Thoughts

At Livermore, June 1983


The most radioactive, most explosive nuclear weapons are created at Lawrence Livermore Lab. There, government-paid scientists produce the darkest works of human destruction. The U.S. military establishment uses Livermore like a soldier uses a prostitute before he has to go to war. The research facility does its bidding.

But the Livermore anti-nuclear action last month was non-violent, even sympathetic, to the hundreds of police bussed in to arrest a thousand citizens and take them to jail. Who could blame the police for doing what they were told? Hawks and dogs are not responsible for what they do. Their master is. Miles away, their masters designed a set of punishments that would cancel the anti-nuclear movement in California for two years. Still higher up in Washington D.C., more elusive masters sent $700,000 to Alameda County to front the costs of teaching the enemy a lesson. The money came from Livermore Lab's mandated financial source, the Department of Energy.

If a drunk had blocked traffic in Livermore, he got a night in the tank. If he carried a "No MX" sign on June 20, 1983, he got eleven days, a $250 fine, and two years probation.

Mysteriously those arrestees were relaxed as they stood in the road, linking hands to strengthen conscience. They were patient in the circus tent confinement at Santa Rita jail complex. They were able to wait. A transcending reverence for life made them humbly stern. In the end they had stood off the combined might of the District Attorney, the county police, and the federal government.

They could be described as ordinary people--electricians, plumbers, carpenters, scholars, grandparents on pension, priests, ministers, artists, students, lawyers, janitors. No leaders or demagogues, no tension really, even when the Highway Patrol ran towards them in formation with helmets, nightsticks, and mace as though for a bloody riot.

Someone was shouting, "Everybody get off the street if you don't want to get arrested--let the ones who do, have your space." Citizens who had never jaywalked now threw their reputations away. The gesture was to say, "Is being blown up or poisoned forever, your security? It isn't mine. Is the shadow of fear and anxiety in our children's souls your peace? It isn't mine. Is a warped economy, a distorted national life, a bought Congress your democracy? Then I place my blood and bone in the way."

As the police drew near, their boots struck softly on the pavement. An office worker from Alameda squeezed my arm and whispered, good luck. The Willits women came down the line, quickly kissing and hugging us and then ran to blockade another street. Their words didn't reach the microphones but rushed like an ocean into the future and their touches gave comfort to unborn generations.

It was a symbolic assertion of humanity in the face of pathological self-destruction. A nuclear build-up for peace seemed the last Orwellian absurdity a year before the real 1984. The demonstrators had faith that conscience and democratic action would transform the political nightmare. They reached forward to a new consciousness, a new expectation for the Human, moving like an angel over the times. It is invisible to the short-sighted media and the despairing public--a dynamic, floating amidst the paralysis and shame, that confirms humanity is sufficient to deal with its own enormous powers of destruction, so projected and loosed into the world. We have the balance, the understanding, the health, and the generosity. Only will lacks, and it grows daily.

Our support groups were off the street and a radio reporter stuck his microphone in my face. "You're about to get arrested, how do you feel?" I failed to say, 'She's in love with me and I feel fine.' Instead it was, "The dynamic of peace is becoming more and more powerful. It is a long road. This is one step. So I'm satisfied." He wasn't moved.

Sowing and reaping -- the police laboring in the fields of control and the lawbreakers stirring the ground of a peaceful earth. The arrests went quickly. Now we were handcuffed, now we were herded on the buses. I turned my back to the apprehensive Patrolman who had made eye contact with me, and I put my wrists together. He put the chrome gadgets on them and said to the supervising official, "He isn't resisting."

"Watch your step, sir," said the cop at the bus door. My seat partner was a gorgeous Asian girl who wouldn't talk to me. She felt the sexual hook in my voice. It had been a long time since I'd been in the social ferment of urban life. There was something to learn. The power of woman's gifts would transform this political event.

They finally took the handcuffs off and I was walking out of the bus towards a big-top, a multiple Kremlin made of canvas. It was like a really cheap summer camp or religious revival. A crowd--ourselves-- applauded but no one would cross a certain line: guards were everywhere. Uriah Heep and Amie McPherson may be dead but I saw Richard Nixon's plastic face in the mob. It was confiscated.

Dennis Fleming found and led me to our Willits section of the tent, the Rainbow Love Brigade. Doug Firefeather had designed T-shirts. We rested on the cots for hours. No matter how casual we acted, no matter how surprised the guards were that our voices and eyes forgave, regardless of madcap humor, it wouldn't be easy. Santa Rita became our civics lesson. We learned all there was about bail, court procedures, hearing it on the grapevine.

A team of lawyers came and went daily. Messages between the men's and women's camps passed like a postal service no one talked about. The telephones were in use day or night.

Finally the tent routine became almost continual affinity, cluster, or spokes' meetings. This made for discipline and relieved stress. Most critically, decisions were by consensus. Unity of emotion was strengthened by unity of political method.

Progressive movements, being new to our generation, carried a spontaneity and surprise that had its own adrenalin kick. A day later nothing seemed different. Nothing had changed. Still, I imagined I glimpsed features of the coming era. It is diverse in interests, in dignified station, in sexuality, in association--yet confirming the overall human bond. It was generous on the everyday level, the way they woke and lined up for food, in the tone of the meetings, through sharing humor and feeling. Everyone counted, every one was included.

In the coming time, women will have an honored role. Certainly we admired them and followed their constancy at Santa Rita. I sensed the example of women in the men's considerate and respecting rapport. There was an element of support, healing. Throwing off the aggressive paranoid style is intimately related to dissolving the rigid sex power-roles that go with it.

There is great strength in the mutual support concept. A group soul emerges. Positive strength begets itself. The authorities hadn't planned it that way. As long as the camps had fellowship, they could wait indefinitely. The support groups outside the jail were invaluable in keeping up practical and emotional contact.

Of course it was an artificial situation. How often does the opponent supply you with food and showers? When is the last time the police got direct orders not to swing clubs at a criminal? This couldn't occur without the Blockaders getting a moral victory.

Nor had the bureaucrats allowed for their own mistakes. A skewed picture of reality has to go wrong. The hand-picked judge wouldn't lower bail. That was struck down in a higher court. He had friends in the Livermore hierarchy. That made for disqualification. He looked at me with intense displeasure as I alleged his conflict of interest, the lawyer feeding me legal language from the side. The Los Angeles District Attorney's office came out in favor—of the demonstrators. So the biased system broke down and plea bargaining began. Probation lost, so did the cynically invested money from the Capital city. Truly, the prisoners had no leverage but their convictions and somehow the conscience of the elites stirred.

It also helped that we never passed up an opportunity to endorse the absurd. When the guards ordered us to eat, we sounded off like a herd of hungry cattle and sheep. When we got in line too soon and were broken up, we marched in circles to the whistled 'Colonel Bogey's March' from 'The Bridge Over the River Kwai'. When told to stand still, we sang the Star Spangled Banner. It started as a joke, but everyone knew the words and the joke subtly breathed with sincerity, especially on the line, "Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?" I think it was an Aquarian who said, " Let us rather now rededicate ourselves to a new birth of freedom, so that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Perhaps President Eisenhower, living in his estate at Gettysburg, a gift from the local realtors, was prophetic when he said, "The people want peace so bad, the government better get out of the way and give it to them."

I don't know if that time is nearer than it is far, but I know lives were transformed at Livermore. The web of life got stronger. We gathered in a tent one morning and joined eight hundred arms in a circle and sang. The songs were peaceful—songs for the women who couldn't hear, songs of redemption that took new meaning.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see

In this century the primacy of life has been swallowed in the hysteria of fear and violence. We have been lost, blind, but now we see; I allowed myself to hope that. And I felt love for those thousand souls. Each had traversed a lonely stretch of moral ground and had left behind a personal slavery to destruction, which is so finely embedded in docility, good manners, obeisance to authority, to legal powers, bureaucracy, experts, technological language, no matter how benighted and ridiculous the purpose. Better to be arrested. Better to abide in the truth. Like a rock thrown in a stream, the circles will eventually reach every sea on earth. They were ordinary people and they were brave.


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