By Felice Cohen-Joppa, Popular Resistance
On Sunday, October 9, 120 people from 17 U.S. states plus Mexico, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands concluded a Catholic Worker gathering in Las Vegas with protests at the nearby Nevada National Security Site (NNSS, formerly known as the Nevada nuclear test site) and Creech Air Force Base.
A morning liturgy was held in the desert just outside of the main entrance to the nuclear test site. An activist marching band then led the group as they carried signs, banners and colorful butterflies down the road to the gate. Thirty-one of the activists crossed onto NNSS property and were arrested for trespass. They were soon cited and released.
The 1,360 square mile site is where the U.S. tested over 1,000 above-and-below-ground nuclear blasts from 1951 to 1992. It is now used for experiments and safety training related to the nation’s nuclear stockpile. Just three days after the protest, an underground explosion was detonated there to test methods for detecting underground nuclear explosions.
The NNSS is on Western Shoshone Nation land, recognized by the U.S. government in the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863. The Western Shoshone National Council has declared their nation a Nuclear Free Zone. They have resisted attempts by the U.S. government to nullify the treaty, and have fought for their land to be returned to them.
The description of the offense written on their citations reads: “If two or more persons assemble for the purpose of disturbing the public peace, or committing any unlawful act, and do not disperse, on being desired or commanded so to do by a judge, justice of the peace, sheriff, coroner, constable or other public officer, the persons so offending are guilty of a misdemeanor.”The group caravanned a short distance down Highway 95 to Cactus Springs, where they had lunch at the Goddess Temple before continuing on to Creech Air Force Base, a center for U.S. drone warfare operations. They were greeted there by at least 30 state and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police vehicles, and many more officers and deputies. While the marching band played, and supporters held signs nearby, thirteen Catholic Workers from across the U.S. blockaded the main entrance of the base. They held signs reading “Killer Drones: Illegal and Immoral” and others with the names of civilians who have been killed by U.S. drone attacks. They were charged with unlawful assembly and taken to the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas.
Arrestee Brian Terrell said, “Contrary to the allegations of Las Vegas Metro Police, we did not assemble at Creech Air Force Base to disturb the peace or to commit any unlawful act. The purpose of our assembly was to disturb the war and to demand an end to the unlawful act of assassination by drones committed from there by remote control.” (Ammon Hennacy, a Catholic Worker, pacifist, anarchist and Wobbly who came to Las Vegas in 1957 to protest nuclear weapons testing, and died in 1970, once said regarding a similar charge, “I wasn’t disturbing the peace, I was disturbing the war”.)
Terrell, Alexandria Addesso, Kathy Boylan, Kelsey Chalmars, Austin Cook, John Heid, Steve Jacobs, Allison McGillivray, Phil Runkel, Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire Shaeffer-Duffy and Sam Yergler were released from jail 5-7 hours later. Marcus Collonge refused to sign the citation and was released the following afternoon.
Allison McGillivray reflected after her time in jail, “My act of resistance, as insignificant as it might be, was an attempt to put my body in the way of unchecked complicity with drone warfare. This imperial force is not only illegal and unjustified, it is a stain on the precious American ideals of freedom and liberty. I was lucky enough to stand in the name of peace with new and experienced resisters, and to have the opportunity to explain my action to police and prison guards and prisoners alike. Jail is a miserable and ugly and cold place. It is an institution that forces guards and prisoners to be adversaries, a division that seeps into our binary perceptions of good and bad in the world outside. Still, there was tenderness and care between the women in the holding cell, signs that humanity takes more than shackles to be quelled. In the end, this insignificant act brought to me a significant experience. I think Ammon Hennacy said it best, ‘I’m not trying to change the world. I’m trying to stop the world from changing me.’”
Scott Schaeffer-Duffy observed, “The gratuitous cruelty of the guards inside the Las Vegas lock up was as excessive as the glitz on the Strip and the lie that drones are precision weapons. It was wonderful to experience the joy of the Catholic Worker gathering, to witness at the Test Site and Creech Air Force Base, to spend time in solidarity with the poor in lock up, and then, for Claire and me, to enjoy the beauty of Zion National Park. There is more than enough goodness in humanity and beauty in the world to inspire resistance to war and all injustice.”
Hosted by the Las Vegas Catholic Worker, the three-day gathering began with thoughtful sharing at many round table workshops, an inspiring talk by long-time Catholic Workers Willa Bickham and Brendan Walsh of Baltimore’s Viva House, an open mike with performances by musicians, singers, storytellers and poets, and shared meals and prayer.
The Catholic Worker movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York City in 1933, works to create a “new society within the shell of the old, a society in which it will be easier to be good.” From the Catholic Worker website: “Today 236 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.”