Poetry & Prose

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Movement Memoirs, Part 2

 

                                         BLUE HAIR (fr. Blue Running Lights)

                                                            (Lewisburg Federal Prison)     

                        I want to see

                         How your face changes

                         When you c  m.

                         What are we

                         Put on earth for?

                        When you bend over

                        Your breasts blade

                        More real than the

                        Mountains we kept watching

                        From our cells,

                        Couldn't reach them!

 

                        The state evaporates

                        As you approach, but it

                        Kept us there! We would

                        Dream/walk towards

                        Hills 'til they formed rare

                        Thighs, faces and blue hair.

a photo missing here (thanx to webs)- of Louise in visiting room where Hoffa conducted his business- at the main prison-  "the wall"- Louise has hippy sandals- actually I think it is at end of 2nd chapt.

 My time for parole approached at 21 months; it was rumored that they made you do about the same amount of time a draftee spent in service. Close to the end of my sentence, I was doing what the convict calls "short time". The night before I left I had but one more "wake up". An acquaintance, Slim, asked me for some help writing a letter to his judge on some legal point. There was no question he could use some help since he was illiterate. I sat down with him and he offered me a drink, which wasn't out of order though I didn't care for one. We proceeded and I realized someone else had helped him about a week before on the issues which were patently ridiculous anyway. I began to wonder, he doesn't really need any help when, goddamn if he didn't next ask if I'd like to hear a record and I realized I was in the middle of a seduction scene. I was shifting to go when, in a quick, fumbling gesture, Slim put his hand on my thigh.  I left in a huff. Here was stammering poor Slim reaching out to touch me when he realized I wouldn't raise a stink about it since I was leaving the next day. It was something he may have thought of doing for quite some time.

The feds paroled me January 24th, 1972. I had hoped for it but not expected it. I had kept my nose clean since arriving at the farm. My resister friend George Mische, who had arrived the same time as Phil and I did, was released to a D.C. halfway house without parole. We speculated that this was due to his participation with several other resisters in a protest at the nearby farm camp of Allenwood. There was to be no parole for Phil either whose newest trial began in Harrisburg on the day that I got out. Our old friend Boyd Douglas was the government's star witness, fortunately, because the jury didn't believe him. Phil was acquitted except for a minor charge of contraband letters to Liz McCallister (who later became Phil's wife). One reporter wrote, "the jury must have  seen that the kidnapping plot consisted of a few hours discussion among friends and was never implemented because it could not be carried out without violence and because the peace movement had neither the will nor the competency to carry out such a task." There's no doubt that kidnapping or at least a citizen's arrest of Henry Kissinger and the blowing up of heating ducts under D.C. or some damage to them had been considered. Phil had written to Liz, "Nonetheless, I like the plan and am just trying to weave elements of modesty into it" (capturing Kissinger). "Why not coordinate it with the one against capital utilities?", i.e. the ducts.

 Just as he had carried the momentum of the blood pouring onto Catonsville and the burning of files, Phil had continued anti draft actions and militant planning into prison. I, on the other hand, had always been quick to look for a chance to rest, a door through which I might walk to a different life than continual protest.

 Phil had even written, "About the plan" (the Kissinger and ducts)  the first time opens the door to murder" (I believer Phil meant the government might kill the kidnappers) the Tupamaros are finding that out in Uruguay ... When I refer to murder, it is not to prohibit it absolutely" (did he mean to murder Kissinger?!)" (violence against non violence bag); it is merely to observe that one has set the precedent, and that later on, when government resistance to this sort of thing has stiffened, men will be killed."

 Reading about Doug1as, the informer in Phil's Harrisburg case, reminded me that an informer, George Demerle, had been involved in the arrest of Sam Melville, the inmate writer killed at Attica. Perhaps both felt they were doing something for their country. Boyd claimed that as a devout Catholic he was greatly shocked by Phil's plottings, unlikely given Boyd's long history of scams and shams.

Demerle, the agent in the Melville case, had informed the government that Sam was planning to bomb army trucks, which had led to Sam's arrest and conviction. Phil and I just missed meeting Sam at the West Street Federal Detention Center. He had been doing 13 years at the time of his death (in the Attica uprising) for his part in a series of politically motivated bombings, the United Fruit Company, Marine Midlands Bank, the Whitehall Induction Center and New York City Criminal Courts Building. Apparently Sam had taken more than his share of credit for these acts in order to shield friends. (Compare and contrast- story of Mark Rudd, Ayers and Dohrn) 

 Agent provocateurs and double agents were especially complicated figures in their motivations. They were activists like us, but they usually acted only out of self interest and trotted out the right wing political beliefs when convenient. Sam's girl friend wrote of Sam and agent Demerle, "The games they played were similar, but for George it was all games. It was easy for him to disguise his motivations because they were so shallow. Sam's whole drive was against the objectification of human beings, George was an oddly passionless human being", she wrote, but it turns out he had some beliefs. He "told a right wing gathering that he had become an undercover agent in order to protect society from the violence of the radical left."

Only the F.B.I. knows how much they relied on informers.  Documents stolen (by Grady) from Media, Pennsylvania office showed that they used them. One informer had an apparent change of heart and revealed that the F.B.I. had paid him to lead a raid on draft board offices in Campden, N.J. He had actually carried the raid off for them despite his own beliefs. These double agents came up with various justifications for their work. One that I got to know in Baltimore after my release from prison had been working for the underground newspaper "Harry" as a photographer. At the same time he reported to the police on drugs or "subversive" hippie activities. But once revealed, he claimed that he had thought of himself as a kind of referee between the movement and the police. We wondered from time to time, looking back, were there ways we could have spotted some of these informants. "Their shoes, their shoes are always different," joked a friend. But cops and agents, if they could not be prevented, could at least be subverted for the purposes of revolutionary work. One group required its members to work so hard that any informant was contributing so much to revolutionary change as to probably outweigh the negatives.

 The momentous first  Plowshares  Action- the Plowshares 8-  took place, Oct. 5th, 1980 at the General Facilities, Westchester, PA , both Phil and Dan participating. Concentrating on parts and plans for the Mark 12 missile, this action was an ACTUAL act of disarmnament- contrasting all the windy phrases of U.N. officials or “statesmen” such as Henry Kissinger. I found it interesting how Phil talked about the role of faith in felicitous finding to important locations in the building- “we were going in like blind mice”! With faith, Phil said, we always find the weapons- as if God were guiding them. Emile D’Antonio directed a film on this action with famed Hollywood actor, Martin Sheen, playing the Judge. Phil discusses the action in his 1998 interview with Amy Goodman. (I am not surprised about how pleasant and expansive Phil, and later his other family members- Liz, Frida, and Jerry are in talking with (selected) members of the media and press. We always cultivated a good relation with the press in our movements. They didn’t have to be blazing activists! We had to get our message out!!) This Plowshares action was humorous in the details of the actors’ jail stay. I believe they started out with no bail situations, but as one of their members, John Shuchardt, exercised his skills as a jailhouse lawyer, helping inmates in the jail with numerous problems, the group became more and more of a liability to their warders, and their bails were reduced and reduced until, finally, they were told: “I just want you out of my prison”. As Phil puts it with a twinkle- “We became intolerable”.   

Molly Rush- a Plowshares 8 participant recalls: "Most likely it was Phil and Schuchardt who got us together. Planning done by all of us at a retreat"   

                                                      1993   First Reunion

                On May 21st, 22nd and 23rd of 1993 a reunion was held for the Catonsville 9. I was part of an afternoon panel discussing the "future of faith resistance". Six of the nine were present, and the day was emotionally draining for me, meeting those who had changed my life, those whose life I'd changed. I had been shoehorned onto the panel. The organizers of the event had pretty much forgotten about the Baltimore 4, but old friend Bill O'Connor told them I should be included.

 At one point in the morning's proceedings, original black and white news footage from one of the local TV channels was run on a big screen. As John Hogan tossed a match onto the pile of draft files and the nine backed away, there was a tremendous roar (was this an added sound effect?), a sound like wind and the nine made their various comments as they stood over the impressive draft file bier. Tears welled to my eyes. The image of fire was strong, as it had been when Norman Morrison immolated himself, at Gandhi's pyre. I thought of the flames of pentecost and certain Messaien organ pieces, I thought of the viking boats set afire and pushed out to sea. The flame seemed like the wind of life itself- a liberating flame. 

                    Tom Melville also painstakingly detailed feelings of his at the 1993 reunion at Goucher College, reading from a lengthy position paper. He had been down may of the same paths as had I, struggling with issues of pacifism or violence in self defense and issues of Phil's leadership. Brendan Walsh resented Phil's single minded focus on jail as a requirement for entrance into the Berrigan club of the actions and he and George hinted at several hurt or embittered persons as a result. Their ideas reminded me of Bill O'Connor who had long expressed criticisms of Dan and Phil and the "Plowshares" way of doing things. I usually came to the Berrigans' defense, odd when I thought about my embitterment and despair on being "left out". But then I had made it clear at the time that more arrests and more jail time was too hot for me to handle. The Berrigan path was a hard one. They had a right to be single minded, why hold it against them. Phil really had been the only member of the nine to carry the draft actions forward for the last 20 years in many "plowshares" actions which were similar to the blood pouring and the Catonsville action.

The critics also saw Phil as stuck in a mode of protest that was not drawing new adherents or building a mass movement. I countered that Phil kept a poetic flame alive, that I liked the biblical nature of the acts and that I wasn't sure Phil had a mass movement as priority. My girl friend was doing something similar in her Trokskyite group, Spark. Her group knew the times weren't ripe for revolution but they wanted to keep a spark lit for more revolutionary times to come. In a way it was the same with Phil and the Plowshares actions. Besides, Quixotic as they were, Phil might say that his actions simply had to be taken- to satisfy his own conscience.

 

At any rate, discussion took place late into the nights of the reunion. Phil had to leave on Saturday afternoon and I had the feeling his side of the story might be considerably different from George's, Brendan's (sp), Tom's and Bill's.

 

To me, the sour grapes seemed un-called for. There seemed a bit of self defensiveness that could have easily been generous praise for Phil`s noble actions. It sometimes seemed that George defended what they had been doing for the last 20 years by bad mouthing Phil, exactly that of which they accused him. The macho one upmanship continued. Wasn't there room enough in the world for George's labor organizing, Brendan Walsh 's Catholic Worker soup kitchen work at VIVA House, my work with offenders, Tom Melville's teaching as well as Phil's plowshares actions? But a point Brendan made was that the plowshares actions were like preparing a soup that no one came to eat, that had no nutrition. He liked an observation he had heard that if non violence isn't about winning, then why be for it? Brendann was mild in his criticism compared to Gerorge- he's more of an even keeled guy.

 

I wondered if we graying activists would meet again like this; we did. Dan especially looked ill.  One old lover refreshed my memory on details of how we had got together which I had incredibly forgotten. I had actually forgotten one of my lovers? Now that was disturbing, for of all things I treasured... 

          The reunion concluded with a blood pouring demonstration at a local defense plant's corporate headquarters, Martin Marietta and I attended as did Tom Lewis and Dan Berrigan of the nine. It was heartening to see young persons splashing blood on Martin Marietta's corporate headquarters doors and I could see that we had actually been pioneers.  I stood alongside Dan behind a banner being held up at the main entrance to the Marietta plant on Sunday and listened to a discussion he was having with a young demonstrator. The youngster asked after the famed Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, "what is he doing now?" Dan had been with him recently, and he described Hanh's casual approach to peace sitting in meditation and saying of a nearby tree which he was observing, "that tree has just won the Nobel prize for peace. As a matter of fact," Hanh said, "I've conferred the prize on the tree". "That sounds like zen", I said. "Well", Dan replied, Hanh is a zen master.

        Two members of the 9 were not present for the reunion. David Darst, a ?  brother and poet had been killed in  ?  in a fiery car accident. Mary Moylan died in 1992, after having come up from her "underground" and returned to nursing work. According to her sister, she had died blind (and friendless?), having lost contact with the others in the nine (except for George?). George felt that Mary should have been invited to the reunion and that Dan and Phil or the organizers had treated her miserably. He had picked her up and taken her to a Camden 28 reunion.

 

                                         Discussion at Catonsville  

        In November of 1999 I attended a discussion led by Lynn Sachs at the Catonsville library. Lynn had collected interviews with the remaining nine and was proposing to do a documentary movie which became "Investigation of a Flame". Bill O'Connor and Brendan Walsh were present at the gathering of some 30 folk. The daughter of the Selective Service clerk who had suffered a slight cut was present. She said the 9 had sent her mother sympathy cards from prison. A local poet informed the group that, upon occasion, across from the military cemetery down the hill, a somewhat official sign appeared, stating that the act had occurred, a kind of disappearing historical marker; he implied that he knew who put the sign up. Willa Walsh made the point that we should not treat the Catonsville 9 action as a kind of memorial to be encapsulated, separate from what is going on in the present- that the same work goes on. I felt a wash of emotions. I told them that I hoped the act was a "Joan of Arc" sort of historical import, but that you had to lobby to get into history, that if there is meaning in the universe, the act will be a milestone, if not, well, at least it was great guerilla theater. Lynn was donating her Catonsville nine materials to the library where it would be available for study. The main library in Baltimore- the Enoch Pratt- also had a small C-9 web site. 

 

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