This one letter in a series by Garry Thomas, a long-time Ithaca resident, a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Ithaca College, a Quaker and a member of the Ithaca Catholic Worker community. He is now in Brunswick, Georgia, where he will be a “pro bono” correspondent for The Ithaca Voice, reporting on the trial of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. Read more letters and coverage of the trial here.

October 18, 2019

LETTERS FROM COASTAL GEORGIA

Garry Thomas.

Last year, shortly after Ithacan Clare Grady was arrested for cutting her way through a chain-link fence and entering the nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia, I was talking with a friend of hers who had not heard she was in jail. I explained that Clare had not acted alone, that she carried out this “civil resistance” action with six other anti-nuclear activists, each as devoted to non-violence as she, and they had entered the base intending to get arrested.

“That’s stupid,” her friend said. “What’s that going to accomplish? Clare should have done her research. Those jails in the Confederacy are the worst!” The woman, who had a boyfriend in the Tompkins County jail at the time, had clearly done some homework of her own and questioned Clare’s judgment. Her man, after all, had no desire to be in jail.

Clare Grady, as many readers of The Ithaca Voice know, is the only local member of the group that calls themselves the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, all people of conscience and all committed Catholic Workers. They take their name from the words of the prophet Isaiah (2:4), who called for “nations to beat their swords into plowshares … and neither shall they learn war anymore.” They go on trial in this coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia, on Monday, Oct. 21, charged with trespass, conspiracy, depredation of government property, and destruction of Naval Station property, just 50 miles from where the trial will be held. If found guilty they face up to 20 years in prison.

I was with Kelsey O’Connor, Managing Editor of The Ithaca Voice, recently when she interviewed Clare’s sister, Mary Anne Grady Flores. Kelsey began with a question about how Mary Anne had gotten involved with the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 cause. I would have thought Mary Anne would have said, “My sister Clare is facing some serious jail time if found guilty, and I’ll do everything I can to make certain that does not happen.” Instead, Mary Anne spoke to the big picture. It is not all about Clare. The Kings Bay Plowshares action and trial is about the horrific power of the Trident nuclear submarines. It is about defense spending that is out of control. And it is about a movement to abolish nuclear weapons. It is the Trident that should be on trial, not the defendants.

In a bit of a role reversal, recently, when people ask me what I am doing in my retirement, it is I who has been telling them, “I am working to free Clare Grady.” I have known Clare since the 1970s when Teresa and John Grady, Sr., and their five children moved into a duplex across the street from us owned by Dan and Linda Finlay. Two of her sisters, Ellen and Teresa (whom we called “Little Teresa”) were our children’s first babysitters. Their house, this duplex, was the very center of anti-war activity in our neighborhood and, it seemed, a frequent destination for the Catholic Left. It’s not for nothing that Little Teresa’s middle name is Berrigan.

I do, of course, appreciate Mary Anne’s focus on the big picture, and I think I do the same. I have been involved in the peace movement since long before I met the Gradys. My draft board near Philadelphia granted me conscientious objector status in 1960. At that time, the Department of Defense recognized four “peace churches” that espoused non-violence, one of them the Quakers. Being a Quaker I essentially got a “free pass.” I did not get sent to Vietnam. Instead, I did my alternative service to the draft in Tanzania with the American Friends Service Committee, working as a community development volunteer for two years, mostly involved with shallow wells and hand pumps. And I always knew that my not being required to enter the military did not mean that one less American went to Vietnam. Some young man went in my place.

So for this privilege I owe.

Kelsey O’Connor spoke with me a few weeks after learning that I was planning to go to the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 trial, and asked if I would be interested in doing some reporting for The Ithaca Voice. We settled on the title “correspondent” rather than “reporter,” knowing that I have a “point of view,” but trusting me to be fair in my correspondent role, if not “neutral”.

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 webpage lists over 100 distinguished supporters who have signed a petition to dismiss the charges, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Rev. Dr. William Barber, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Dr. Angela Davis, Daniel Ellsberg, Dr. Ira Helfand, Oscar Lopez Rivera, Michael Moore, Martin Sheen, Dr. Cornel West, Jody Williams, and Col. Ann Wright. (The Gradys and their fellow Plowshares activists are nothing if not well connected.) So some people are listening. The petition with over 7,500 signatures has been delivered to Attorney General William Barr. We don’t know if he is listening. The trial has attracted some national attention – in The Nation, on Democracy Now, in articles posted on Common Dreams – but not enough and nothing from the major networks or the mainstream press. The defendants and their legal team are huddling as I write, strategizing as to how they can put the Trident missiles and the US nuclear weapons on trial. They would like this trial to break some new legal ground in case law. Perhaps, they suggest, this trial could inform and revitalize the peace movement!

Finally, for my part, I see these “Letters from Coastal Georgia” as a vehicle for the Kings Bay Plowshares defendants and supporters to speak to people like Clare’s Ithaca friend who view such a protest and the personal risks it poses as being “stupid.”

Featured image: Kings Bay Plowshares 7. (Provided Photo)