we focus on learning how to love and accept, and celebrate those differences?”

“We should not disrespect each other” Scott says. It should be recognized that Tom, in his article, writes of those with whom he disagrees only with respect, if not admiration, “so many of them so transparently genuine, loving people,” he calls them.

“So let us get to work,” Tom encourages us. “The first words I ever heard Dorothy Day speak, sixty-four years ago: ‘There are great things that have to be done, and who will do them but the young?’ No cause is more noble or more necessary. I’m old now; it’s your turn, young people. Pray and study, then get out there!”    


from Frank Cordaro


Were do we go with this discussion? So far I have posted 11 responses to Tom Cornell’s NYC CW article. This dose not include any of the many cross back e.mail responses and dialogue started off site of our national cw list serve. 

Below e.mail from Don Whitman with a direct request to the NYC CW. Its a request I support and would ask others to do so too.

Who should write the response in the NYC CW? 

My vote, Ciaron O’Reilly. There are many people in the CW movement who could write the needed response in the NYC paper but few who have given more of their lives to both the CW and Plowshare movements. Of Ciaron, I often say he is the most famous (infamous) CW Internationally. For Catholic Workers in the USA, if we wanted to talk to Ciaron, face to face we would have to leave the country. Ciaron was deported from the US after serving 13 mouths in US prisons after his participation in the 1991 ‘ANZUS Ploughshares’. Ciaron and others went on an active air field and hammered on a B-52 Bomber which was on 20-minute scramble alert, at Griffiss AFB near Utica, New York. to be used in the US lead Iraq war. Their hammers put the B52 bomber out of action for the next two months at the height of the US bombing campaign in Iraq. From the USA, Ciaron went on to do Plowshare actions in Australia and Ireland. 

For many of us CW’errs in my generation, who knew Ciaron back in the 1990’s, Ciaron is our Ammon Hennacy. Ammon was the guy most responsible for moving Dorothy Day and the CW movement from being a passive Pacifist movement to an active nonviolent, militant Pacifist movement in the 1950’s. The other thing Ciaron and Ammon had in common, no one could live in community with them. We all have our peccadilloes. Still, no one can speak to this issue better from within the CW movement than Ciaron O’Reilly. 

This is the last recorded words of Ciaron O’Reilly In the USA, back in a 1991 interview from a U.S. prison, serving time for the ‘ANZUS Ploughshares’. 45 min.s long, poor quality , good words in a very hard place….

Ciaron O’Reilly: the Catholic Anarchist Martin Sheen Calls His Hero”, counter Punch, Nov 2017
Ciaron O’Reilly is the most well known CW / Plowshares activist internationally. Has done a plowshares witness on three different contenets in the USA, Australia and Ireland. 

from Felton Davis
Some 40 pages of responses to Tom Cornell’s article have come in, and they are all getting printed out and passed around the community, which as you know is a diverse community, with a wide range of views.  The Jan-Feb Catholic Worker is already done, but I promise you that an earnest and soul-searching discussion is underway at NYCW, which will require some space in the March-April paper.  My experience as one of the non-Catholics, who used paint at the Pentagon (1983), paint at the Federal Building (1984), blood at Riverside Research (1991), blood at the White House (with Phil in 1991), blood at the Intrepid Museum (1992), and blood at the Pentagon (with Sr. Megan in 1999), is that I always more or less came home from jail and had to take the heat from the traditionalists.  “Dorothy Day would not do that,” I heard frequently.  But Dorothy Day would also not approve of the canonization campaign, and that is going forward in complete disregard and disrespect of her opinion.  In some two dozen arrests with Fr. Dan, not to mention countless Kairos meetings, I never heard him breathe one word of his disagreements with Phil about any aspects of the plowshares movement.  Their lengthy communication — which Jim Forest dug up from the records of their correspondence — was entirely between themselves, and not to be shared with any of us.  Phil was the more open and accessible of the brothers by far.  We sent my 1994 article down to the prison in North Carolina, asking for a response, and they sent one back, which we published in full.  And Phil was always in complete support of me personally, and never said good-bye without reaching for his wallet, and asking “How you getting back to New York?  Let me give you some money for the bus.” 
Thanks for posting all these fascinating letters — stay tuned.
from Paul Magno

Good question and good idea.  

A couple of thoughts. I think the folks who work on the CW newspaper can be asked to provide space for  the next installment on this discussion. It might be in the form of a nominee to reply to to, and Ciaron would be a capable one, though he has an acerbic, dismissive streak that might not aid listening from those who don’t start out in his basic corner to begin with. Another option that could be suggested to JoAnne Kennedy and the hands-on newspaper crew is excerpting “best of’ quotes for a half-page or page of an in-response issue to come soon. I think our classic movement newspaper has never been used to a sustained debate in print in its pages and may not be ready to do so now. But a published response could list the available links and how to reach them for the readers. I’m really glad you’ve consolidated them into one handy sequence. Yet another option would be to propose a round table clarification of thought in NY with some of the principals in the discussion and get it videotaped for further I’m gong to have my hands full in January but would be glad to connect with NY and assist with that in whatever form it takes.  

I’ve refrained from my written reaction to Tom’s initial piece, in part to see what gets said and in part coz a lot of what I’d write would be repetitive of what’s been said.  But I’ve gotten published int the CW before and and gotten to speak in NYC on this stuff too, so I feel like my stock is OK with folks there and that Tom likes and respects me, too, despite disagreements.  Personally I feel like many years ago Marcia and I were among the first explicitly Catholic Worker identified folks to pick up the Plowshares hammer and set this debate squarely in the CW movement’s lap and I don’t regret that. Besides I feel like I’ve done a substantive apprenticeship at the hands of Phil & Liz “in pectore.” I wouldn’t think twice about continuing to argue the legitimacy or evangelical virtues of the Plowshares witnesses in summoning the world to disarmament as a matter of basic morality and fidelity to all that God created us for and believes us to be capable of and destined for. One of the most important defiances I ever heard from Dan in response to critical questions about his place in the Catholic Church was his answer on behalf of those of us trying to be prophetic peacemakers, however feebly. “We are people of sacrament and prayer, we are at the center of our church’s tradition. I’m not leaving – they’ll have to kick me out.” I’ve carried that nugget around with me for about 35 years I think.  And Phil’s basic theological proposition, “Jesus is the disarmament of God,” – just a few words and an immense depth of truth to plumb in prayer and contemplation, as well as action and jail time, or whatever forms of witness we can muster.  For those sentiments alone we have an astoundingly rich trove of Gospel truth to ponder and work with and to offer a crucified world. Why stop now? 
There’s rich debate as people reach deep into their understanding of conscience and nonviolence in Gospel and Christian terms in the course of this discussion and some of the CW movement’s most faithful long-distance runners, including Tom and Jim and Brian, all of whom I’ve been taking seriously forever, are leading the way.  

What’s important to me in the course of debating this stuff is mutual respect and maintaining community – not slashing at each other while we argue principals and perspectives. Only the Catholic Worker Movement has the strength and depth and grounding in radical faith to conduct such a discourse constructively, to do it justice and have it bear fruit for the Shepherd of Peace and the Reign of God.  We should do it right!

from Julie Brown
My name is Julie Brown and for those of you who don’t know me, I am a part of the Des Moines catholic Worker currently working full time (10 months a year) with Christian Peacemaker teams (CPT) in Iraqi Kurdistan. I recently returned to my community in Iowa for the holidays and have just started reading the messages in response to Tom Cornell’s article on the Catholic Worker, nonviolence and property destruction.
I had thought about my own feelings on this topic a lot but was reluctant to openly make any comments even after the reference to Christian Peacemaker Teams in the original article. My reluctance comes from not personally knowing a lot of the folks who have been responding (many being around for decades) and somehow feeling generally dismissed as a “newbie.”  I do however have thoughts on this. I have been around for several years now and live and work with Plowshares activists in Kurdistan as part of CPT as well as at the Catholic Worker in Des Moines (however I am not one myself).
I feel like I have a good grasp on many principals of nonviolence even though it is daily work to live them out in my life. I have attended as well as facilitated countless nonviolence trainings through the Catholic Worker and CPT over the years.  A common theme is that nobody can agree if property destruction is violent or nonviolent. As soon as you bring up property destruction people are all over the place. Every single time. I have personally decided that it is not something we are ever going to agree on however it is still a useful conversation if only to spark self reflection.
I have just read Scott Schaeffer-Duffy’s response where he invited those who know Jessica Reznicek to weigh in so I figured now is the time.
Jessica is my best friend.  We entered the Catholic Worker together about six years ago and I guess I can say I know her about as well as you can know another person in that time. I was not with her when she took out the windows of Northrup Grumman nor when she vandalized the Dakota Access Pipeline.  We have different tactics and both respect each other in this. I can say she  acted in the ways that she felt she was spiritually led to.  I know this because she said so. Enough said about that. (people discussing wether Jessica has inner peace or questioning her faith I find an absurd public conversation.)
I feel a quite upset that she received very little support from the Catholic Worker Movement and actually, some of her harshest public criticism came from those within the CW and the peace movement. No wonder we can’t get anything done! The war machine is only getting bigger and the planet is dying. She was acting on faith and in a nonviolent way as she understands it and was willing to loose her personal freedom trying to help save the planet for us all.  AND working on a timeline.. There is no manual for this… We do our best.  The Catholic Worker is struggling and I am more than sure it has little to do with some dislike for Plowshares actions.  The peace community in general isn’t doing so well.  Our biggest problem is ourselves and that everyone only wants to support something if it follows a certain formula. Anything other than that formula (which by the way isn’t working) gets quickly dismissed as too radical or not following Dorthy or Jesus.
Scott Schaeffer-Duffy said “Jessica’s statements speak to me of fear, anger, and anxiety.” 
As far as the fear and anxiety… I can only speak as a friend. I guess she’s possibly facing decades in prison not to mention she also hates giving interviews, writing, or talking to large groups… heck, small groups for that matter. Maybe you are reading some of that. When we were demonstrating together during Occupy she would always try to push me in front of the cameras because to be honest, she is super introverted. She hated it when Frank put out articles and photos about her (which he always does) and when she was asked to do any type of public speaking. The media that followed her and Ruby’s action I am sure bothered her on a huge level. Also, uncertainty around if and what you will be charged with is no small thing to deal with. She has a lot of skin in the game. But she is strong and brave and handled the media and the flood of criticism (from people who she believed would support her) well.
As far as anger… I think we are allowed to be angry.  I feel that we are called to find ways to love others but not obligated to love systems or their objects of oppression. I feel no moral or spiritual obligation to come to some inner peace with nuclear warhead or an oil pipeline. If you’re going to hammer or burn something… go for it. Tiny hammer, sledgehammer, jackhammer… all the same.
We are all Catholic Workers with different tactics trying our damnedest to create positive life-giving change.  I don’t think that because I would personally rather cross a line and get a trespass charge this makes me a different type of Catholic Worker than my best friend Jess or my CPT colleague Michele or my community member Frank. We are all in this together. Trying our best to create a society ”where it is easier for people to be good.”  
When I moved into my community I understood that there are no dues, entrance fees, or tests to become a Catholic Worker.  We embrace the Sermon on the Mount in our daily lives, read the Aims and Means as ideals we can aspire to, have an understanding of the vision the Dorthy Day had for the Catholic Worker, however, follow Jesus… and then try to live out these things on a daily basis without killing each other and the planet. My favorite part of the Aims and Means is the end. 
We must be prepared to accept seeming failure with these aims, for sacrifice and suffering are part of the Christian life. Success, as the world determines it, is not the final criterion for judgments. The most important thing is the love of Jesus Christ and how to live His truth.”
So I am weighing in on all of my Plowshares friends who have told me personally how they were led by the spirit to act in the ways that they did. All of whom spoke about the careful measures they took to make sure that their actions followed the principals of nonviolence as they understand them. I deeply respect these people. They are everywhere and… like it or not… a long-standing part of the identity of the Catholic Worker. I think they should be supported immensely and held up in love in our communities. All we can do is try our best to understand God and follow the different paths laid out before us. The strength and conviction of the Plowshares activists inspire me to live a better life.
Peace be the Journey,
Julie Brown
“Uncomfortable” by Jessica Reznicek. April 2017 via pacis p.1
(Seems Jess wrote this article for the DMCW news paper during the time Jess and Ruby were doing their pipeline actions. Its the next best thing to having Jess address the whole question of property destruction and nonviolence for our discussion, since she and Ruby are no longer with us and unable to respond personally. FC)
Uncomfortable. We’ve got to get uncomfortable.
Discomfort births growth in human development. It provides the insight and clarity necessary to become the individuals we are meant to be. Overcoming challenges and fears gives us the strength to fight with love for justice. One of the problems I see among U.S. citizens today is that we are not too often forced into any situation of significant discomfort. Most of us can barely even bring ourselves to be human … to sweat, to shiver, be hungry, to cry, or to even feel at all. You name it, we seem to have mastered a way to avoid it.
And so now here we are, suffocating inside this smoldering garbage heap we’ve all helped build, going to barely any length to clean it up, and to nearly any length pretend it’s not happening.
I began to really see the U.S. government for what it is, an oppressive regime, when I was about 12 years old. I spent most of my young adult years just angry, screaming at every front-page newspaper article I read, but too oppressed by institutions to really act … education, workforce, debt. Admittedly, today I’m still screaming quite a bit, and while I believe passionately spoken words can send a powerful message, I’ve learned that actions truly do speak louder than words. The empire isn’t listening anyway, and these bloodthirsty, lying, greedy, fascist, violent oppressors are truly not going stop until they have extracted, exploited and then killed every single living thing on this planet. Unless we stop them.
My fight for justice has been a slow and agonizing journey. Early on in life, I was called a liberal, and then a radical; these days, if you ask the state of Israel, I’m a terrorist. Well, call it what you want, my journey has simply been about becoming more human. Learning how to be peaceful while creating a life I where I can live in noncooperation with the State I am working to dismantle.
An essential piece of my process in becoming more human is stepping mindfully out of my comfort zone. Because it is in these moments that healing occurs, and each fear I overcome leaves me a little less broken and a little more whole. Liberated. Real. And from the first moment I felt something real, I never wanted to know anything else. I realized that real isn’t pretty. It’s usually bruised, bloody, broke, malnourished and tear-stained. No, it isn’t pretty … it is beautiful.
Beauty and truth must be protected and restored. We must allow ourselves to grieve so much of that which they have already taken, and then get together, make a plan and take it back. I refuse to watch the earth and all of her inhabitants be crushed and destroyed. We must place our hands on the sacred pulse of life and allow her rhythm to guide us to action. When we do this Mother Earth tells us that death and destruction is near and that the time to act is now.
Property destruction, or as I prefer to call it, property improvement, is the only solution I foresee. Everything else we’ve tried just isn’t cutting it. Over the past several years I’ve attended hundreds of organizing meetings. I’ve petitioned, and written letters. I’ve barricaded roads, stood face to face with police lines, military lines, and riot cop lines. I’ve faced lines of live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray. I’ve seen hundreds of innocent people shot during peaceful protest. I’ve been detained in military prisons and deported from a country for planting olive trees in the West Bank. I’ve fasted, done line-crossings, sit-ins, die-ins, and of course, marched endlessly to … where? … for what? I’m not so certain anymore. These tactics, while still meaningful and empowering in many ways, simply are not dismantling the infrastructure in which evil institutions operate from.
I sit in circle after circle of to activists beating their heads against walls trying to decide what tactics to implement to effectively “shut it down.” We are failing to recognize property improvement as a legitimate, necessary approach we all need to be moving toward if we all truly want to shut it down. To shut it down most certainly is what we all want, but we all need to consider what an endeavor like this really demands.
We struggle when we try to envision what the “shutting it down” process will actually look like. Why? Because we’ve never actually done it. And because it makes us feel uncomfortable. But lately I’ve been trying to imagine …
Property improvement I believe without a doubt will shut this corrupt system down. It is action laden with risk, sacrifice, and great discomfort. It is the tradition of the Catholic Worker movement, as well as in the spirit of Jesus. We are all feeling that urgency, and we’re feeling it for a reason. What we’ve been doing just isn’t shutting it down. We need to focus on dismantling this blood-sucking beast that is killing everything we love and honor. We all need to stand up together and begin the dismantling process, one piece at a time. In the spirit of love, compassion and nonviolence. Targeted and disciplined action, not random and without reason.
I’ve been feeling and acting increasingly from a spiritual place of obligation to act, these days guided by faith alone. I look to the Spirit for guidance and to Jesus as my role model. He was the one who overturned the money changers in the Temple. Why? Because he saw evil and refused to accept it. We all feel the evil around us, and it’s time to become a little more like the guy who showed us how to handle it. Jesus cared, and when I read scripture I can feel his passion. I want to also unleash that righteous rage and say NO! And if that means I have to look the beast in the eye and tell him to step aside, I’m ready. Oh, and Pontius Pilate, you’re fired, too.
Before I wrap up this article, I want to get real. People are dying, and we’re signing the checks. Blood is pouring through streets all over the world. Children, women and men all over the planet are dying. The Earth is dying. And the reality is that these things are happening, and will continue to happen because we are failing to do our job. I believe the days of marching past the infrastructure whose business specializes in killing everything and everyone who stands in its way of a dollar are over. It is time to dismantle the White House! And then on to our Statehouses and then to the oil refineries, and then to Monsanto. Tear it all down and rebuild a world of beauty. Let’s work through our fears and discomfort and understand what we have been called here in this life to do is something real. Let’s shut it all down. With love. With integrity. With a steady, peaceful hand the world can trust.
It’s time for us all get a little more uncomfortable.
from Daniel Marshall
Without Dorothy, there would be no Catholic Worker; but without Peter, Dorothy never would have done it.  Without them both, we would not be in community.
It seems to me healthy and long overdue to discuss how we do nonviolence.  I can only note that the discussion is heavily weighted toward pieces by elders of the community, highly qualified ones.  But a note creeps into the discussion that betrays something else that does not seem to me so healthy, which is a tendency to simplify and make the Catholic Worker into a one- or two-issue movement (peace and justice activism of a certain sort, and hospitality), rather than a community with a profound and broad vision.  An example is the sentence from Mark, “I’ve outlived the desire to engage a discussion of the aims and means of the Catholic Worker as if we should be trying to preserve some kind of ‘orthodoxy’ based on what Dorothy said or didn’t say.  In fact, I like to think that if Dorothy and Peter are consciously present to us now, this very thing is what probably pisses them off the most!”
Of course, the ideas and language of Dorothy and Peter always need updating, neither thought that they had yet achieved everything that they hoped and they said so, and we don’t need a Catholic Worker fundamentalism or literalism.  That said, Dorothy was not out on the streets everyday demonstrating, and it seems to me that when we cut ourselves off from our roots, we die as community.  I take it that we, like Dorothy, were attracted to the CW, whether we at first knew it, by a lived-out brilliant, inciteful, and astute broad-based synthesis or rendition of Catholic social teaching and spirituality that was like nothing that we could find or saw anywhere else in the world, that the community that it attracted, with all its warts and incompletenesses, that often drove us crazy and sometimes left us unfulfilled, nonetheless gave us a home in the maelstrom of world and Church that we could not find elsewhere, a sense of right spirit and right principles, and that we therefore clung to it as to a lifeboat, our adoptive family, we as lost and as much in need as those involuntarily poor whom we encountered and tried to help.
The profound vision and witness at the heart of this community, enhanced and contributed to by many and by constant “clarification of thought” in community, was deceptively couched in simple terms to catch the attention of the “person in the street”, but beyond it is an incredible depth of vision derived from extensive study of church history and theology, teachings and documents, saints’ lives, secular philosophers, and various communities–Philip Neri and the oratory, the De la Salle brothers, the Sillon (“Plough”), the Kropotkin communities of southern France, the Distributists, the Personalists, the Anarchists, and explorations in the various Catholic spiritualities and in ecumenical waters in the broadest sense, before there was an ecumenical movement, all while living authentically in many startling respects.  But no vows, no paternalism–not accidentally, but because Peter wanted a community of leaders.
In this moment of troubling crisis and chaos, we have deeply-rooted resources and treasures, touchstones, and communal concerns–in regard to economics, in orientation to the environment (macro and micro), in regard to dialogue, in regard to spirituality and a manner of life, in regard to physical and especially psychological and social health and energy, including addictions, in regard to work and the dignity of humans and other creatures, both as to the organization of work and the type of work, in regard to the manner and content of education.  Even in this time of crisis because we realize that there can never be any change in the world and society unless we are the change and are at peace and that if we ignore work on our traditions and ourselves we have nothing to offer in the battle.
I hope that I do not seem to be condescending, stating the obvious.  Maybe I just want to see us be gentle with each other.  But I do think that we are like the blind men and the elephant.  We are attracted by different aspects of the CW, according to our interests, needs, temperaments, and personalities, and we do really need it all, even the ones who/that seem to us most humble.  Like it or not, we are family, with all our warts and distractions, and we do need each other and work on our traditions because when we come right down to it, when we are down and out family are the ones who take us in.
Phil and Dan Berrigan were both important in my life, beautiful men, prophetic, astonishing.  An article that Phil wrote for the October 1965 issue of the CW was critical in making me a pacifist; I met him later (and told him to stop smoking if he wanted to be a pacifist; he didn’t until later).  I met Dan many times, he’s close to several members of my family and at Dorothy’s wake introduced me to Forster Batterham; he inspired me as a poet.  But Phil and Liz McAlister said that Jonah House was not a Catholic Worker House.  They had special vocations and a different mission, different work, different focus.  Not contradictory, different.  Relatives in Christ, close friends, ministers, dear to us; beloved, respected, treasured.  Phil and Dan evolved a certain theology of resistance.  Appealing, inspiring.  Not to be confused with the Catholic Worker.  Supplementary, not identical.
I share the apprehension that Dorothy expressed about property destruction.  I’ve done every other sort of resistance, including war tax resistance and abortion center sit-ins, but not Plowshares, been arrested, done hard time.  However, I’m aware of and have collected striking instances of prophetic property destruction, not like that of Jesus who disrupted business and sent drachmas flying without destroying tables, but like the great saint Boniface who destroyed idols and chopped a sacred oak tree, getting himself martyred; the Danish nonviolent resistance to Nazism; and Joan Andrews who, entering abortion centers, tore the machines apart with her bare hands (among other heroic acts).  But Paul didn’t destroy Athenian idols, instead talking of the unknown God, and we don’t like it when ISIS and the Taliban destroy statues and monuments.  May we buy time by diverting a careening vehicle, disarming a bomb, damaging a doomsday machine?  In what spirit ?  These are valid questions and extreme acts.  The only excluded answer is to do nothing.  Sicilian Gandhian Joseph Lanza del Vasto considered the Berrigan draft file burnings within the scope of nonviolence.  In such matters of differences among a community, the Gospel says to go in private then bring it to the community.  Many have in this list, to their credit.
So, let’s bring this discussion to the next gathering; that’s what it’s for.  We gather now and then as a family and make distinctions, recalling ourselves to our root inspiration, restating and celebrating our identity for a new time.  In family gathering, we testify to new inspirations, resolve differences, pray, update, and share community.  Update:  I personally am concerned to introduce the vision of Peter Maurin to Mohandas Gandhi, that almost literally unbelievable living witness who, within human and cultural limits, extended nonviolence into every aspect of  life especially by “constructive program”, so much in the spirit of Peter Maurin, so little noticed by Americans.  (Dorothy didn’t need an introduction, knew about MKG, Vinoba, and “the use of poor means”.)  And to introduce Peter (“On Personalism”) to Laudato Si, for if we don’t deal with the environment at the next gathering, we have already become irrelevant, and not just the environment as a set of isolated causes, but as being the needed nonviolent environmental change within and without, micro and macro. The same with respect to education, economics, and work.  All critical concerns in this time of madness when we have to be the change that we want.  I’m concerned to explore how “conquest of nature” becomes the conquest of humans and vice versa.  I’m no longer interested in noisy demonstrations; the Donald does them better than anyone–we can’t communicate in that context.  Let’s plumb and tend the vision.  If we’re stuck on this or that, maybe we need to question habit.  But let’s gather in peace, instead of taking shots at gathering or at tradition, and touch the elephant and each other in the breaking of bread.  
“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.  We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more.  Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.
March, 1994
Healing the Weapons Sickness
by Fr. Richard T. McSorley, SJ (1914 – 2002)
Center for Peace Studies
Georgetown University
WashingtonDC 20007
John Dear and his three companions were arrested on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1993, for spilling blood on an F-15 Eagle plane of the United States Air Force and denting the plane with a hammer. They face the prospect of ten years in jail for this disarmament action.
I talked to John Dear about it. His expression of joy and his willingness to suffer imprisonment for his action was like the joy of St. Robert Southwell of England who was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth and hung by the wrists ten times. Southwell was questioned each time as he hung. He considered the pain worse than death. He had gone to England as a priest, to keep the faith going and it was likely that he would be martyred. He had asked the Lord for the gift of martyrdom. When his friends went to see him he told them, “All through my suffering I felt two strong hands holding me up and when I collapsed on the floor, unable to stand after the hangings, I felt Christ’s love surround and envelop me. How joyous to be in so close a union with my Lord and Savior.”
I told John that his own expressions of joy and willingness to suffer might be a way in which God rewarded him for his offering of himself for the poor and the victims of war all over the world.
As we finished talking I asked, “What message do you want me to give to your friends?”
He replied, “Tell them I thank God for all the support they’ve given me and I pray that God will reward them.”
The government of 16th century England was intent in putting Robert Southwell to death for the charge that he had tried to murder the Queen. False witnesses were paid to testify that he had said something like that. The government didn’t want him to be put to death for his faith in Christ. That would only stir the sympathy of Catholics all over England and of many Protestants too. Southwell was well known and his family was prominent. He was a writer and he was a personality that appealed to the masses. They didn’t want him to die for his faith but for political opposition to the Queen.
Likewise in Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, the military doesn’t want John Dear and his companions to appear to be persecuted for disarmament or for their faith that God wants them to stop the cycle of violence expressed in arms and money that is taken away from the poor. The government doesn’t want to bring attention to the fact that the F-15 Eagle cost $40 million and cost $6000 an hour to operate. They don’t want to draw attention to the truth that billions of dollars for military expenses are the basic cause that there is no food for the hungry of the world, that 50,000 children starve to death daily. It is no wonder we have no money for the homeless in D.C. and the 40,000 homeless in Chicago and the 12,000 poor in all our big cities. Nor should there be any wonder that we have murders on the streets of our cities, for President Clinton, in his “State of the Union” in January, 1994, called the murders the number one priority, above jobs and the deficit. It should be no wonder because we are spending so much on weapons and the preparation to use them that we have developed a weapons sickness in this country. It should be no wonder because we have spent the forty years of the Cold War making nuclear weapons and planning to use them on millions of people. During those forty years, a weapons culture and sickness has developed. Our readiness to spend our treasure on suicidal nuclear weapons that would destroy us if they were ever used, shows the insanity of our culture. In our cities, that sickness is reflected in the killing on the streets. Violence is our number one problem and it has finally reached the local level. Kill anybody who blocks you in traffic, kill anyone who is a different color, anyone you don’t like. This is the news we read every day but this should not surprise us because, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart.” [Matthew 6:21] We have put our treasure into building weapons.
It is little wonder then, that in this kind of a culture, four individuals acting to disarm a plane that carries nuclear weapons amazed and angered the Air Force personnel who seized them screaming, “What have you done to our plane?” The Air Force personnel had been taking part in war games when the four disarmers came into their midst and damaged the underside of the F-15 Eagle. Their rage increased when the group identified themselves as Pax Christi “Spirit of Life Plowshares,” followers of the advice of the prophet Isaiah, who foretold of a time when “Nation shall not raise up sword against nation, nor shall they study war any more. They shall beat their swords into plowshares.” [Isaiah 2:4]
It didn’t lessen their anger to learn that one of the four was newly ordained Jesuit priest, John Dear, one a former Josephite priest, Phil Berrigan, one from the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House, Bruce Freidrich, and one the co-director of the Baltimore branch of Women’s Strike for Peace, Lynn Fredrickson.
These were no communists, not armed enemies but conscientious citizens trying to do what Christ would do were He today in the United States trying to establish His Father’s kingdom which calls us to love one another, including our enemies. There were 48 other groups of Plowshares disarmers throughout the country and the world. These four were making the connection between the United States government spending $40 million on planes and the violence in our streets.
But to hear that there is another way of defending oneself, a way taught by Jesus and followed by Christians the first three centuries; the way of love, including love of enemies, is too much for the military.
It is not only the military that doesn’t want to hear this message. Mainline Christians don’t want to hear it either. They don’t want to be told that we should love the Vietnamese, the Iranians, love those whom our government tells us to kill. They don’t want to hear that you can’t love people with weapons, love people with bombs or bullets. Jesus taught “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.” [Matthew 5:44] And He not only taught it with words but with action. His words could be discovered in His life even if He hadn’t spoken them. He died on the cross forgiving those who nailed him there and asked His Father to forgive them
The disarmers were saying, “Jesus told us to disarm, to put aside our weapons and begin to love.” They were saying that we are all children of God, even those whom our government may call the enemy, the starving in the poor sections of the world are our brothers and sisters. If we spend our money on weapons of death we deprive them of life even if we never use the weapons. What must God think of us when we kill and prepare to kill His children?  Every human being is our brother and sister. So wherever we kill a human being anywhere or prepare to kill them, we kill one of God’s children. What does God think of us when we build the F-15 Eagle to carry conventional and nuclear weapons?
Mark Twain, our famous American writer, had an answer to that question. He put it in his War Prayer, a prayer his daughter said couldn’t be published because people would think that he was insane. It tells the story of the preacher who was preaching for victory as the troops were marching by the Church and the bands were playing as they headed off to war. He prayed, “That the Lord will bless your arms and give strength to our noble soldiers and lead them to victory in battle.” Just as his prayer finished, a unknown stranger came up and tapped him on the shoulder saying, “Stand aside. The All High has commissioned me to express the unspoken prayer of your hearts and then to ask you if you really want that prayer answered.” Then he went on to describe the prayer of the heart. “Father, we pray that you blast the lives of our enemies bit to bit with our cannon balls. Destroy their homes. Let their children wander homeless in their own countries, pray to the cold and snows of winter and the heat of summer. Deny them the comfort of the grave for which they pray. Blast their hope, destroy their lives. And this we pray as servants of Christ the Lord.”
When the stranger had finished his interpretation of the prayer of the heart he said, “This is the prayer the Almighty heard from your hearts. Now do you want Him to answer them?” And then he slowly walked away and nobody said anything, but after a few minutes they said, “He is crazy.”
Engaged in war games when the Plowshares disarmers came in, the Air Force personnel thought they were crazy too. The military are the only sector of humanity that act is if they are crazy, not the disarmers. Insanity could be accurately defined as the inability to relate means to ends and in every aspect of human life, even those without facts relate means to ends because there is an unbreakable bond of harmony between the means we use and the end we get. If we wish to go to Philadelphia and we drive around in circles in the parking lot, we’ll never get to Philadelphia. We have to follow the road to get there. To be healthy, we eat good food, we don’t eat poison; or to learn, we study; if we want to go upstairs, we lift our feet. Every other aspect of human life, except military life and the politics connected with it, we know the means must be compatible with the ends, in harmony with the end because we know unless we use a means compatible with the end, we aren’t going to get to the end. But the military formally denies this. They have a sign at the Strategic Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs that reads “Peace is our Profession,” and their means are nuclear bombers and all kinds of other bombs and weapons. Weapons don’t make peace, they make war. The four disarmers entering the Air Force base want to make this message known, “Turn away from swords, turn into plowshares.”
Until we turn to disarm there is no serious hope of substantially lessening the daily violence on our streets. How far away we are from doing this can be judged by the way we treat the poor and the Pax Christi disarmers. We keep them in jail hoping that their message will not be heard.
from Frank Cordaro and Ciaron O’Reilly
from Frank:
 MY BAD! The 1st email response I got from posting of Tom Cornell’s Dec 2017 “Christian Nonviolence: Theory and Practice” was from Ciaron O’Reilly. I did not ask Ciaron if I could post his response to the larger community, I just did it. My bad. It was not fair to Tom, or to Jim Forest who forwarded Tom’s article to me, or to Ciaron. If 40 years of CW community life has taught me anything, its taught me to ‘fight fair’, conflict in community life is inevitable, so fighting fair is a necessary element of good community living.  I apologize for this breach of good community  behavior and to those hurt in the process; especially Tom and Jim.
   Sometimes doing something badly is better than doing nothing at all. Ciaron’s below critique & analyses of the NYC CW and its paper is not just about Tom’s article and the NYC CW. Its a glaring look at our USA Faith based peace and justice communities and organisations. This was brought home to us in Des Moines when virtually every Faith base peace and justice org. ran away from Jess and Ruby after they confess to doing their pipeline witness last July. I believe this cowardliness on the part of our local friends and comrades was one of the reason Jess and Ruby left Des Moines.
   Ciaron O’Reilly has a harsh and dreadful message for us all, not just the NYC CW. For those who have trouble with Ciaon, the messenger  I beg you to, put aside Ciaon’s flaws and hear what he is saying. I know Ciaron O’Reilly and I know this message is written from a place of love for the CW movement from a guy who has sent his life living the message and paying a very high price for his effort. Frank Cordaro
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Ciaron OReilly
Date: Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 6:12 AM

To clarify, I don’t accept Frank’s plea bargain that I am that “significant” in return for I am “impossible to live with”. Good one liners, but both embellishments.

Parental Advisory Warning or Cultural Sensitivity Alert

We come from different cultures; North Americans and Brits generally perceive Australians to be blunt, direct, and obnoxious. Australians generally perceive Brits to be class obsessed & disingenuous – the first time I met Julian Assange, he said, in relation to the Brit media class, “I’m an Australian I’m not a fkn liar!” and I thought, “too right mate!”. Australians generally perceive Americans to be over-affected and over-polite, but, as a guy from the “Society for Creative Anachronisms” once pointed out to me, “an armed society is a polite society!” This is not to say any of our cultures is better or worse than the others, just different. The world is made up of many cultures, not just North Americans and people failing in different ways to be North American.


I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that none of you have read Sharon Nepstead’s academic work on the plowshares movement, where her research indicates 50% of those who undertook plowshares actions in the U.S. had spent a year or more in the CW communities as part of their formation.  She also indicates that the CW communities that made up a CW “movement” – not just atomised stand-alone projects – are the ones that bonded as they gathered in solidarity for plowshares and other trials to support fellow CWs risking their liberty (I thought that was interesting).  This is from memory, as it is one of those books that I lent out and never got back.

This round robin started with my personal email vent to Frank over Tom’s article attacking Phil and its circulation by Jim: acts that I believe were borne out of decades long animosity. It was a cheap shot at the dead and “contempt” is a pretty accurate description of my feelings towards such an act (If the behaviour changes, I’m sure the contempt will dissipate). Fortunately or unfortunately, Frank shared my email on the CW list.

This discussion is also fuelled by Frank & Michelle’s speculation that the timing of Tom’s article in NYCW was their attempt to put as much water between NYCW and Jess and Ruby – Catholic Workers now in jeopardy.  I read the gonzo article in the NYCW about CWs travelling up to the South Dakota pipeline blockade; that it does not mention Jess & Ruby, their action, and present plight is an act of cowardice. If it is cowardice we are dealing with, then no amount of rational debate and reflection is going to have much of an impact.

Another common link to motive is to “follow the money”. Moving beyond activism as a form of moral posturing and virtue signalling may alienate donors. This was definitely part of the equation at the London CW, when I prioritised organising around Manning and Assange facing decades in prison for exposing the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The more conservative members of the community were scared off by the sexuality of Manning (trans) and Assange (publicly perceived as promiscuous) and how that could potentially alienate the conservative funding base they were cultivating. “Don’t scare the horses etc”

I don’t think that I am going to influence Tom or Jim or reform the NYCW. I was happy with a therapeutic vent to Frank. So to Tom’s article:

As mentioned, I think it is poorly motivated, disingenuous and historically inaccurate. Unless you were hiding under a rock, or totally disengaged from anti-war resistance in the ’80’s,’90’s and noughties, it is self-evident that plowshares was a nonviolent tactic employed by Catholic Workers acting in the Catholic Worker tradition non-violently resisting the war machine. The publication of Tom’s article doesn’t raise the question of how relevant were Plowshares actions to Catholic Workers?, it raises the question how relevant is the NYCW and its paper to the CW .movement? Like a lot of Catholic projects, the NYCW and paper appear to have ossified into institutions rather than expressions of a faith community. As Frank points out, there is “an elephant in the room” (Catholic Workers Jess & Ruby in jeopardy disowned by NYCW), but there may also be a white elephant in the movement – the NYCW and its paper.

Like the later draft board raids, there were those inspired by the plowshare tactic outside of the faith tradition and pacifist commitment. In the 1980s these were referred to as “disarmament” (not plowshares) actions. Due to the Irish peace process, actions in Derry (Raytheon 9) and Brighton (EDO 9) were referred to as “decommissioning” actions. The Derry action was a nonviolent action carried out by three members of SWP, a Trotskyist party usually opposed to NVDA or any DA, three ex-Provos who had signed on to the peace process, and three “dissident” (could be argued “orthodox”) Irish Republicans who didn’t make the trial having been detained in the South accused of membership of the Real IRA not on ceasefire.  So it was an NVDA carried out by non-pacifists.  Their trial was moved from Derry to the more sectarian town of Belfast, but they were still acquitted, which contributed greatly to Raytheon (opened by the Nobel Peace Prize winners Hume and Trimble) being removed from Derry. “Disarmament” and “decommissioning” actions were not “Plowshares” actions. Plowshares actions were carried out by committed pacifists inspired by the prophecy of Micah and Isaiah.

Now some rebuttal to Tom’s article:

TOM: ” U.S. military troops had been engaged in the Vietnam civil war for five years.”

In Vietnam (and a lot of other places including within the CW movement), the Vietnam War is viewed as a U.S. invasion following a French invasion following a Japanese invasion following a French invasion. Ched Myers would argue that this is a matter of perspective, of locus imperii. Jesus and the Vietnamese were located at the extremities of empire. Tom seems embedded at the imperial centre and appears not to share the analysis of U.S. imperialism that the grassroots Catholic Worker rank and file share. Tactics are born of strategy that comes from a shared analysis. Tom may not acknowledge the existence of a U.S. empire, but, rather, may have a liberal view seeing the U.S. clumsily, but with all the good will in the world, intervening in civil war in Vietnam, in the Middle East, Central America etc etc etc?

As articulated by Don Whitman, Jesus wasn’t Gandhi wasn’t Jesus. Gandhi was a lawyer by training, located at the fringe of empire, who was developing a strategy of restraint for a mass movement of Indians who wanted the Brits out. The Berrigans et al, and the Catholic Workers they influenced, were located at the centre of empire recognising that what passes as normalcy is built on the daily grind of the U.S. empire starving, killing, and exploiting its subjects on the perimeter of empire. Ched Myers argues that what has come from the radical faith community on the exploited fringe has been a theology and praxis of liberation, but what is needed at the centre from the radical faith community is a theology and praxis of repentance and resistance in response. At the imperial centre, restraint isn’t the primary problem – passivism (not pacifism) and the lack of proactive solidarity and creative tension challenging the imperial hegemony is the problem. The daily grind of empire and the human cost of it is considered normalcy at the imperial centre.  All we are asked to do by empire at the centre is to avert our gaze. The Berrigans, and the Catholic Workers they inspired, were moving from passive protest characterised by appeals to the empire’s better nature to proactive assertive nonviolent resistance as a faith and Gospel based response.

TOM: *Dorothy Day, the radical pacifist founder of the Catholic Worker, while not criticizing the Berrigans publicly, remarked pointedly: “These acts are not ours.” Property damage, in her view, was not part of the nonviolent arsenal.*

Well no Tom, Dorothy was the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and, on this occasion (if you are quoting her correctly), displays a pretty poor understanding of property from a biblical perspective. But that’s ok, most days she got it right and some days she got it wrong. Dorothy Day was an American “sure can do” activist attempting to put into practice tactics borne of strategy founded on the analysis of the European Peter Maurin who had a pretty good take on free enterprise and state capitalism in the 1930’s.  One hopes Peter’s analysis was based on the timeless and universal teachings and life of Jesus Christ.  Peter could not have envisaged the turnkey totalitarianism presently coming down the pike from Silicon Valley, and the constant war of nuclearism and low intensity conflict.

In other words, you can’t build a praxis based on a personality cult of Dorothy Day or Phil and Dan Berrigan in an ever-changing morphing context. You must pray, reflect, and constantly develop strategy based on the timeless and universal teaching and life of Christ. You must strive to understand the context you are in – the imperial centre (where we have much more room to move but less sense of urgency) or the imperial perimeter where even gathering to reflect on such issues could cost you your life, or guarantee torture etc. with the implements of killing and torture of course provided by the imperial centre.

I was based at St. Joseph’s House during the AIDS outbreak of 1987. I remember washing the dishes in very hot water wearing rubber gloves. An earnest woman appeared next to me at the sink and said “Dorothy would never use rubber gloves!” My Irish Australian response was, “No chance of a condom then uh?” – meaning some things are timeless and universal, based on the life of Christ, and some things are relative to the times and context his disciples find themselves in. That Jesus wore sandals is not relevant; that he confronted the powers is timeless and universal.

TOM: ” Property damage, in her view, was not part of the nonviolent arsenal.*

Here Tom exhibits a more capitalist consumerist attitude to the sanctity of “property” than the “criminal damage act” in a variety of jurisdictions, including the Judge in Scotland who directed the jury to find the Loch Goil Plowshares not guilty for disabling computers related to the illegal Trident nuclear weapons system, the Liverpool jury that acquitted the “Seeds of Hope Ploughshares” who disabled a Hawk Fighter being exported to the U.S. Indonesian client state waging war on the people of East Timor, the Belfast jury that acquitted the Raytheon 9 of disabling the main frame computer contributing to the 2006 Israeli bombing of Lebanon and the EDO 9 who disabled armaments bound for Israel during Operation Cast Lead, the Dublin jury that acquitted the Pitstop Plowshares of £2.5 million disarmament of a U.S. war plane enroute to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the 
Appeal Judges that overturned Mary Kelly’s initial conviction for disabling the same plane.

Christianity is not rocket science as many members of the academic, theologian & clerical class would like us to believe. It is not about elite knowledge or insight. Christianity was initially taught to, and practised by, illiterate peasants.  The teaching is that human life is sacred, created in the image of God.  Stuff that humans construct is relative to how it enhances, sustains, or threatens human life. When humanly constructed material threatens the image of God – human life – good stewardship demands disarmament and disabling of the threat.  Stewardship of material goods as outlined in Acts is our terms of reference for a Christian perspective on property not Tom’s commitment to the sanctity of private property.

TOM: “Consistent with Dorothy’s reservations, the Catholic Worker newspaper remained largely silent about the Catonsville action and the trial that followed, despite widespread coverage in the mainstream media. (An article in June 1968 was the lone exception.) And in the four decades that followed, we published virtually nothing on the Berrigans and the Plowshares movement that, in 1980, they would help launch. Then we gave over an entire issue to Dan Berrigan on his death”

And you’re proud of that, mate?  Your claim that the NYCW and newspaper abandoned Catholic Worker and other pacifist prisoners to the war-making state and its dungeons. That is smug, outrageous, and hopefully inaccurate. Two weeks before the outbreak of the Gulf War/ Massacre, I was one of four Catholic Workers who disarmed a B52 Bomber, disabling it for the length of the war. In the weeks that followed, other functioning B52’s were deployed from that Griffis NY base to England and dropped napalm, cluster bombs and fuel air explosives on a daily basis. B52’s dropped 30% of all munitions on Iraq in that war .The total armaments dropped equalled seven ‘Hiroshimas’. As a consequence, I was shanghaied to Pecos Texas and placed in the Reeves County Law Centre Jail.  I was in a  cage with 23 other men in a room  with five other cages opened 16 hours a day containing 150 men and three guards.  When things kicked off, as they inevitably did, the guards would immediately evacuate. It would take them a good 40 minutes to get the riot squad in. And a lot can happen in 40 minutes in those conditions.

The first month in Pecos, I was regularly harassed by guards and occasionally asaulted and spat at by prisoners. I was a racial minority of one in the prison (then 550, now 3,700+) and considered a soft target.  What literally saved my arse in this context was the amount of solidarity mail that flowed in after the first month; I got popular with Mexican stamp collectors, my status and profile lifted and I built my base from there. This solidarity mail was solicited by sympathetic publications and you are claiming the NYCW was not one of them!  If that’s the case, y’all should be ashamed of yourselves.

TOM: “Then we gave over an entire issue to Dan Berrigan on his death”

Jesus wept! I’ve heard of ambulance chasing, but this is hearse chasing! So you and your newspaper were too timid to publicly associate with Dan Berrigan when he was alive but jump on the bandwagon when he dies? This an admission to cowardice and opportunism. This reminds me of my interaction with Fr. Francis George OMI. I arrived in Liverpool in 1996 to organise around the (then imprisoned on remand) “Seeds of Hope Ploughshares”. I was doing speaking gigs wherever I could generate them. I was asked to deliver the homily at an Oblate church on the Ploughshares action, the forthcoming trial, and the war on East Timor.  I turned up and was introduced to Fr. Francis George who had just been appointed Archbishop of Portland, Oregon (within 18 months he was fast tracked to be Cardinal of Chicago).  After mass we went to the rectory and were put in a room together for 30 minutes as we waited for lunch to be prepared.  The future Cardinal didn’t seem to have a problem with the ploughshares witness in relation to disabling military material threatening Catholics in East Timor.  He had been a seminary class mate of Fr. Carl Kabat OMI & Fr. Larry Rosebaugh OMI. In the course of conversation I asked him “What do people in your position think of Dorothy Day and the Berrigans?” He responded, “Well Dorothy is dead and so we can celebrate her life; the Berrigans are alive and are thus a bit more problematic!”

TOM: “For the past thirty years or so, Carmen Trotta and I have argued, no, tried to reason together, about Plowshares.”

Someone needs to rescue Carmen Trotta from the malaise of the NYCW for his sake and our movement’s sake! He has a gift for leadership. I haven’t heard from him or of him for 4 years!

TOM – ““What would Dorothy say?”

Again you can’t build a Christian praxis on the NYCW mantra of “What would Dorothy say?”  You need to build it on the life and teachings of Christ. You can be inspired by Dorothy, Phil and others, but you have to be a grown up and practice your discipleship in the history and context you are born into and live in and die in…..not on Dorothy’s or anyone else’s three score and ten years (if ya lucky!). I also suspect that this “What would Dorothy say?” mantra is a subterfuge by the Old Guard at the NYCW to maintain power and status in an institution that is sitting on $10-15 million of real estate and has a guaranteed income stream. NYCWers remind one of the old saying about George Bush Sr. “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple”.  Yes, even in the 1960s new recruits were walking into an institution where 30 years of endeavour by others had preceded them and built up the capital.  Those of us who started CW communities from scratch weren’t so privileged.

TOM: “Disarmament occurs when people lay down their weapons, not when their weapons are taken from them”

This brings to mind the quote from the reforming Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, “Only the impotent are pure!”  And of course Tom is clearly wrong here. This may be his definition of disarmament within the parameters of his ideological purity code but that’s not how it always occurs in the real world. It is self-evident that Plowshares has been an expression of Catholic Worker nonviolent resistance and it is a clearly historic fact that we have disarmed and disabled weapon systems.  What Tom was doing during this period in terms of anti-war resistance and solidarity with resisters remains a mystery – more sorrowful than glorious. Disarmament and consent of the armed, give me a break!   I worked in a homeless wet shelter (where the homeless can drink alcohol and they did with a passion) in Dublin for 7 years.  I was constantly disarming people, removing their weapons and potential weapons from the vicinity. I wasn’t going to wait for consent or a change of heart.  Better a punch in the face than a broken bottle in the neck.

TOM: “The secrecy involved in Plowshares activities…”

Presently I am being hacked by British Special Branch employing Indian Special Branch and hackers. Of the ten names and passwords of those hacked released by the Special Branch whistleblower, I’m the only scumbag without an income stream or a constituency. Others are journalists, well paid NGO bureaucrats and a Baroness. I also have the Irish Special Branch up my arse – like Frank they tend to overrate my significance – and we know from WikiLeaks cables from the U.S. embassy in Dublin that, after our Plowshares action at Shannon Airport, the U.S. military offered to pull out of Ireland; they haven’t forgotten.  My niece who has never been to a protest in her adult life was pulled in by Australian ASIO and grilled for 2 hours about her father and uncle. Unless you are living in a privileged cocoon, secrecy and “a need to know basis” is basic when organising activities the state regard as criminal.  This discipline requires a high level of trust and humility. For seven years I have worked closely in support of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange (probably the person in human history that has pissed off the most amount of powerful people in the shortest amount of time). He is a major target of the empire. One works on a need to know/ “don’t ask don’t tell” basis  when people are in serious jeopardy. An environment I don’t think you have inhabited in a very long time Tom.  

TOM: “When Sister Megan was asked about these risks in an NPR interview, she answered that she was perfectly at peace with the possibility of being killed. Straight to heaven for her, no sweat! But how about the young security guard who might be obliged to shoot her? What of his mental and spiritual health after that?”

Here we find Tom at his most smug and clueless.  Along with a reactionary position on the sanctity of property, he displays an astonishing ignorance of the dynamics of power, pretending that power doesn’t exist. It’s pretty close to the rapist’s excuse of ‘she made me do it’. It’s just offensive to suggest that a man trained to kill, armed with a gun, and patrolling a military facility has no idea that one day he may be called on to decide whether or not to shoot someone, and it is a decision not an obligation. And if he does choose violence then it’s the fault of an unarmed woman? If Tom wants to line up on the side of men arguing that women in short skirts are provoking men to assault them then I’m just glad that I think his argument is shit.

At this point the rest of Tom’s article deteriorates into pious waffle most akin to the debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The article is not borne of reflection by someone who is engaged in serious anti-war struggle or proactive solidarity with those in jeopardy who are resisting.  If he wants a hall pass on taking on US imperialism head on, then at least have the grace to give the people who do the benefit of the doubt. I really don’t want to go any further dignifying this article with further response for the same reasons I do not answer questions under police interrogation or respond to trolls on the internet.  Tom’s attack piece was not an authentic search for the truth.

So we are left with the irrelevance of the NYCW and their newspaper. In Ireland we have a saying “What do you expect from a pig, but a grunt?” I have no expectations of the NYCW and its newspaper in terms of guidance for radical discipleship in these times. It has ossified into an institution sitting on $10-15 million worth of real estate, where the main project seems to be maintaining a museum to the piety of Dorothy Day and not discerning how to further develop and flesh out her radical praxis or engage in radical reflection on how we proceed from here as followers of Christ at the centre of empire. Such a focus dovetails into how the powers wish to refashion her memory, trimming her of her radical analysis and praxis.  See how they have reduced Martin Luther King to a symbol of black upward mobility in the U.S. So complete that they started the Gulf War on his birthday/ public holiday and had Colin Powell pegged to lead the march in Atlanta, but he was unfortunately double-booked bombing a Third World country.

The unnecessary estrangement from the Berrigans – celebrated in Tom’s article – who did much to renew the radical Catholic Worker was unnecessary and self-indulgent and led to the deterioration and present increasing irrelevance of the NYCW and its paper. One of the main elements in the deterioration, I believe, was the subterfuge that there was no intentional faith community at the NYCW because “having an intentional community would separate us from the poor”. This of course established covert power and decision making and an absence of intentionality and accountability. If you wanted to guarantee Dorothy’s observation that “the gold leaves and the dross remains”, well that’s one way of doing it. 

The CW movement has consistently failed to acknowledge the fact that power and the exercise of power is part of the human condition and that it exists within the movement as much as without. Claiming Dorothy’s imprimatur is a power grab just like conservative evangelicals claiming Jesus as their own. Arguing over dead heroes is so much more comfortable than asking what direction for the movement now? The NYCW is claiming the righteous territory trod by Dorothy, but therein lies the path of irrelevance. What does it mean to discern (or not) a path of resistance in the belly of the beast today? That is the question worth discussing. Sir Isaac Newton’s famous quote, ‘If I see further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’ is the essence of the issue. We would be living in scientifically stunted times if scientists considered it impolite to question or explore the theories of their predecessors. How much more important is the life of the spirit. Our role is to stand on the shoulders of Dorothy Day and the Berrigans to see further and to more deeply understand our witness in our current times.

A Catholic Worker vocation at its best is an intentional and accountable life of discipleship with continual clarification of thought and intent, posing the question to ourselves and other CWs “why do we do, what we do?” As we inhabit increasingly atomised lives at the centre of empire, accountability is shied away from. People are too proud to be held to account by those sharing a common commitment. And too fearful to hold other comrades to account. These are elements we tackle as disciples – our pride and fear. At its worst Catholic Worker communities can lose intent and clarity and become – like many religious orders did – a place to hide from the world and stagnate. If the NYCW and newspaper has become an irrelevance, what does this mean to rank and file Catholic Workers? Well to quote the Colonel over the bloated corpse of Elvis, “This changes nothing!”

I will put out
a second email on Plowshares movement, tradition, tactic
and a third email on the Pipeline action in the days ahead.
from Leah Grady Sayvetz

Peace all-

Joining in late to the discussion, but wanting to offer just three brief and simple thoughts to the conversation. 
As a child of the Atlantic Life Community and Ithaca Catholic Worker Community (now 28 years old), I have greatly appreciated reading everyone’s contributions to this conversation, greatly appreciated that the conversation is taking place. 
In the interest of contributing something and not getting stuck trying to think of everything which I felt moved to respond to, I’ll just note three items of the discussion which feel really important to chime in on:
Using the term “destruction of property,” feels to me almost misplaced. I do not read the prophet Isaiah as calling us to “destroy” swords, but to “beat swords into plowshares.” Without getting into a theoretical debate on the meaning of the word “destruction,” I would like to simply offer that, from my reading of Isaiah’s words and of the plowshares movement, these weapons, these idols (thank you, Mark), need to be transformed into instruments of cultivating life: plowshares. I am a farmer, I help cultivate vegetables and apples. I use plows. I harvest the fruits of the soil. This is not an abstract metaphorical concept to me. Thanks for letting me share my perspective.
Through the course of reading so many peoples’ responses to Tom Cornell’s article and to one another’s responses to the same, I’ve noticed a theoretical scenario being discussed in several folks’ pieces, one which I’d like to address: 
The scenario goes as follows:
 “I can imagine that if I had a gun and someone damaged it or stole it from me, I would be inclined to get another and maybe even two.” (This quote comes from Jim Forest’s piece. Others discuss a similar set up). 
This scenario keeps running through my mind. Why does it keep coming back to me? What is the problem? 
The issues, I see, in using such a set up as an analogy to plowshares, are two-fold. 
Firstly, I would not use “a gun” as an analogy to the weapons in question. The United States’ nuclear arsenal is the largest and most destructive assemblage, system of arms, known in the history of the planet. We would delude ourselves if we reduce a discussion of the largest, deadliest weapons arsenal in the history of the world to an analogy of “a gun.” 
Secondly, this analogy describes a set up wherein one person possesses a weapon (“if I had a gun”) and another person (“somebody”), not the owner of that weapon (“stole it from me”), addresses the first person and their weapon. 
I see plowshares as quite the opposite. This is because of the fact that: these weapons belong to us. They are paid for by U.S. Taxpayer money. Their cost is a sum which necessitates impoverishing every other aspect of our national budget, obviously starving the people. In my understanding of Plowshares, the disarmers- transformers of swords into plowshares- do not address somebody else’s weapons. I see plowshares disarmers as taking personal responsibility for weapons built in their name
Only an affirmation that I, too, see our nuclear arsenal as representing the epitome, the enforcement, the perpetuation of white supremacy, unchecked and ravaging capitalistic consumerism, and, obviously, militarism- the triplets that Dr. King exhorted us to see as interdependent, intrinsically linked, none able to be addressed on its own..
Many more thoughts floating around and inspiring good clarification, but none that I can easily put down here at this moment. In gratitude to you all for your work as peacemakers and sending encouragement to each of us in the necessary recovery work from our addiction to the disease of white supremacy. 

Leah Grady Sayvetz

from Angela Jone
*Angela Jones is a former Associate Editor of the LA worker’s Catholic Agitator newspaper and former Editor of the Philadelphia Worker’s Common Life newsletter

I first met Ciaron at university when I was 18 or 19. We have been friends, on and off, for 40 years this year I think. We did our apprenticeship together in the Brisbane left working with other anarchists and the peace movement. Then we started the Brisbane Catholic worker with his brother Sean and some other great Christian activists. Ciaron was the one who ‘discovered’ the Catholic Worker tradition and convinced the rest of us that it was the way to go. Ciaron was the restless heart of the community and after he left, I was asked to leave, and Sean moved on as well. The community was going in a new direction under new management. 

I went to the US and spent four years (with trips back home) first at the LA Worker and then helping Patty Burns set up the Philadelphia Catholic Worker. I think there are three traditions that struggle to exist under the same umbrella and within the same house most of the time. One is personal service to the poor, the worst victims of an unjust system; the second is direct resistance to that unjust system; and the third is building a new society in the shell of the old. And underlying all three is a call to personalism. To serve the poor, invite them into your home as friends; to confront the system, put your body in front of the war machine (at its broadest whether the war is against other nations, the exploited rising up, the planet itself, or drugs not provided by big pharma); and to build a new society, get involved in creating cooperatives and new forms of mutualism. They sit uncomfortably together, but are all reliant on each other. We tend to have one of them that draws us and the others feel like a drain on our energies.

In the US, I met many wonderful CWs, but I also met many wonderful people who had been through the CW and moved on to other ventures and gradually I found their ideas more alive and concordant with my own thoughts and understandings. To put it bluntly, there was too much of a focus on longevity in the CW and too little concern about relevance. I went to national gatherings where people were called out and applauded for length of service and nothing else. I also noticed an unwillingness to openly acknowledge power and control; they are central to community and essential to getting things done even if that is only the washing up. How we manage ourselves and our community to share power and control, while maintaining necessary personal boundaries, giving proper recognition to expertise and experience, and ensuring transparent decision-making requires constant attentiveness. It is part of creating a new world with new relationships and rituals – as Peter Maurin would say, ‘building a society where it is easier for people to be good.’

I came back to Australia in the early 90s, grateful for my decade in the Catholic Worker, but got involved in grassroots environmental activism and green politics on my return. Ciaron’s writing reminds us of the need for intellectual renewal in every movement, and that it is usually an uncomfortable process. I have had my ‘ups and downs’ with Ciaron. On one occasion, I had stopped speaking to him for a couple of years after a falling-out. I tried to ‘blank’ him on a corner where he was vigilling. He pulled me up and I said, ‘I’m cutting all the rampant narcissists out of my life to see if that improves it’. Ciaron replied, ‘Rampant is a bit harsh isn’t it?’ I laughed and ended up joining him on the corner for a while.

Ciaron is as equally committed to maintaining relationships as he is to infuriating his friends. When he was in Brisbane last year, he helped me cut down branches hanging over a powerline and I helped him organise a public celebration of Chelsea Manning’s release. He is loyal and understands solidarity. After his time in Brisbane’s Bogga Road jail, he continued to organise solidarity actions in support of the other prisoners. Our house was raided over that involvement. We stood outside the jail around the clock while men were protesting about conditions in a roof-top sit-in.

Ciaron is the person to raise issues when others won’t for fear of being ostracised. He gets attacked and excluded, but he keeps on thinking deeply about his calling and witness. Ciaron has always been a fan of Peter Maurin and a favourite quote is something along the lines of: ‘they used to say of the Christians, see how they love each other. Now they say, see how they pass the buck.’ Love is not passivity and settling down to a mutual agreement not to mention our disagreements. Love is disagreeing vehemently in mutual discovery.

Tom Cornell quotes Dorothy Day saying, ‘These acts are not ours’ like the Buddha dropping a mysterious one-liner of wisdom. He proceeds to translate for us what she meant. Well, Tom provided an alternative interpretation in the book, Voices from the Catholic Worker (1993), when he said in an interview with the author, ‘One aspect of Dorothy’s personality that is very seldom alluded to is her jealousy. She was very jealous for the Catholic Worker. Dorothy’s jealousy in regard to [direct action] was manifested in a conversation with Dan Berrigan. “You’re taking our kids away. This is not our kind of activity, and you’re taking our kids away”.’ So, was it a disagreement over principle or ownership – not our kind of activity?

Maybe it was easier then to have absolute control over what an endorsed activity looked like; many of the other memories of Dorothy are of her authoritarian brand of anarchism and unilateral decision-making, in addition to her compassion and courage. These days, with radical activity very thin on the ground, solidarity has to be less selective about ownership. Ciaron knows the cost of action and he will stand with anyone engaged in nonviolent action whether they share his religious beliefs or Catholic Worker perspective or not. He is loyal to his friends to the point of obsession.
Ciaron also reminds us of the importance of the analysis of Peter Maurin to the formation of the Catholic Worker. His contribution is under-recognised, yet critical.

Ciaron is well-situated to challenge smugness disguised as easy certainty. He struggles to do what is right. He criticizes himself more than anyone else. He puts himself out there to be criticized. Ciaron is a safe target – he hasn’t got anything out of his career choice except his reputation, so he can’t do anything to, or for, anyone else’s career or power-base. Ciaron’s reputation is all he has to lose. It’s easy to ‘play the man, not the ball’ (Australians love sports analogies), but it’s more worthwhile to focus on the ideas and have a debate. If you have better ideas than the ones expressed by Ciaron, then have the courage to put them out there.
from Mali Lorenz
(Mali Lorenz  found the movement through the DM community, around 1998, as part of a Grinnell group that came to volunteer.  After graduation in 2000 Mail lived 2 years at Loaves & Fishes in Duluth MN, then lived about 8 years at a Buddhist retreat center.  Mali got back for a few shorter stints at Loafs & Fishes since moving out of the community.  Male also spent time at Mustard Seed CW Farm in Ames.  Mali live in Tucson and had minor connections to Casa Maria and Casa Mariposa.)

I somewhat belatedly started following the Plowshares/nonviolence/property-destruction discussion.  I appreciate the collective wealth of practical, radical, and contemplative experience shared in this community!  And the loving, imperfect human-ness you all bring to your efforts.

It really got me thinking, tho I can’t speak from significant personal experience of war zones, trauma, or, uh, “serious” actions… but at least i can say I’ve been arrested with Frank 🙂  and some others of you.
I was struck by the reactions against Tom Cornell’s “argument,” since he didn’t particularly come across to me as wanting to prevail in an argument. If someone is trying to establish that Plowshares activists can’t be Catholic Workers, I honestly missed that.  I just see someone asking some good questions, about some things perhaps nagging his soul; isn’t that a proper form of activism when done in good faith?  I don’t know that he was trying to definitively stake out some Dorothy-orthodoxy [Dorothodoxy!!], or render a verdict on Berrigan actions.  Furthermore, in the pockets of CWism I know, I don’t recall seeing tension between CWs and the Plowshares movement.  So, I don’t know Tom, but to the extent he was mis-characterized, I want to stand up for him.  And I do really like his point that true disarmament is an inner choice, not something that can be outwardly imposed on you.  For me, that was a clarification-of-thought. 
What inspires me is when disarmament is (1) the inner spirit/mindset from which an action is planned, and disarmament is (2) the action activity itself, leading to personal-and-national disarmament as (3) eventual result.  I believe this is possible through faith, prayer, meditation, liturgy, and the such; the spiritual practices that get our pride, narrow fixations, fears, etc out of the way.

If a sort of “rebuttal” is published in the NYCW paper, couldn’t it simply be a presentation of differing views, which will enlighten readers whether or not they realize it’s a reaction to Tom’s piece?  It seems base to set it up as a point/counterpoint thing.
I’ve always been very inspired by the Plowshares examples– they’re courageous, symbolic-yet-simple, direct, resolute, self-sacrificing, attention-getting, and Biblical/spiritual.  And they’re also (to me at least) bad-ass, which is why if I did one, I’d have to be careful not to let it go to my head.  Surely the gift of prophecy would flee, if a prophet got ego-y?  (Even if the followers didn’t flee.) Another pitfall of mine, I find that when I’m stretching my own capacities, with my heartspace maybe not keeping up, I get more judgmental of others who don’t seem to be pushing themselves as hard, which just makes us all more discouraged.  If I felt unsupported by people I thought were allies at times when I or my family were carrying quite a load, indeed it’d be hard for me to stay in a nonviolent, loving spirit.
Of course we encounter uncomfortable disagreements with fellow activists, even CWs.  I sympathize with those who question or even “distance” themselves from certain tones or styles of action, so I’m not impressed by assertions that such distancing is merely cowardice.  I agree with Kara Speltz’s         plainly-wording comments on love and diverse paths.
Don’t attempt to define violence/nonviolence sometimes get a bit into the weeds?  (“sterile,” Don W called it?) But, they’re a necessary step I suppose?  To me, it’s easier to weigh choices if we use terms like “harm vs benefit” or “loving vs aggressive.”  I mean, if we say property-destruction is violent, it’s not as if we’re being precious about the material object being damaged, right? The issue is that there’s PEOPLE who identify strongly with the property and who experience its damage as harm to themselves.  And any of us who are honest about ourselves can at least relate to having fixations on me-and-mine.  I mean, Jesus doesn’t agree with war-maker fixations or any of our petty fixations, but he still gets them; he “became man” and spoke as “one of us,” not on a pedestal, speaking as one who experiences destructive emotions and temptations.
How about an analogy between Plowshares and an addiction-intervention?  Both war and addicition are terribly destructive. When you intervene to disrupt an addict’s habits, they probably won’t like it at all, and will experience mental and physical distress in the short-term, but we know that’s not enough reason to avoid action.  If we intervene out of love rather than self-righteousness, people feel that on some level and it has impact in the longer term.  The frame of mind we bring to the intervention can at least avoid adding to the shame and self-hate they are surely already living with. Similarly, Plowshares actions (disturbing the war) of course piss some people off, especially fearful insecure people.  We can at least aim to not inflame the fear.  Unfortunately there aren’t really a lot of robust training programs out there, for developing that ahimsa quality; it’s awesome how many people develop it anyway. 
To whatever extent we’re aware, we might as well take into account both the short-term and long-term consequences we anticipate from our action, including even, like Tom alluded to, acknowledging that our action may cause the responders to act violently, to accrue sin.  Our actions aren’t the entire cause of the sin, but of course they are part of it.
While I’m a weak practitioner, still I believe that really being careful to examine and purify our motivations for direct action makes a huge difference in their result, both in the world and in our own peace of mind during life and death.  I appreciate the many forms of love that people brought to expression in this discussion! Hospitality and resistance work, when plugged into sacred traditions, are great exercise for our capacity to love.  I wouldn’t have found this capacity, if not for many of you! 
P.S.  I took notes on bits I liked, in the earlier parts of discussion (I liked later contributions as well):

Jim: ” The most important thing I can possibly do is what God leads me to, which may seem quite minor to others, even to those whom I most admire. But if I do otherwise, however useless or irrelevant or unimportant or meager it seems, I am leaving my conscience behind.”

Scott Schaeffer-Duffy:    I think we all can agree that it is better to take action, even if it is flawed (as every action ultimately will be), against injustice than to do nothing. I think we all can also agree that every action should be evaluated and, if possible, improved in the future….  If we share our views as our views and not Gospel truth, maybe we can gain from each other.  … I hope we can all continue to exchange ideas and inspire each other to redouble our own efforts to be faithful followers of the Prince of Peace.

Brother David: St. Francis invites folks to his way, he doesn’t castigate others.  For St. Francis, the relational part is important.

Don Whitman: All ideologies serve to limit the reality and action of God and that is something that we must never do

PART 2 from Ciaron O’Reilly

I sometimes reflect that there was once a militant, nonviolent, anti-imperialist faith-based movement that engaged in anti-war resistance at a similar level of risk to that expected of soldiers engaged in the defence, maintenance and expansion of empire. This movement went for roughly 40 years (from the “Catholic Left” draft board raids of the Vietnam War to Plowshares), from about 1967 – 2007.

As a Catholic Worker I was part of that movement – as an activist & organiser – for roughly 30 years. I took part in three plowshares actions on three different continents. I was a key “on the street” organiser in nine trials: Syracuse, Darwin, Liverpool, Chelmsford, Preston (2), Dublin (3). I became quite skilled in arriving in a strange town and working with minimal resources in hostile or deflated environments building solidarity communities around the defendants. I also gave evidence at an acquittal of a plowshares group in Aotearoa / New Zealand. I was involved in solidarity work at one other plowhares trial (Scotland resulting in an acquittal) and two further non-pacifist/ non-faith-based “decommissioning” trials (Belfast and Brighton both resulting in acquittals). So plowshares has been a significant focus for me, along with initiating 
Catholic Worker (CW) communities, living and working with the poor, in Brisbane Liverpool, London, and Dublin.

I don’t think Plowshares exists as a movement as it once did. The capacity we had in the 1980s, when Plowshares was focused primarily on nuclear weapons (ANZUS Plowshares 1991 being the first one that was primarily focused on U.S. intervention), sadly no longer exists. We had a pretty good run for 40 years, considering our minimal resources, personnel, and proactive support base, while facing an incredibly well-resourced evil. The building up of that capacity had a lot to do with Phil Berrigan’s vocation, organizing and single-mindedness, the work of Liz McAlister and others at Jonah House as well as Dan Berrigan’s profile and outreach. The capacity was built in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and a large part of that increased capacity was provided by the radicalisation & renewal of CW communities.

Our capacity for high-risk resistance has eroded for lots of reasons. Now I ask myself if it is wise to encourage others into high risk activity when Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, who exposed a war millions marched against, were left hung out to dry by the self-appointed anti-war leaders and organisations. I dunno? Manning was released not by the pressures of anti-war solidarity, but by the LGBT dimension, the two suicide attempts and the reluctance of Obama to have that probable hi-profile death in custody tarnishing his liberal record. In Obama’s last press conference, explaining Manning’s commutation, he does not mention the word “Iraq” once (a war he voted against as a Senator, denounced as “stupid” as President and the place where Manning was motivated and arrested). Assange of course remains surrounded in London with minimal activist solidarity.

I initiated the first plowshares action I was involved in. I accepted invitations to join the next two. I presently don’t recruit, incite or attempt to gather potential recruits to consider enacting the plowshares prophecy. If I was approached again to participate in a plowshares action, I would take the time for sober deliberation and do so only with an awareness that we are now operating in a period where more people can imagine the end of the world – with a nuclear bang or an ecological whimper – than can muster utopian imagination that could consider steps towards social change, peace and justice.

I don’t think there has been a grassroots anti-war movement since the late 1980s, at best replaced by some short-term anti-war spectacle whenever the U.S. goes on a major killing spree. It is a phenomenon that runs its course pretty quickly, because the self-appointed anti-war leadership is more interested in positioning or recruiting for their NGO or lifting their lefty party profiles than resisting or supporting resistance to the war. Sometimes, for example the destruction of Libya, there is not even that! In the lead up to the 1991 Gulf War, there was a huge six month mobilization with numbers on the streets only matched by the anti-Vietnam War movement after 10,000 U.S. fatalities.This opposition evaporated from the streets three weeks into the bombing of Iraq. In 2003, a huge short-lived mobilisation evaporated by the time U.S. invasion of Iraq turned to occupation.

In understanding the deflated environment we are now operating in, one also has to recognise the significance of the decline of the North American Left. Just as Liberation Theology emerged in response to and through interaction with a strong Latin American Left so did the Catholic Worker emerge in North America. Today, the space once occupied by the Left is now colonised by NGOs – from their high flying careerists to the role of professional “chuggers” (charity muggers) posing as volunteers and polluting street activism. Homelessness, charity, peace and justice have become professional sectors geared to managing the poor and sedating the populace – and there’s gold in them thar hills!

The Catholic Worker’s historical emergence in 1933 was in relation to an American Left that was based in the working class and bouncing off the IWW etc (the late Joshua Casteel once remarked to me that the American left in the 1920s was largely Catholic & Jewish). The Catholic Worker, renewed by the Berrigans assertive nonviolence in the 1960s, was bouncing off an American Left that was actively anti-imperialist. Somewhere in the 1980s, the Left abandoned its primary focus on the redistribution of wealth and embraced social liberalism for identity. The late Peter Lumsden once observed, “the Catholic Worker is one of the few movements in modern history which advocates a solution to the question of redistribution of wealth by asking the rich to give up their riches voluntarily”. We now live at a point in history where five individuals own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. The American Left today is hamstrung with the paralysis of identity politics, as participants are expected to tie themselves in knots with white guilt, straight guilt, male guilt etc. It’s like they have adopted the worst aspects of religiosity and crave to be theocrats in a pseudo church crushing pluralism, denying free expression on the basis of “safe space” and controlling peoples behavior, speech patterns etc. It is hardly surprising that the decline in quality and quantity of the North American Left has had consequences for the Catholic Worker.


The Catholic Worker and Plowshares movements did not appear in a vacuum. These expressions of Christian discipleship – attempting to en-flesh the timeless and universal teachings of Jesus Christ – emerge, like all movements before them, in an historical context. In the 1930s Peter Maurin had a critique of capitalism and state communism and also a communitarian vision of the way things should be to realize a society, and an economy, in which it was much easier to be good. Peter imagined and articulated how humans could feed, clothe and shelter themselves without violence and the exploitation of the image of God – other human beings. This vision was articulated at a time when totalitarianism of both the right (Hitler, Mussolini etc.) and left (Stalin) had a popular and growing base. It could be argued today that we exist at a time when the two growth ideologies are the techno-fascism of Silicon Valley with its liberal veneer, and a fascist variant of Islam (driven & funded by U.S. ally Saudi Arabia) that provides one of the few anti-imperialist templates for the oppressed in the vacuum created by the sabotage and defeat of previous socialist and nationalist projects. Meanwhile at the center of the U.S. empire, the Christian churches line up solidly behind the imperial project, with the U.S.being the only largely church going society in the Developed World.

The two practices of the Catholic Worker – the acts of mercy and anti-war resistance – were responses to the historical context  that helped shape the Catholic Worker movement. The crisis in capitalism that produced the Great Depression accentuated the acts of mercy and the crisis in imperialism that produced World War 2 saw Dorothy Day split the movement and accentuate nonviolent anti-war resistance. Without these crisis the Catholic Worker would have probably followed Peter Maurin’s original vision and become a largely agrarian movement rarely engaging the poor or the war-making state.

The end of WW2 (in truth the opening shots of the 50 year Cold War to follow) saw the use of nuclear weapons, the collapse of European empires and the rise of two extra-European empires in the USSR and USA. In significant parts of the world, modernist Capitalism under the leadership of the U.S. formed an alliance with pre-modernist Islam to defeat modernist Communism led by the USSR – in Indonesia, the Middle East and finally in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Although this victory climaxed with the collapse of the USSR in the early ’90s’, recent U.S. attacks on the Arab nationalist regimes of Saddam Hussein, Assad, and Gaddafi are a continuation of these alliances and objectives. The use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. and its eventual defeat in Vietnam led to the adoption of the new military tactics of nuclearism and low intensity conflict to expand and sustain empire while avoiding large scale domestic dissent and division within the military itself. In turn, these tactical changes demanded the development of the new pacifist tactics emerging from within the Catholic Worker. Post Vietnam, Conscientious Objection was made irrelevant by the state choosing to stop using conscripts (well other than economic conscripts). Those Christian peace churches that clung to it as their only tactic were reduced to anachronisms. The Catholic Worker movement was largely saved from this fate by the renewal led initially by Ammon Hennacy and then more significantly by the Berrigans.

U.S. elites continue to learn from their mistakes, developing military strategy and marketing techniques that guarantee sedation and distraction at the centre of empire, while they wage permanent war on the perimeter. The Berrigans had realised that they lived at the centre of empire with its daily grind of starvation and murder on the perimeter. Dan Berrigan’s initial public reflection on the 911 attack that “the war has come home!” is instructive. The development of nonviolent Plowshares resistance is a Christian recognition that just as it is justice that gives the expression of peace, it is violence (and the threat of violence) that sustains exploitation. The recognition of the Plowshares prophecy as being an appropriate Christian form of contemporary pacifist resistance was embraced by many Catholic Workers in both activist and proactive solidarity roles. Forming faith-based community as an oppositional symbol and reality to empire had a heavier emphasis in Plowshares than in the earlier draft board raids.

The emphasis on the symbolic dimension of the act, along with the achievement of actual disarmament has always been central to the Plowshares witness – it is the symbolic dimension of the act that continues to speak to hearts, minds, and consciences years after the act was undertaken. The act of two lumps of metal – hammer and weapon – interacting is secondary. Treatment by the courts – conviction or acquittal – in response to these acts of conscience are not a measure of success. Such verdicts are a reflection on the extent of the corruption of the particular legal system (no acquittals in U.S. – multiple acquittals in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland) and the quality of the consciences assembled as a jury. The Plowshares community goes into the witness with a clear sense of its own complicity in empire, which gives rise to a humility that they are playing a limited role in the eventual full realization of disarmament. In relation to the significance of the prison witness, Phil would say “brothers and sisters in prison for peace and justice speak to our conscience – which is how God speaks to us!” 


For the last 7 years, one of my priorities has been proactively standing in solidarity with Chelsea Manning (sentenced to 35 Years), Manning’s mother Susan and family in Wales, and Julian Assange (presently detained for 7 years without charge, likely in custody for life, heading to Florence Fed Pen in Colorado eventually). One of my beefs has been the abandonment of anti-war resisters by the movements that incited them to nonviolent resistance to, and exposure of, the wars that millions marched against. 

Besides the L.A., Des Moines & Brisbane CWs, I haven’t noticed much evidence of proactive solidarity with Manning and Assange from CWs. Not all CW’s should go to jail, but all should be in proactive solidarity with brothers and sisters who are before the courts, in chains or jail. I think Catholic Worker houses should be hubs of anti-war resistance and organizing, as well as bases for the acts of mercy. Many of our people who have experienced imprisonment, know the significance of solidarity actions to the prisoner. We know from our own experience that the criminal justice system is designed to isolate and crush the dissident. We know the only antivenin is one’s spirituality, community, and solidarity. Without this dimension, our “acts of mercy” are reduced to being one of George Bush Sr’s “thousand points of light” privatizing welfare, mopping up after capitalism, and participating in active co-dependence with the state and Empire.

To paraphrase a riff from Frank Cordaro, I truly believe if 1% of the people who marched against the war in 2003 had nonviolently resisted to the point of imprisonment, and the other 99% who had marched had been in proactive solidarity – fed the cat, dealt with the hysterical parents, supported the prisoners etc – we would have stopped the war and infected the military and prison systems- the linchpins of the imperial state – with a radical nonviolent virus.

Plowshares, like the Catholic Worker, is a tradition (that even if were all liquidated in the morning) can be picked up again in the future.  

Plowshares was a movement in the time-period 1967-2007. 

Plowshares will continue to be enfleshed as a nonviolent tactic by serious people attempting to confront empire in solidarity with its victims.

Ciaron O’Reilly
Dublin, Ireland
Jan. 2018
“Plowshares: The Next Generation?” by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann. CW Detroit, Geez mag #48,  p 61-62, Winter 2017
We acted after having exhausted all other avenues of political process and resistance to this petroleum pipeline.”

Over the course of six months, Jessica Reznicek (35) and Ruby Montoya (27) secretly carried our multiple acts of sabotage and arson in attempts to stop the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Both women are members of the Phil Berrigan Des Moines Catholic Worker House. In late July, Reznicek and Montoya held a press conference taking responsibility for the actions. They claimed their actions were part of the Catholic Worker Plowshares tradition arguing that climate change is the next chapter of the movement.

Montoya describes their first action in an interview with Democracy Now!, “So, on election night, we went to a DAPL easement site in Buena Vista County, and we saw over six or seven pieces of heavy machinery there. And we went with our supplies, and we filled these coffee canisters up with gasoline and oil. We placed those coffee canisters on the inside of the cabs of these heavy machinery, on the seats, and we pierced those coffee canisters so that the flammable liquids would spread. We then lit matches and—in efforts to make those machines obsolete.

In August, 30 FBI agents raided the Berrigan House and seized 20 bags with the women’s belongings. Reznicek and Montoya are being tried on federal charges and may serve several years in prison. Energy Transfer Partners, owner of the DAPL pipeline, claims they caused over $1 million in damages and have called their actions eco-terrorism according to the Ottumwa Courier.

Reznicek said on Democracy Now! “We are speaking publicly to empower others to act boldly, with purity of heart, to dismantle the infrastructures which deny us our rights to water, land and liberty.”