By Ann Suellentrop
Note: In this video by Ann Suellentrop, Kathy Kelly asks, “Isn’t it possible that the war in Ukraine is being used as a rehearsal?”
The 20th Catholic Worker Midwest Faith and Resistance Gathering was held in Madison, WI, March 24-27, a time of courage, conviction, solidarity, and fun!
What drew me to this weekend retreat? I did not know a whole lot about the F-35 bomber jet, but I wanted to be around people of like mind. I first met many of the participants in this annual gathering in 2011 when they came to Kansas City to help us protest our new nuclear bomb parts plant. Their love for peace and Mother Earth, their courageous nonviolent resistance, their care for the marginalized and for those experiencing poverty, homelessness, and racism has long inspired me.
I got to Madison after an easy 8-hour drive with another PeaceWorks board member, Charles Carney, who is also a long-time Catholic Worker. We were welcomed by Sister Mary Kremer, who maintains a lovely house of hospitality. She graciously looked after and provided for us the entire weekend.
We went to the Madison Christian Community Church Friday night and were welcomed by a team of local Catholic Workers who had planned a very well-organized weekend of informative talks, inspiring music, and mouth-watering meals. It was so fun to see old friends and to make new ones!
That night we watched Theaters of War, a 2022 American documentary film that examines the influence of the Pentagon and CIA in shaping Hollywood and television scripts. The film-makers made use of the Freedom of Information Act to acquire internal state files.
Saturday morning we woke up to a huge surprise snowstorm of about 9 inches! It took us 1½ hours to get to the church instead of the 15 minutes the night before. We got stuck 10 times, and Charles’ poor feet were frozen from getting out to push the car! At the church, we introduced ourselves around a big circle of about 50 people. I learned there were people from Cleveland, Ohio, Chicago, St. Louis, Des Moines and other places in Iowa, and from several cities and towns in Wisconsin. I learned about the variety of projects the different Catholic Worker Houses and farms are doing, some for decades and some just getting started. Some provide meals, showers, and clothes to their visitors. Some provide shelter and services such as immigration or disability legal help. Some do organic farming, care for animals and nature. Some are war tax resisters, and all aspire to living simpler lifestyles so others may simply live. All are nonviolent resisters, and many have been to jail and prison for protesting war, weapons, and harm to the Earth.
In the afternoon there was a panel discussion on the F-35, made up of Kathy Kelly, Board president of World Beyond War, and Vicki Berenson and Steve Kafka of Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin, with moderator Rebecca Kemble, who is a water protector, activist and former alder. I learned the F-35 carries nuclear weapons and is the most expensive weapon ever made in history! It will likely cost taxpayers $1.7 trillion dollars over its lifetime. It uses almost 600 gallons of jet fuel an hour and emits 7 tons of CO2 during that time. It also spews tons of particulate matter which damages our lung and hearts, especially in children. It is also extremely loud (over 75 decibels), which causes harm to children’s nervous systems and learning ability; there are 59 schools and daycares near the Truax Field of the Wisconsin Air National Guard where the F-35s will be stationed this spring. Many low-income people and people of color live near the base, and many fish in the nearby lakes which have been contaminated with PFAS (“forever chemicals,” pre- and polyfluoroalkyl subtances) used at the airbase already. Following the panel, we began to plan for the Monday nonviolent direct actions, and we committed to be nonviolent in our thoughts, words, and actions.
During the weekend, there was time to sing and pray and tell jokes and entertain ourselves with a talent show. There were guitars, drums, three saxophones and a couple of flutes played. There were three tables with fliers, books, music CDs, Catholic Worker newspapers—all free, as was the entire weekend.
Sunday morning most of us attended mass at nearby St. Thomas Aquinas and received a blessing from the congregation. Afterwards, many went to “Wild Church,” where we went to a nature preserve to sing and pray and walk about for about 10 minutes in the woods. Sunday afternoon there was a panel discussion by Danaka Katovitch, program coordinator of Ground the F-35 and national co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace, and by Brian Terrell of Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker Farm and also with the Nevada Desert Experience, and moderated by Marsha Rommel, former alder. They spoke more about the F-35 and the movement and actions across the country opposing it. Kathy Kelly also gave information about the Merchants of Death tribunals that will be held online free in November. She is a major international peace activist who has been to many countries to be with people during wartime—Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. The 4 corporations that will be featured in the tribunals are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and General Atomic. Victims of the weapons these companies made will be speaking about the harm done to them, and research about these military manufacturers will be presented. During the panel discussion, I felt like the wisdom, conviction and insight of these long-time, extraordinary peace activists were inspiring us later as we planned our actions in greater detail for Monday!
The protests started at 5am the next morning at the front gate of Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Madison. About 15 people stood in the entrance blocking traffic for 2 hours. The rest of us who didn’t want to risk arrest stood on the sidewalk across the street facing them with huge banners and signs, singing and chanting in support. I was deeply moved by everyone’s courage and conviction. A TV cameraman was there when we arrived and stayed to interview our spokesperson as we were leaving! He told us we were on Twitter! Several people in cars trying to enter the base almost ran over the protesters, and one person even fell to the ground! The police finally came to block traffic and protect us. It was absolutely freezing outdoors; the streets were cleared, and there was no wind, fortunately. It was quite dark until the sun rose about 6:40am. No one was arrested, and at the end the protesters made a statement for the media that they had accomplished what they wanted—to shut down the base in protest of the F-35.
Charles and I headed home after this, but the rest went to the state Capitol downtown to try to meet with the governor to ask him to change the mission of the National Guard away from the F-35s and toward disaster relief and rescue, which are things that keep people safer and are things that people really need. It was hard to leave because it was so energizing and empowering to be with such beautiful, compassionate, and loving people who are trying to raise this awareness. So I look forward to going to the annual fall Midwest Catholic Worker Gathering in Sugar Creek, Iowa, Sept. 7-10.
Links to my many video clips of the panel presentations are in other stories on this website.
—Ann Suellentrop, a vice chair of PeaceWorks Kansas City, is a long-time protester of the KC National Security Campus, where parts are made and procured for nuclear weapons. © 2023, Ann Suellentrop, Kathy Kelly, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License