Why cross the line vs. nukes? ‘To be on the right side of history! And of the Beloved Community’
By Jane Stoever
“I am taking a simple step, an act of love,” said Tom Mountenay, “towards a future when there will be no weapons of war, as prophesied by Isaiah.”
Tom was saying on Memorial Day why he was going to step across the purple property line on the road to the Kansas City National Security Campus, where parts are made for nuclear weapons. It was to be his first line-crossing there. Later, Tammy Brown of Cherith Brook Catholic Worker House told me, “Tom is so humble! He said so few words!” Then Tammy said she loved it that after Tom spoke so briefly, emcee Henry Stoever noted that Tom had been the support person for his wife, Lu, who had crossed the property line four times and had died in April 2019. Henry added that this year, Tom would cross the line in spirit with Lu, and supported by his partner, Bennette.
What Tammy held in her heart from our 10th annual Memorial Day witness for peace were Tom’s loss and his going-forward. And his humility.
Tom’s friend Jim Hannah, brothers in the Community of Christ ministry, said he would cross the property line to stand on the right side of history, the side of the Beloved Community, “where all people (no exception) and all creation are known as sacred.”
Now Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for the Beloved Community requires work. Like PeaceWorks. Like Isaiah’s prophecy: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks, and nations will learn war no more.”
Brian Terrell, in his words on why he was crossing the line, recalled a Brunswick, GA, judge’s decision a few years ago to allow no testimony about whether nuclear weapons were legal or not. She said it was a “doubtful proposition” that they may be illegal. Brian said this Memorial Day, “By law, any weapon or act of war has got to be proportional. It has to protect civilian lives. A weapon that would kill everyone—‘omnicide,’ our friends in Georgia call it—cannot be proportional, cannot be legal.” Brian, the founder of Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker Farm in Maloy, Iowa, and a veteran of hundreds of line-crossings, explained his strange position: “an anarchist who finds himself over and over again defending the concept of law before a lawless court.”
A big chunk of work.
And Brian shared a second story: “In 2012, Ron Faust and I were on trial in Jefferson City for a drone protest at Whiteman Air Force Base. Ramsey Clark, who was the former US Attorney General under President Johnson and who died just this spring, came to testify for us as an expert in international law about how drone wars are illegal. The judge there refused to allow him to speak. But a year before that, I was on trial in Syracuse, NY, where at Hancock Air Base the National Guard flies reaper drone missions over Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places. Ramsey Clark was allowed to testify there. While the judge in the end ignored Ramsey’s testimony, he was visibly fascinated by all this stuff about international law that he probably didn’t study in law school. The judge leaned over the bench, listening intensively, and finally said to Ramsey, ‘This is all very interesting, but what is the enforcement mechanism? Who enforces international law?’ Ramsey Clark pointed to the 31 of us on trial and said, ‘Why, they are!’ And he pointed to the judge and said, ‘You ought to be doing it, too.’”
The 70-some participants in the Memorial Day rally cheered at the notion of line-crossing as law enforcement. A re-framing of our work.
Another Memorial Day line-crosser, Christian Brother Louis Rodemann, did the work of making a large loaf of bread to break before and during the line-crossing. Sweet bread—lots of honey. Baking counted to Louis during his 28 years at Holy Family Catholic Worker House, where eventually supper was served to all comers six nights a week. On this Memorial Day, Louis was to cross the line his fourth time for a nuke-free world. He compared this crossing with his earlier ones: “This same body will cross that same line, but the intensity of my body’s action will be heightened with a deeper understanding and awareness of how taking this step is an act of faith. Walking with me will be every one of the thousands of guests who were ever welcomed into Holy Family Catholic Worker House through its 44 year history – guests who could come in from their poverty, brokenness and loneliness and be treated with the dignity of the human person they had stopped dreaming and hoping they could become; to get a glimpse, if just for an hour, of the peace and wholeness they justly deserved as a way of life. For making this glimpse just one step closer to reality, I will step over that line one more time.”
And the man who dreamed up this Memorial Day walk and witness, my husband, Henry, was so moved as he read his “why I cross” statement that he teared up. And he has dry eyes. But a reservoir of tears. He said he acted:
- “As a matter of conscience, that small voice that asks me to be more faithful to a God of Love”;
- “As a matter of justice for the whole world, recalling Gandhi’s words: ‘I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science’;
- ‘With these words touching my soul and compelling me to act: unspeakable, holocaust, genocide capability’;
- ‘Mindful that we are all sisters and brothers who are inter-related, and are inter-dependent to see our way out of this tragedy.’
Henry concluded, “I see our action as an ‘intervention’ in a very dangerous situation. When one sees someone who is of great danger to self or to others, a brave person is compelled to intervene. We are addicted to war, and we are on the verge of omnicide. It is necessary to do an intervention to rescue the planet, to disrupt the danger, to expose the danger, and to foster change. Our tools are the courage of nonviolence.”
—Jane Stoever, chronicler, is grateful to each line-crosser. Bring on the Beloved Community!