By Kristin Scheer
This Memorial Day was the first time I was able to join PeaceWorks-KC at the National Security Campus, where non-nuclear parts are made for nuclear weapons. It was our 10th annual event there. I was moved by the experience.
Jim Hannah was brilliant in reframing the facility we were about to see. In an oversized frame, he hung a flag naming the National Security Campus as it is. The very word campus, he said, conjured notions of a peaceful setting with trees and natural beauty, devoted to our nation’s security. But he contrasted that with the dangerous activity that was truly being manufactured there: the potential for planetary omnicide, he said, that leaves none of us feeling safe. Truly, they are manufacturing terror.
He dropped another flag over the first. It read Global Insecurity Factory. He then invited us to pass through the frame. As I passed through and watched others do the same, I knew we were rejecting the lie of the first flag, and I felt empowered to be part of claiming the truth, now reframed.
PeaceWorks holds this event every Memorial Day to remember the lives lost in KC at the old nuke-parts plant location, at Bannister Federal Complex. First the old and now the new plant (in use since 2014) makes or procures 85 percent of the non-nuclear parts of US nuclear weapons.
Henry Stoever said this is where the “guns” are made that are needed to deliver and deploy the nuclear bullet. In other words, nuclear weapons could not be launched or detonated if not for the work that happens here in KC, and it is a dirty, dangerous business.
In a die-in, we took turns reading the names of some of those sickened and deceased for their service at the old plant. I read the name of William Van Compernolle, a General Services Administration employee diagnosed with brain tumors and seizures at age 42. As I read aloud his name and diagnosis, I was overcome with an unexpected sense of grief for the loss of Mr. Van Compernolle and all the others named and unnamed. I lowered myself onto the tarp-covered ground and shed soft tears as the light rain gently misted down upon us. Ann Suellentrop led us in five minutes of silence and meditation, giving me room for my unexpected grief, and I welcomed the gentle rain.
Maurice Copeland, a 32-year employee at the former nuke-parts plant at Bannister Federal Complex, delivered a passionate message. He spoke of the woman administrator who reported that safety measures were skirted cavalierly. After he spoke, he was asked whether, from the 1960s to 1980s, action was taken. Maurice replied, “No! The bosses said, ‘She’s just a girl,’ and laughed it off.” At the rally, Maurice spoke of family members who were sickened, in addition to employees at Bannister Federal Complex. Workers carried contaminants home on their clothes. Retiring or fired workers were told to take their tools home: “Get the tools out of here. They have to go.” So they took them home and gave them to their boys to work with on their cars. Years later, some family members, and many workers, succumbed to strange leukemias, cancers, and tumors.
At the end of the rally, five men—Jim Hannah, Tom Mountenay, Brother Louis Rodemann, Henry Stoever, and Brian Terrell—spoke of why they were making the choice to cross the purple property line. They each had poignant, powerful purposes driving their action. I was inspired by their courage and their sacrifice, and they were cuffed by the officers there. We broke bread and shared it among ourselves. During their crossing, we offered it to the officers, who respectfully declined. They led our brothers aside to be processed.
Then a boom-box loudly broadcast, by Tears for Fears: “Shout! Shout! Let it all out! These are the things we can do without. Come on, we’re talking to you. Come on.” We altered the lyrics. We sang along. We danced. And I felt joy. It seemed the rain took a break for our celebration.
Seventy-two activists and concerned citizens were counted there. PeaceWorks was joined by Cherith Brook Catholic Worker House, the Green Party, Vets for Peace, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Community of Christ Justice and Peace Task Force. We shared outrage at the massive waste of resources—all the tax dollars that could be spent on our mutual wellbeing. Education, support for the impoverished, and the creation of life-affirming green jobs for badly needed environmental revitalization were among the things we called for. In spite of the wet, gray weather, we gathered, we walked, we spoke truth, we reflected on our losses, we cried, we sacrificed, we witnessed, and we rejoiced.
Ron Faust, a past line-crosser, later said, “It took us 10 years to do this peace witness.” I’m so glad I made it this year.
—Kristin Scheer, a member of the PeaceWorks-KC Board of Directors, has been active in GreenPeace for years.