Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Brunswick, Maine, United States

I'll be taking an 'unpaid leave of absence' from my job at the Global Network from December 15-March 15, 2020 in order to help my friend Lisa Savage on her campaign for the US Senate in Maine. I'll be back to GN after March 15.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Judge Field again supports non-violent protesters at BIW

Phil Berrigan being arrested at the Pentagon after one of his many actions. In 1997 he led a plowshares action at Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Maine and was called "a moral giant, the conscience of a generation" by Judge Joseph Field.  (Etching by Tom Lewis)


On June 24, 2019, 22 non-violent peace activists were arrested at BIW during another destroyer 'christening' as they blocked buses and cars full of people trying to enter the shipyard for the event.

On that day nine in the group refused to pay the $60 bail commissioner fee and spent two nights in jail.  In the end some of those arrested paid a $152 fine (being told they would lose their drivers license if they did not pay the fine), some had their charges dropped (after a screw up at the DA's office) and seven decided to take their case before the West Bath District Court in a bench trial.

(The entire group had wanted a jury trial but the state reduced the charges to a 'jay walking infraction' that was not severe enough to warrant a jury trial.  Thus a bench trial, before a judge only, was in order.)

This morning four of the remaining defendants (Brown Lethem, Natasha Mayers, Ridgely Fuller & Ashley Bahlkow) appeared before Judge Joseph Field for the bench trial. After a long period of sitting around the court house the case was finally called before Judge Field around 11:00 am.

Judge Field is known in peace movement circles as the presiding judge in 1997 following a plowshares action at BIW.

Before dawn on February 12, 1997, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, six religious peace activists, Steve Baggarly from Norfolk, VA, Philip Berrigan, a former Josephite priest from Baltimore, Mark Colville of New Haven, CT, Susan Crane, from Baltimore, Tom Lewis-Borbely of Worcester, MA and the Rev. Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest from San Jose, CA, calling themselves Prince of Peace Plowshares, boarded the USS The Sullivans, an Aegis destroyer, at BIW. Inspired by Isaiah’s prophecy to turn swords into plowshares, they poured their own blood and used hammers to beat on the hatches covering the tubes from which nuclear missiles can be fired and unfurled a banner which read Prince of Peace Plowshares, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…Isaiah 2:4.”

On that same day in 1997 in Sagadahoc County District Court, when the Prince of Peace Plowshares were brought to arraignment, Judge Joseph Field felt impassioned enough to say, “Anyone of my generation knows Philip Berrigan. He is a moral giant, the conscience of a generation.”

When we entered the court room today we didn't know who the presiding judge would be.  It wasn't until the proceedings were over that we realized that Judge Field had once again made an impassioned statement for peace and our constitutional rights.

When the judge began this morning he said the following:

I personally agree with what you are doing.  I support your right to speak out.  No damages occurred by your action.  I am horrified about our rights being taken away these days.

I want you to know this. We are not seeing any [positive] leadership out of Washington DC.
Judge Field went on to cancel the $152 fine the District Attorney's office was requesting.  Instead he gave the four activists 20 hours of community service at a place "where real people are being touched".

He then sent his clerk back into his office to retrieve his laptop which he used to search for something that he tearfully read in full before the courtroom.  It was a quote by former President Eisenhower:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Judge Field asked each of the four defendants if they wished to make a statement.  Natasha Mayers told the story about a Labor Day rally at BIW in 1994 joined by President Bill Clinton, Sen. George Mitchell, Rep. Tom Andrews, BIW President Buzz Fitzgerald and other national and local labor leaders. They all called for the conversion of the shipyard to civilian production so there is indeed a tradition in Bath along these lines to ensure job and community stability.

The judge responded by asking what kinds of products could be built at the shipyard?  Attorney Logan Perkins (Belfast), representing the four, replied, "These are people of conscience who risked their freedom to take a stand against climate change by peaceful assembly.  They are not anti-worker, not anti-BIW.  They insist we convert the Pentagon - the world's biggest polluter which is on a death march of producing destroyers at BIW. They have a bold and creative vision to transform our economy to sun, wind, and rail systems."

Judge Field closed the legal proceedings with these words, "Go ye hence and continue to do good work.  Keep it non-violent without property damage."

As the judge rose those in attendance applauded this remarkable man and this incredible experience - unlike any we've ever experienced in an American courtroom.

Bruce

1 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

Excellent experience to witness !

Many thanks to Logan for her professional defense presentation and to all the activists who participated through the process.

2/13/20, 4:51 PM  

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