From Common Dreams
Nukes and Nuns
by Olga Bonfiglio
I first met Sisters Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte at a gathering for young nuns in March 1980. Their task was to help us understand the ways in which the Gospels called us to work for justice in our communities and our world.
Carol and Ardeth were two of the three nuns who were convicted and imprisoned in July 2003 for breaking into the N-8 Minuteman III nuclear missile site in Colorado and symbolically spilling their blood on it. A Denver federal court sentenced them to 30 and 41 months, respectively.
Back then I didn’t care much for their message. It contradicted my own uncomplicated understanding of the world and questioned the purposes and practices of the U.S. government. What they said seemed convoluted, overwhelmingly, and just plain nutty.
The next time I saw the sisters was 27 years later. They had come to my town to give a presentation about their arduous trial.
The nuns’ protest at the missile site was not an off-the-cuff act. They are members of Plowshares, a worldwide peace organization that calls attention to the dangers of militarism and seeks the dismantling of all nuclear weapons. The sisters’ hammers and wire cutters served as symbols of disarmament and referred to Isaiah 2:4 which reads: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” This time I found the nuns truly inspiring and courageous.
So what had transpired to me during those 27 years that caused me to change my outlook toward these nuns-and indeed the social justice movement? Quite simply, I witnessed people’s struggle for truth and justice.
I first learned about this struggle when I visited Nicaragua in 1985 as I stood on the blackened ground of the port of Corinto where several huge oil storage tanks had once sat before they were blown up by the CIA. Ronald Reagan wanted to neutralize the Sandinistas, who were deemed Communists, in order to clear the way for comfortable trade arrangements U.S. corporations had been enjoying under the deposed dictator Somoza.
In 1986 in Lima, Peru, I saw how desperate peasants tried to make a life for themselves after they left their mountain farms, which had been run over by armed insurgents. These people came to the city to sell plastic combs, laundry buckets, and toys. They were part of the city’s rapid six-fold increase in population which until the 1980s had been stable for 300 years.
My trip to Cochabama, Bolivia, during the Christmas 1985 was delightful. I stayed with a congenial family who taught me in Spanish language. However, two images stick in my mind from that trip. One is of the poor peasant woman on New Year’s Day who was sleeping on the street with her child by her side. Her head poked up for a minute when my companions and I walked near her and then went back down. Sleep often helps to forget hunger. Another woman I saw wore a cracked, light brown, faux leather jacket. The calculator that dangled from a chain on her wrist helped her figure out the exchange of dollars to bolivianos. The Bolivian economy was so inflationary that one dollar would get you one million bolivianos; 750,000 bolivianos would get you a Coke. And speaking of coke, I saw the coca fields. Turns out that the reason the peasants cultivated it was because the world demand for cocaine earned them enough money to feed their families.
As I flew across the ocean to the former Soviet Union on April 26, 1986, little did I know that a nuclear reactor was melting down in a small town called Chernobyl. Little did the people of the Soviet Union know either, especially those who were participating in the festive May Day celebration in Kiev on May 1, just 50 miles from Chernobyl. I witnessed how the Soviet government didn’t care enough to tell its people that they were in danger. I also witnessed how the U.S. embassy not only denied me or my fellow travelers any help but refused to acknowledge that there was an emergency.
Thanks to sparqui for the catch!