Bay Area Activists Keep Peace Issues Alive

By Abercrombie, Sharon | National Catholic Reporter, January 26, 1996 | Go to article overview

Bay Area Activists Keep Peace Issues Alive


Abercrombie, Sharon, National Catholic Reporter


OAKLAND, Calif. -- They move in the same circles of concern. They have often prayed and read scripture together during Friday vigils at Livermore Laboratories, a nuclear research facility located in the East Bay area of California.

Their spiritual heroes are the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus and modern figures such as Martin Luther King, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Mohandas Gandhi and Dorothy Day. Finally, they have civil disobedience and jail in common.

Fr. Bill O'Donnell, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Berkeley, counts his civil disobedience arrests well over 100. Jesuit Fr. Steve Kelly, an associate pastor at Holy Redeemer Parish in San Jose, and Ukiah, Calif., schoolteacher Susan Crane are currently in jail, awaiting sentencing for a Plowshares action at a Lockheed Corp. facility in Sunnyvale. Kelly and Crane are among 40 pacifists who since 1984, as a part of the Plowshares movement, have symbolically converted "swords into plowshares" at a host of nuclear weapons facilities including those in Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, Virginia, Australia, Holland and New Zealand.

The three find it unconscionable that the U.S. government pours millions. of dollars into the continued development of nuclear weaponry while people go and hungry.

Kelly risked federal imprisonment because of his conviction that "the first step to nuclear disarmament is to stop testing the weapons." He believes his actions of pouring blood and hammering are a way of taking personal responsibility for disarmament and ending weapons testing.

Crane, an Anglican, said her actions have been influenced by Kelly and O'Donnell as well as by Fr. Louis Vitale, founder of the Nevada Desert Experience, and other East Bay activists.

What is it about the Bay that produces such a trio as Crane, Kelly and O'Donnell? Similar activism occurs elsewhere throughout the country, but Kelly and O'Donnell agreed there is "something unique about this area."

"We're blessed with good weather, a special openness to a diversity of ideas and lifestyles and a myriad of social activists who have the need to say something," said Kelly.

O'Donnell believes the Bay area is "the last bastion of American patriotic values, and we're the real patriots. The others are faking it." O'Donnell defines patriotism as taking care of children as well as the poor, the sick and the homeless.

"The health of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its poor," he said. "Our nation is becoming sicker and sicker because of snake-oil doctors like Newt Gin-Rich," he said, parodying the name of the Republican speaker of the House.

O'Donnell said he derives his spirituality not only from the contemporary thinkers like Martin Luther King and Gandhi, but also from the mysticism of saints and poets who look at the preciousness of the human person. "If we're not precious, there is no God. Our beauty is God's glory. It becomes a blasphemy when people are ignored."

Since 1969, O'Donnell has been to 168 protests or demonstrations; he said he has left every one of them in the custody of the police.

He first engaged in civil disobedience during a rally called by Cesar Chavez on behalf of farm workers.

His latest: climbing over the fence of the Indonesian consulate in San Francisco Nov. 13, 1995, to protest the December 1991 massacre by Indonesian military of 270 people. Those killed were attending a memorial service at Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, honoring two pro-independence activists.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony located on an island north of Australia, was illegally invaded 21 years ago by Indonesia, using planes and weapons financed by the U.S. military. The United States discontinued its support four years ago because of human rights violations by Jakarta in East Timor, but is preparing to reinstate its former arrangement, said the Rev. John Chamberlain, director of the East Timor Religious Outreach in San Francisco. …

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