Swords into ploughshares Liz McAlister pt 1

Seven Catholic peace activists are going on trial in Georgia today for breaking into the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base on April 4, 2018. The activists, who are known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. The activists entered the base armed with just hammers, crime scene tape, baby bottles containing their own blood and an indictment charging the U.S. government with crimes against peace. 

Over the past four decades activists in the Plowshares movement have taken part in about 100 similar actions at nuclear arms facilities, beginning in 1980 at the General Electric nuclear missile plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

That action was led by the legendary peace activists Father Daniel Berrigan and his brother Philip Berrigan, a former Catholic priest. Philip Berrigan’s widow, Liz McAlister, took part in the Kings Bay Plowshares action.

 McAlister, goes on trial today with her co-defendants Father Stephen Kelly, Mark Colville, Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta, Clare Grady and Martha Hennessy, who is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. They all have been charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor.

I sat down with Liz McAlister recently to talk about the Kings Bay Plowshares action and her lifelong commitment to peace and resistance. she was held in pretrial confinement from April 2018, the date of the action, until last month — almost a year and a half behind bars. I began by asking her why she decided to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia.

LIZ McALISTER: I have participated in a Plowshares witness some years ago. it was time again for me. I figured I had at least one more opportunity to do this. I’m looking at turning 80 next month, or November. So, as that began to develop, I found in myself that I had to say yes to participating in that.

And that we chose the Trident submarine was an added call to my heart and spirit, because they are so bloody dangerous. And the Trident submarines that we have — and I thought we were up to eight, as of people. If the munitions on those Trident submarines are ever used, that’s the end of life on Earth. That’s the end of life on Earth. I have to say no to that. We don’t have that right to destroy God’s creation. So, as the group developed and as we began moving toward the action, I felt more and more deeply committed to being part of that, being part of that witness, being part of that statement that we do not have the right to destroy the Earth. And these machines can do that.

Goodman asked Liz how she began her life in resistance

LIZ McALISTER: Teacher

It wsasd the mid 60 I was teaching  history of art at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York, for a number of years and loved it. What was happening with me at that point was that my students had boyfriends, fiancés being drafted into the war in Vietnam and going, and they were breaking down. And what do you say to these young people who have their lives ahead of them and everything that they are planning in those lives is now up for grabs, you know, in this war that makes no sense at all? 

So, it was a call to me to become active on their behalf. I can’t teach them history of art as if that were really important, if they’re not looking at some kind of future. But their future was being robbed from them. And that called very, very deeply to me. I couldn’t love these kids , first-, second-, third-year college students — and not try to speak out for their right to life, their right to a future, their fiancés’ lives, right to a future.

And Vietnam was the focus at that time. And as that began to — as we got thrown out of Vietnam, the focus then became these weapons of mass destruction and the building of them and the research on more and more deadly weapons of mass destruction and the multiplication of that. So, how do we find a way to resist nuclear weapons became our focus. And we had found ways to resist the war by destroying draft files. What can we do to resist these weapons? Obviously, you can’t dismantle them. But you can get near them. You can put blood on them. You can say no to them in that fashion. And we began looking for ways to do that, if that makes any sense.