This morning I’ve been remembering the beginning of the campaign against Trident submarines in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Can it really be almost 40 years ago? Such a raggedy band we were, twenty or so activists, burned out after our work against the war in Vietnam, not wanting another issue to address – and challenged by Bob Aldridge, who had helped to design the Trident missile. Bob had left his job because he could no longer in conscience help build Trident. It was his analysis of the arms race that informed us, but it was his moral action that inspired us.
By the July 4th weekend in 1976, we had done months of research, self-education, and public speaking. We had formed a small community, which we called Pacific Life Community. Our commitment was to learn how to live nonviolently, with the campaign against Trident as the political arm of that commitment. We had all suffered from the personal violence of our own activism – our marriages had suffered, our frantic activity had drained us. We had all been inspired by some of the people who were on the other side of the issue – like the Air Force men who asked us to raise the issue of targeting civilians during the bombing in Vietnam. We wanted to struggle against our own complicity in violence at all levels, and to emphasize that everyone is part of the problem and part of the solution – that we can only live, or perish, as one.
The Trident issue made obvious what is deeply true: none of us are actually independent. Trident is home ported at Bangor, Washington. To cruise the oceans it needs to leave the Strait of Juan de Fuca through Canadian waters, returning on the U.S. side of the border. The Trident system is a product of years of research and effort that escaped our notice as peace people living within miles of the proposed base. It was a Trident missile designer who raised the issue for us all. Trident cruises the Pacific, the same ocean used for testing of nuclear weapons by the U.S. and the French – testing which prompted a movement for a Nuclear Free Pacific. Deploying Trident is an international project; stopping it is also. (Since those early years of the Trident campaign, Scotland has become a center of opposition as well, to the British Trident.)
A very early demonstration against Trident saw an international community gathered at Peace Arch Park, the border crossing between the U.S. and Canada just above Blaine, WA. We gathered from the U.S. and the Canadian sides of the border to celebrate INTERdependence Day during the 4th of July weekend. Citizens of the U.S. and Canada and perhaps other countries began by affirming interdependence at the border, and continued by going to the site of the base itself and reclaiming the land for all people. Of course, there were arrests and trials and some jail time, which further raised the issue.
Interdependence: a good thing to celebrate, especially at this time of fracture and hostility. During the years that have passed since the Trident campaign began, it has only become clearer that the issues are not national but global. Corporations and governments think globally; more and more often, movements do, too. In this sense we’re living into Dr. King’s vision. King’s hope for the Poor People’s Campaign was that as poor people tied up D.C. calling for legislation to end poverty, the peace movement would encircle the Pentagon calling for peace, and then that peoples around the globe would join in similar nonviolent blockages until global peace and justice became a possibility.
I was having a good time at morning prayer this morning remembering those early actions of ours, and thinking that our commitment to nonviolence as a way of life and our understanding of interdependence are both as valid now as they were then. The ubiquitous butterfly fluttered into my mind – you know, the one that changes the weather in Bali by fluttering its wings in England? Interdependence is a scientific fact now too. Life is a mystery, and so is our linkage to each other, yet that linkage is there, strong as life.
It occurred to me that the linkage symbolized by the butterfly, or more grossly by the Trident navigating global waters, is the basis for the hard sayings of Jesus that we’ve been reading in church over the last few weeks. What if not only my actions but my thoughts affect the world, just as the butterfly’s wings do? What if my hatred or impatience or fear affects the “weather” in other people’s psyches? I have certainly experienced those effects in a local way – when someone in the house is grouchy or touchy, for example, everyone’s spirits are affected badly. What if that’s just as true on a larger, less visible level?
As I sit thinking, it becomes obvious – ill will generates ill will, distrust generates distrust. Lack of respect calls forth an answering lack of respect. I see it in our political arena all the time, as civility and reason fly out the window. I feel it in my own heart, where I battle cynicism and hostility daily as I read the paper or watch the news. All too often my interior response to hostility is a mental “back atcha” or “so’s your mama”. It doesn’t get said, but it has an interior effect, a kind of gunk of the soul, that stays with me for hours. What if the hostility that I harbor affects not only the people here in the house, but the web of life in the world? What if my ill will helps impel a Syrian soldier to pull a trigger?
All of which brings me back to the spiritual disciplines represented by morning prayer or scripture reading or examination of conscience. Jesus wasn’t telling us to love our enemy so that we would be nice people, or even so that our enemies would be nice people. He was setting out for us the very difficult way to change in the world. Those examinations of conscience that require us to list our lies, or lack of charity, our hateful actions – perhaps they aren’t so much intended to guide us to personal perfection as to point out to us the ways in which we ourselves foment war and injustice. Perhaps it isn’t so much that my anomie or my resentment hurts me (although it does), but that it hurts us all. It fosters disturbance in the delicate balance that would be peace in the world, peace in our minds.
Gandhi told people to BE the change they wanted to see in the world; Peter Maurin observed that if everyone would be what they wanted the other person to be, the world would be a better place. What if we took an examination of conscience seriously, not as a litany of our sins, not to be perfect in following rules, but as a guideline to the ways in which we ourselves are responsible for the evil in the world? What if we took our own sin seriously?
The butterfly’s wing, the hateful thought, the submarine, the hands across a border – all signs of our interdependence, which could be our salvation.
The Trident campaign continues; find out more information at www.gzcenter.org. Shelley Douglass is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace. She is the hospitaller at Mary’s House Catholic Worker in Birmingham, a member of Holy Family Parish, and active especially against war and the death penalty.