All photos by Zara Brown, member of the US delegation, unless otherwise noted.
To view more of Zara Brown’s photos from Day 1 click here.
All photos by Zara Brown, member of the US delegation, unless otherwise noted.
To view more of Zara Brown’s photos from Day 1 click here.
By John LaForge
BÜCHEL, Germany — For the first time in a 21 –year-long effort to oust the remaining US “B61” nuclear weapons from Germany, a delegation of US peace activists* joined in protests at the Büchel Air Base in west-central Germany between July 12 to 18. Notable among the 11-person delegation were seven participants who have served a combined total of 36 years in US jails and prisons for protests against nuclear weapons and the war system.
The Nukewatch-organized delegation, from seven states and the District of Columbia, was invited by a coalition of 50 German peace groups and organizations that’s taken on Germany’s de-nuclearization as a primary focus, and we were joined in an “International Week” of protests by likeminded activists from Belgium, France, The Netherlands, China, Russia, and Mexico. While the US delegation was a “first” in its own right, our group established a few other firsts in our week of nonviolent confrontations.
On Saturday July 15, Susan Crane, of the Redwood City, Calif. Catholic Worker and a participant in five Plowshares disarmament actions, and I walked through the base’s main gate and talked for 40 minutes with military guards and local police about the question of whether their orders to protect Büchel’s nuclear war planning are lawful. One guard complained to me, “Every time I tell you to leave, you start another conversation.” Although Susan eventually sat down and had to be carried out (I walked), no charges were brought against us for our simple “go-in” demonstration, something unprecedented according to long-time nuclear disarmament activist and peace camp organizer Marion Kuepker.
On Sunday the 16th, a pair of firsts was accomplished when a group of 50 protesters, accompanied by photographers and reporters, walked through the same gate and toward a “hardened” steel inner gate which was for the first time anyone could remember left inexplicably unlocked. At least 30 of us traipsed through the open steel door, fanned out, and began inspecting the otherwise exclusively military surroundings and their gaudy display of three retired war planes on pedestals. All the while, Dominican Sisters Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte, of Baltimore, Maryland, read aloud the text of the new international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons and calling for the base commander to come and accept a copy. The Dutch activists, most of them from the Amsterdam Catholic Worker, had gotten exactly what they wanted: to place loaves of “bread not bombs!” — as the old peace slogan goes — around the old “gods of metal.”
Simultaneously, Susan Crane and I took up an idea from Sister Carol, and lowered the US flag. It had occupied a position superior to Germany’s, even at this German base. Having had a lot of experience with flags as a former Boy Scout, the task was done in a blink. But when Susan asked me, “Now what do we do with it?” I had to admit, “I don’t have a lighter,” and could only shout to the other “go-in” activists: “US out of Germany!” (There are some 50,000 US military personnel still occupying the country, 28 years after the end of the Cold War and 72 years after the end of World War II.) Our hosts told us later that no one in Germany would dare to take down the US flag for all the accusations of “anti-Americanism” that would result. Peace activists get called enough names as it is.
Two other shocking first-ever events came on Monday July 17. As I reported last week, a rush-hour blockade of the highway leading to the main gate was interrupted amazingly by the base commander himself, “Oberstleutnant” Gregor Schlemmer, who diplomatically took from Sister Ardeth her copy of the ban treaty. After dark the same day, five of us, four US and one German, got farther into the supposedly high-security base than any others had managed to in two decades of “go-in” protests here. Somehow we crossed lighted fields and roads, tramped noisily through several woodlots, clipped through four chain-link fences, and climbed atop a huge weapons bunker that may have contained nuclear weapons — all without being detected. People bent on hurting others or destroying things instead of simply inspecting could have done terrible damage to this facility.
Our final “go-in” action showed once again that the government’s claims that nuclear weapons keep us safe, and its promises that it can keep its nuclear weapons safe, are fraudulent. Even pacifists with wire cutters showed them to be laughable fairy tales.
The US plans to produce 480 new thermonuclear B61s — the so-called “B61-12”— to replace the current stock and the 180 now deployed in five NATO states — including the 20 at Büchel. Production is not expected to start before 2022, and overall cost of the new bomb is estimated to be at least $12 billion. This program can still be defunded and cancelled, but it take a few more firsts.
*The US delegates were Steve Baggarly, of the Norfolk, Virginia Catholic Worker; Kathy Boylan, of the Washington, DC Catholic Worker; Zara Brown, a Minneapolis, Minn. photographer; Susan Crane; Ralph Hutchison, and Carmella Cole, both of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Knoxville, Tenn.; Sr. Carol and Sr. Ardeth; Leona Morgan, of Diné No Nukes in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Bonnie Urfer and myself, both of Nukewatch in Luck, Wisc.
All over the world people say no more nukes! These weapons have been banned internationally and now the international community has come to Germany to get the US nukes out!
An event held Saturday, July 15th welcomed the international activists that came to Büchel Air Force Base. Below it is captured in video clips.
At the International Week of Action members of the Nukewatch- organized delegation explain why they have come to Germany to oppose nuclear weapons.
“75-80% of uranium mining happens on indigenous lands worldwide. All over the world indigenous people dealing with the uranium mining have the same problems. It’s just a different company and a different government they are fighting.”
“How much is too much to give for our children?” From where the bombs are made in Oak Ridge, TN to their destination in Büchel, they meet resistance.
“I’d rather be playing with my grandchildren than resisting nuclear weapons and being put in prison.”
“Dorothy Day called nuclear weapons ‘gas chambers without walls.’ If we wouldn’t put people in gas chambers why would we fling them on people? The whole world has been turned into a concentration camp. Incineration is our fate unless we act to abolish nuclear weapons and war.”
(In German and English) Representatives of nuclear- and non- nuclear armed states came to Büchel to oppose the nukes in Germany, including China, Mexico, Russia. At minute 3:15 they introduce themselves in English.
By John LaForge
Büchel, Germany — The theory that nuclear weapons provide state security is a fiction believed by millions. Last night Monday, July 17, five of us proved that the story of ”high security” nuclear weapon facilities is just as fictitious.
After nightfall, an international group of five peace activists, me included, got deep inside the Büchel Air Base here, and for the first time in a 21-year long series of protests against its deployment of US nuclear bombs, we occupied the top of one of the large bunkers which stores nuclear weapons. We could scarcely believe we’d reached the inner sanctum of a nuclear war planning zone.
After hiking along two shadowy farm roads, shushing down a dark row of tall corn, crossing a brightly lit air base road, and tramping noisily through a few wooded brambles, our small group cut through two chain-link fences, bumbled past a giant hanger, and under the wing of a jet fighter bomber, to reach a double fence surrounding the giant earth-covered bunkers. After we cut through the two non-electrified exterior fences without tripping a single alarm or even causing the lights to snap on, the five of us scurried up to the top of the sod-padded, wide-topped concrete quonset hut. Totally unnoticed, we spent over an hour chatting, star gazing, checking our radiation monitor, and enjoying being flabbergasted that our implausible plan had worked. This was supposedly one of the most tightly controlled places in the world.
No motion detector or alarm, no Klieg light or guard had noticed our intrusion at all. Then it started getting cold. We’d come prepared for days, weeks or months in jail, but not for being outside all night. So two members of the group climbed down to scratch “DISARM NOW” on the bunker’s giant metal front door, setting off an alarm. They hustled back up to the others and were soon surrounded by vehicle spot lights and guards searching on foot with flashlights. We decided to alert guards to our presence by singing ‘The Vine & Fig Tree,’ prompting them for the first time to look up. We were eventually taken into custody, more than two hours after entering the base. After being detained, searched, photographed for an hour, we were released without charges, although some may be pending.
The five, Baggarly, Susan Crane, 73, of California, Bonnie Urfer, 65, of Wisconsin, Gerd Buentzly, 67, of Germany, and I, said in a prepared statement, “We are nonviolent and have entered Büchel Air Base to denounce the nuclear weapons deployed here. We ask Germany to either disarm the weapons or send them back to the United States for disarming….” The US still deploys up to 20 B61 gravity bombs at the air base and German pilots train to use them in war from their Tornado jet fighter bombers.
The bunker occupation, known as a “go-in” action by German anti-nuclear campaigners, was the fourth act of civil resistance during “international week” at the base, organized by “Non-violent Action to Abolish Nukes” (GAAA). More than 60 people from around the world — Russia, China, Mexico, Germany, Britain, the US, the Netherlands, France and Belgium — participated. The effort was in turn part of a 20-week-long series of actions — “Twenty Weeks for Twenty Bombs” — that was begun March 26, 2017 by a 50-group Germany-wide coalition called Büchel is Everywhere, Nuclear Weapons Free Now!”
A combination of two earlier actions succeeded in winning a meeting with the base commander ”Oberstleutnant” Gregor Schlemmer. At the site of a base blockade earlier July 17, the commander personally approached the protesters — something unheard of in the United States — and accepted a copy of the newly-adopted UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons from Sister Ardeth Platte, OP, of Baltimore, Maryland. A day earlier, as 25 activists walked through shockingly unlocked main entrance gates, spontaneously lowered the US flag, and ”put bread not bombs” around the retired jet bombers on display, Sr. Platte and Sr. Carol Gilbert, OP also of Baltimore, demanded a meeting with Schlemmer so they could deliver the treaty. The next day’s appearance of the commander made me joke: ”Yesterday we took down the flag, and today the commander surrendered.”
Eleven activists from the United States came to Büchel to put a spotlight on government plans to replace the B61. Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Tennessee — where a new thermonuclear core for the “B61-Model 12” will be manufactured — said, “It is important that we show this is a global movement. The resistance to nuclear weapons is not limited to one country.” The new B61-12 program will cost more than $12 billion, and “when production starts sometime after 2020, Büchel is scheduled to get new nuclear bombs. Nothing could be stupider when Germany wants the out and the world wants to abolish nuclear weapons,” he said.
US delegate Susan Crane, a Plowshares activist and member of the Redwood City, Calif. Catholic Worker, said, “Around 3:00 a.m. while we were detained, Schlemmer the Commander came to meet us and said what we did was very dangerous and that we might have been shot. We believe the greater danger comes from the nuclear bombs that are deployed at the Base.”
Through the prism of nonviolence
By John Heid
Summer Quarterly 2017
Jamar Clark, 24, was shot and killed Nov. 15, 2015 by Minneapolis police officer Dustin Schwarze while officer Mark Ringgenberg held him on the ground. No criminal or civil charges were brought against the officers. In June his family filed a federal lawsuit against the officers saying the police subjected Clark to unreasonable seizure and excessive force.
The trouble with our state / was not civil disobedience, / which in any case, was hesitant and rare./… / The trouble with our state / — we learned it only afterward / when the dead resembled the living who resembled the dead / and civil virtue shone like paint on tin / and tin citizens and tin soldiers marched to the common whip / — our trouble / the trouble with our state / with our state of soul / our state of siege — / was / Civil / Obedience.
— Excepted from “The Trouble with Our State” by Daniel Berrigan
“I am troubled by the ongoing civil disobedience.”
— Judge Christian Sande, Hennepin County District Court, Minn., March 29, 2017
The verdict in most political trials is usually anticlimactic. The heart of such trials lies in our testimony, and, once in a blue moon, in a prosecutor or judge’s statements. Every now and then a ray of light makes its way through the decorum into the “halls of justice.” This actually happened in Hennepin County District Court in late March when Eddie Bloomer of the Des Moines Catholic Worker and I were tried on charges stemming from an April 2016 Black Lives Matter/Catholic Worker action in Minneapolis.
My defense to the charges of trespass and obstruction of transit was based on my claim of right to stand precisely where I did, in front of a Metro Transit light rail vehicle, in order to raise awareness and create a tension that would pressure Minneapolis police to address their lethal policies and practices toward people of color. Our vigil focused particularly on the murder of an unarmed young man, Jamar Clark, who was shot in the head by a Minneapolis police officer. The investigation into Jamar’s killing was closed earlier in the year by the Minneapolis Police Department without charges against the officer involved.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. carefully laid out the rationale for the practice of creative tension in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I referenced this hallowed letter in laying out my “claim of right” defense. Throughout the three-day trial presiding Judge Christian Sande paid careful attention. Then during pre-sentencing remarks he gave a stern, thought- provoking rebuke to the rationale for my defense. He began by saying: “I am troubled by the analogies that I see—particularly, the Letter from a Birmingham Jail…. Dr. King talks about constructive tension. But again, the constructive tension he was citing in the Letter… had to do with a direct challenge to an unconstitutional law and a public sentiment that supported that unconstitutional law. This (Eddie’s and my cases) was much more amorphous and so it’s much harder for the community and the Court in a situation like this to really do much to address the issues.”
Judge Sande’s comments are a rare courtroom gift. They summarize the mindset of status quo “liberal ideology—for the record. True, we were not protesting the trespass laws or the right-of-way for public transit. What we were protesting was the violation of Jamar Clark’s constitutional right to due process, civil and human rights, and to a fair trial by a jury of his peers. A Twin Cities police officer had robbed him of these rights by playing the roles of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. In a single irretrievable moment in time.
With a bullet. There is no appellate court for Jamar, let alone a trial. This killing was not an isolated incident in the Twin Cities or in our country for that matter. It is a nation-wide matter of fact and an epidemic.
Our vigil followed carefully what Dr. King laid out from his Birmingham jail cell. He wrote: “Its (Birmingham’s) ugly record of police brutality known in every section of this country.” Minneapolis’s track record of death-by-cop is not so widely published, but is well known in the black community. Dr. King was labeled an outside agitator. Yet he had local ties. We, catholic workers were invited to the Twin Cities by local human rights workers including people of color. Regardless, Dr. King reminded us from his cell that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We were victims of a broken promise… and the dark shadow of disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except for that of preparing for direct action.” In Minneapolis the investigation into Jamar Clark’s murder closed without charges. Negotiations had failed.
Judge Sande’s comments articulate the point of view that believes the system can self-correct by means of checks and balances, by petitions, sanctioned rallies, town hall meetings, and the ballot.
These activities do not change the fundamental character of the system. They don’t rock the boat. Activist Philip Berrigan called these “acts of consent. Ones that go along with business as usual.” The difference between consent and dissent lies in whether one believes that the system is fundamentally just—or not. The principle attitude underlying our direct action in Minneapolis was
dissent, challenging the system at its roots, which is what radical means. Dissent recognizes that the system is in need of radical transformation. Dr. King reminds: “My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” Howard Zinn wrote in his A Peoples’ History of the United States that no social change has occurred in this country without both consent and dissent.
Two more black men were killed by Twin Cities police officers between the time of our vigil and our trial.
The challenge that Judge Sande laid out—however inadvertently or intentionally—is for activists to more clearly and consistently articulate the necessity and efficacy of dissent. Which, simply put, means more creative tension, more court time.
I close where I began with Daniel Berrigan. In the early 1970s, he and exiled Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn shared a series of midnight conversations in Paris. These were printed in The Raft Is Not The Shore. Daniel said: “But nothing is understandable while it’s going on—the sixties are only understandable when they’re over, which makes most people into morticians—ready to bury the dead. But it costs something to say while the killing is going on, ‘No one should die!’ And the killing is going on.”
Over the past 10 years, 100 percent of the people killed by the Minneapolis Police Department have been black or brown. I rest my case. Again.
—John Heid volunteers for the immigrants’ rights groups No More Deaths, and Humane Borders in Ajo, Arizona.