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For decades, faith has sustained anti-nuclear movement
[April 07, 2006]

For decades, faith has sustained anti-nuclear movement

(Seattle Times, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) SEATTLE _ From heavily-guarded piers on Hood Canal, nine of the largest submarines in the Navy are dispatched throughout the Pacific, each boat carrying enough atomic firepower within its missile tubes to unleash thousands of Hiroshimas.

For a small band of people, it is very important for you to know this. So important, they are willing to travel miles, make homemade signs and give up their freedom, at least temporarily, to get you to pay attention. Trouble is, few people do. The actions of those tilting against the region's nuclear weapons have become so practiced and refined that even the cops who arrest them seem half asleep.

Anti-nuclear protesters have traveled to the naval base at Bangor for more than three decades, since before it even opened in 1977. Without much fanfare or attention, they continue to gather outside the gates, passing out leaflets once a month and, three times a year, blocking traffic and getting arrested. At one time, thousands of people showed up to these events. These days, average attendance for a Bangor demonstration is between 70 and 80, or about 0.0018 percent of the population of western Washington.

That could seem a disheartening number. A skeptic might even say it roughly equals the likelihood that Pentagon brass will remove the weapons and transform the 7,600-acre base into a national park, as protesters hope.

But odds-making has little place in the peace community that has coalesced against the undersea-missile system called Trident. It is faith that sustains the movement; for many, a religious faith that says it would be immoral not to act.

And for the most dedicated, that means going to jail.

They sit in a circle of steel chairs at the Sons of Norway hall in Poulsbo, the core membership of the anti-Trident group Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action and a few newcomers, as a winter Sunday morning threatens rain but hasn't yet delivered. In attendance is a Dominican nun, a Jesuit priest, a Lutheran pastor and several people from a Quaker congregation in Olympia.

Later this day, some will be arrested at Bangor, and, for most, it won't be the first time.

Introductions are made, but most faces are familiar. They've been doing this for a very long time.

If the circle has a focal point, it is the Rev. Anne Hall, 60, dressed in white tennis shoes, jeans and blue fleece, dime-sized peace earrings framing her face. Officially, she is listed as Ground Zero's treasurer, and her husband, David, its former chairman, but, until a few years ago, titles were pretty loose.

A former educator and first-grade teacher, Hall joined the Bangor protests in 1984. It was Ronald Reagan's first term, and tensions escalated between the superpowers. Although Reagan was handily re-elected, his aggressive nuclear strategy became the source of national anxiety; the year Hall joined Ground Zero, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock to three minutes to midnight, the highest warning since 1953, when Americans and Soviets tested the first hydrogen bombs.

"I looked at the children I was teaching and I thought, why was I teaching them to read when they might never grow up?" Hall recalled at her home a few weeks before the Sons of Norway meeting. She left teaching and eventually became a full-time pastor at University Lutheran Church in Seattle. Over the years, she has been arrested maybe 24 times (she can't remember the precise number), often released within a few hours, but once spending five days in federal detention.

Hall remembers the time she struck up a conversation with a guard who wondered why she kept harping about nuclear bombs.

What would Jesus do if he were alive? she countered.

If Jesus was alive, the guard replied, they'd put him in here.

In the Sons of Norway hall, the 40 or so people gathered for this dress rehearsal practice deep breathing and other techniques for keeping tempers in check if the Kitsap County sheriff's deputies get pushy. Besides one man's T-shirt that reads "No War On Iraq," there is not a single mention of American military engagements in the Middle East.

David Hall, a Seattle psychiatrist, presents a slide show about Ground Zero, beginning with an image of a mushroom cloud under the words, "Why I'm doing this work."

He quotes former Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, one of the protest's earliest and most prominent figures, who called Bangor "the Auschwitz of Puget Sound." The Trident system, Hall intones, "is the closest humankind has ever come to building a doomsday machine."

Breaking into smaller groups, they choose their roles for the day's activity: some will risk arrest, others will stand on the shoulder of the road leading into the base or put on orange traffic vests to make sure no one gets run over.

Anne Hall takes the people who want to be arrested.

The plan is this: To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and honor Rosa Parks, the black woman who would not sit at the back of the bus, the protesters plan to stop traffic with a cardboard banner shaped like a bus. Another group will hold a sign with a King quotation: "When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men."

One after the other, the protesters will step into the road to block traffic while leafleters attempt to hand idling drivers Ground Zero pamphlets.

After ignoring orders to disperse, those who've chosen to put themselves forward will be arrested.


A blue line painted on the blacktop outside the gates separates county property from federal. Most demonstrators get arrested on the county side, to be booked and released at the Port Orchard courthouse. Get arrested on the federal side, though, and you could end up in federal court, with more serious consequences, Hall cautions. Only one man, Tom Krebsbach, a former computer programmer from Brier, says he will cross the blue line, taking with him a Ground Zero leaflet to give to the base commander.

As they discuss the details of incarceration (wear warm clothes, Hall advises, because jail can be chilly), the deputy in charge that day drops by. Cpl. Bob Millard hasn't been assigned to a protest in a long time, and he wants to check logistics with those he'll handcuff later.

Do police warn them once or twice to step off the road?

"I don't want to reinvent the wheel," Millard says. "If you just tell me how it works . . ."



Jim Douglass _ Catholic theologian, activist and frequent arrestee _ is considered the spiritual father of Ground Zero. Now living in Birmingham, Ala., Douglass served as theological adviser on questions of nuclear war to Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council in Rome in the 1960s.

Along with his wife, Shelley, Douglass began the nonviolent campaign against Trident in 1975, when the piers were just being built. They lived in Vancouver, B.C., at the time and set about to oppose the weapons system taking shape in their backyard.

Within a few years, Bangor was literally in their backyard. They bought land adjacent to the base, founded Ground Zero, and began getting arrested and going on the occasional hunger strike.

By the late 1970s, the protests drew thousands, and hundreds were taken to jail, mostly for trespassing. While there were some bumps and bruises, demonstrations were peaceful as people sang, prayed and listened to music.

With few interruptions ever since, Ground Zero has dispatched its flock to spread the word, handing out leaflets to cars waiting in line to get through the Bangor gates. After Sept. 11, though, base authorities forced the group to stand some yards away, and most cars just pass by. On a good day, about 30 leaflets get through the gate, but it's hard to say whether they're taken seriously or even read.

Opening a dialogue with the sailors and civilians who work at Bangor is central to Ground Zero, says Douglass. The group wants the people there to think about what they're doing, put down their pens and wrenches, walk out and never return.

Some people have left, Douglass says, but nobody knows for sure how many. Besides, he insists, it would be wrong to judge the group's effectiveness by the number of ex-employees or the size of demonstrations. Instead, he offers this: By telling people about the weapons on Hood Canal and elsewhere, the peace movement prevented World War III.

"Ground Zero is an ember that has sometimes flamed high and sometimes just burned there," he says. "It will flame up again" _ and transform the world. "If I didn't believe that, I'd despair."


Rehearsals finished, the protesters prepare to caravan from Poulsbo to the Bangor gates. Besides a small snafu _ someone noted the handwritten words "Honor Dr. King" on the cardboard bus looked like "Honor Drinking" _ everything was set: when to sing, when to chant, when to provoke arrest.

It wouldn't be wrong to call it a publicity stunt.

"This is a prayerful community's attempt to keep Trident visible," David Hall explains. "At some point, nuclear explosions are going to happen, either by accident or in conflict. And then we'll have something to say about it, and we'll have said it all along."


Tom Krebsbach has a more limited view of what he wants to accomplish. As he readies to be the lone protester to cross the blue line onto military property, Krebsbach hopes he'll meet the top admiral. His mission will be least successful if he's "grabbed right away and treated like some kind of scofflaw."


The group, now numbering 85 with folks who joined later in the afternoon, march to the Bangor gates. Ten deputies and jail guards are waiting with vans and a small contingent of state troopers.

As the protesters line up on the shoulder and sing "We Shall Overcome," drivers swoosh by. Sailors reporting to duty, families returning home, civilian contractors _ most don't even bother to glance at the group or its signs.

Then, during a break in traffic, four Ground Zero members in orange vests step into the three-lane road; the protesters holding the cardboard bus follow. One car slows, and stops, then another.

Krebsbach crosses the blue line and walks toward a group of private security officers. Within seconds, they frisk him, pull his arms behind his back, and lead him away.

Fifteen minutes later, with a dozen cars idling, the county deputies call for the protesters to disperse, then move in with plastic handcuffs to make arrests, shoving the cardboard bus into the trunk of a police cruiser.

The whole thing is so well-orchestrated, Deputy Scott Wilson describes it as "a kabuki dance."

Average age of those ushered into the sheriff's vans: 57.


The most striking thing you notice aboard the USS Ohio is the noise, or lack thereof. The first Trident nuclear submarine, the USS Ohio hums as loudly as a dishwasher. The tangle of wires and hoses running through its 560 feet are protected by rubber gaskets to prevent any clanging that could tip off the enemy listening above the waves. Sailors are instructed to gently lower toilet seats and wear tennis shoes with rubber soles.

Ohio-class submarines, known in the Navy as "Boomers," do not pull into foreign ports. They sail out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and are virtually invisible until they return some three months later to switch crews. Able to produce their own oxygen and purified water, the boats could stay underwater for years if they had unlimited food. Each one carries 24 missiles, each equipped with either six or eight 100-kiloton or 455-kiloton warheads. Scientists believe a single Trident submarine could destroy all life on Earth.

The USS Ohio has now been converted to conventional weapons and carries cruise missiles and commando units. That still leaves nine identical submarines at Bangor with nuclear arms. And, Ground Zero leaders note, the United States has the capability to fit nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction on the tip of a cruise missile, although Navy commanders say there is no plan to do so.

Sailors and protesters have shared a relationship since the Ohio arrived in Bangor on Aug. 12, 1982, sailing past a flotilla of demonstrators, some of whom ended up in the cold waters of the strait after the Coast Guard fired water cannons across their bows.

Malcolm Wright was skipper aboard the USS Alabama submarine at Bangor in the mid-1980s and later returned to the base as a squadron commander. Although he saw Ground Zero members leaflet at the gate back then, he never stopped to talk or take a pamphlet.

Like most submariners, Wright says he did not spend much time considering the weapons he was carrying. A death-penalty opponent, Wright says he "wouldn't have the courage to throw the switch" to execute a man, but he is confident he would have launched his missiles after authenticating an order from the White House to fire.

Everyone knew the nation's military posture, he says, and we live in a democracy. If people wanted to build nuclear submarines, the Navy had to produce officers to sail them. His conscience is clean.

And what of Ground Zero's determination to influence the culture at Bangor?

"They're just not viewed seriously. They are not an object of scorn, but ... ridicule."

Learning of the captain's comment, Anne Hall sighs.

It's not anger she feels, nor sadness. More like empathy, and patience.

"It is difficult for people to see or admit wrong in something that is central to their way of life," she says.


Seeing the other guy's point of view has been critical to Ground Zero since its inception. That, and a Christian dedication to nonviolence, explain why protesters do not taunt police or provoke mayhem, even if it might generate interest from the 5 o'clock news. It is a line they do not cross, as bright as the one painted on the pavement outside the base.

Still, Hall says she considers herself a radical, albeit a pretty tame one. When her politics crystallized during the 1960s, the description would not have fit at all, she says.

Raised in a Republican family in Scarsdale, N.Y., she went to Radcliffe College in 1963 when the big issue on campus was panty raids from nearby Harvard University. When she left four years later, she learned to climb trees to get out of the way of police dogs during demonstrations against the Vietnam war. Her husband, David, registered as a conscientious objector to avoid the draft, she says, but they were less active than a lot of people.

Protests against Vietnam lasted about a decade, one-third as long as people have actively opposed Trident. Just as their religious faith inspires demonstrators to take vows of nonviolence, it calls on them to persist in the face of overwhelming indifference.

"The patience comes from the belief that eventually God's reign will be realized here on Earth, even if we don't see it in our lifetime," Hall explains.

Jackie Hudson, a nun who moved to Bremerton in 1993 and recently served 1 { years in federal prison for pouring her blood on a missile silo in Colorado, offers another connection between devotion and protest: Once you learn about the destructive power of nuclear weapons, it is impossible to turn away and let the system go unchallenged. Knowledge leads to dedication, no matter what the consequences or outcome.

"In this work, it's about being faithful and staying with it," Hudson says. "I cannot not do it."


At the Kitsap County Jail, two vans pull into an underground parking lot and disgorge their passengers. Guards take their shoes and belts (standard procedure to foil suicide attempts), and Anne Hall takes off her peace earrings. Men and women are escorted to separate cells and wait to be booked.

Hall, the first to be arrested, is the first to be processed. She answers questions about her education, citizenship and profession, gets fingerprinted and photographed, then released. Her crime: disorderly conduct and failure to disperse.

On the ground floor of the jail, Hall sits on a bench to wait for her husband and the others. Prosecutors could file charges within two years, but, more likely, the case will be dropped.

All in all, it has been a good day.

"I was so pleased with the number of people" at the protest, she says. "It was nice that traffic was stopped where you could read the banners."

The remaining members of Ground Zero are released, one by one, and each time their shouts and cheers echo throughout the jail. They will be back on Mother's Day and again in August for the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, continuing their vigil of opposition.

Meanwhile, the giant black submarines slip in and out of Hood Canal, almost unseen, impervious to the prayers leveled against them.


(c) 2006, The Seattle Times.

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