Good Friday at Ground Zero for Nuclear Weapons

I don't know if you remember my blog from the last Good Friday (it's okay if you don't) but I went to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory located in the city of Livermore, CA. It's a big facility that engages in all kinds of secretive nuclear weapon kinds of stuff with scary signs on the outer fence about being arrested for trespassing and all the federal codes one would be violating should one be bold enough to enter without permission. The scariest facts about the Lab are not on any sign: a plume of contaminated ground water inching its way ever closer to the source of drinking water for Livermore Valley. Endangered wildlife such as the red-legged frog living in toxicity (rumor has it some have 3 eyes). Trees so radioactive they have to be disposed of in the same manner as nuclear waste. Eight-five hundred employees exposed to this site on a daily basis. Weapons of mass destruction capable of destroying life on earth several times over. None of that on a sign anywhere!

Like last year's Good Friday, I resisted the temptation to sleep in and got up while it was barely light, dressed in the dark so as not to wake anyone, had a small breakfast of coffee and toast. This year I waited for my friend and Maryknoll Affiliate, Ana to knock on my front door. For a couple of days I had been debating whether or not I would actually cross the line at the Lab and risk arrest but told myself I wouldn't do it if Ana was on a tight schedule because I was going to be her ride out to Livermore. I heard a soft knock at the door and soon Ana and I were on the freeway heading east. We arrived at 6:45 and the musicians were still setting up. The now familiar crucifix fashioned out of flat boards was erected on the back of the white pickup truck just like last year. New were the large origami cranes folded in various stages of completion taped on the truck bed rail as a backdrop while the bed served as a stage. There was a lot of standing around trying to stay warm but at least this year was rain-free. Daniel Zwickel, Carla DeSola and Silvia Brandon Perez began with singing "For the Beauty of the Earth" and Kyrie Eleison (Ghana). Dr. Amer Araim made a Muslim call to prayer and Carla DeSola led us in liturgical dance. Speakers featured Marylia Kelley from TriValley CAREs with an update on legislation and funding for nuclear weapons R&D as well as Lab activities. Ana and I decided we had to speak out against the manufacturing of war machines and gave our names and addresses as a part of crossing the line at the gate. I made sure she could spare the extra time, asked if she was up to the experience and if she had her I.D., etc. to which Ana responded...'don't worry' giving me a calm smile. Signing in helps the promoters of the event notify any who have been arrested that some have received a court date and to assure that each person has access to pro-bono counsel. Once we signed our names, I felt a sense of resolve and courage...privileged to be able to join the ranks of those who have gone before me in taking a stand for my beliefs. After the speakers and a few more songs, we headed in groups to visit "the Stations."

Station One: In the Cross-Hairs of Torture/SOA Watch -
Station Two: Refugees/Immigrant Issues -
Station Three: Occupation of Palestine - Berkeley Women in Black -
Station Four: Border Issues/The wall - Pacific School of Religion Border Immersion -
Station Five: Militarization of our Youth - American Friends Service Committee -
Station Six: Nuclear Weapons - Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment -
Station Seven: Religious Freedom - Islamic Community Outreach of California -

The liturgy ended with the Elm Dance in front of the Laboratory gates and the Alameda County Sheriff officers in full riot gear with Lab security personnel in camouflage combat uniforms. I wondered what was running through their minds as they stood in a row, looking ahead through their face shields and fidgeting with their billy clubs while we danced. Once the dance ended, people began to line up in rows facing the officers at the gate and several songs broke out...old songs many from the 60s including "We Shall Overcome." Ana and I were in the last row and sticking close together. Once the California penal code was read off and we were warned about being arrested, the officers plucked off the first row and took them onto the Lab property to be handcuffed. More songs, more arrests, and we moved up closer to replace those who had been taken away. It was a slow process leaving all with time to reflect while we waited our turn. Friends standing off to the side cheered everyone on, clapping as the next group was led off. People started new songs. Dr. Araim began another Muslim call to prayer. The call to prayer really is beautiful and as the sun broke through the clouds, shining warm on our faces, I reflected on Jesus in the garden, contemplating his own arrest and pending crucifixion. Would I have the kind of courage needed to give my life for my people? No, I wouldn't. But perhaps God would give that courage to me just when I needed it.

Throughout history, millions of people have stood before an authority figure and pondered their own imminent loss of life. From governments who open fire on a gathering of its own citizens, indiscriminately wiping out hundreds at a time to those who kill prisoners on death row to teach that killing people is wrong. Jesuits in El Salvador murdered by the military police and a priest murdered while celebrating Mass. Millions of Jews, Rwandans and Cambodians slaughtered in waves of genocide campaigns. Hundreds of thousands of innocents in Darfur, the Sudan, the Congo. Chinese students in Tienanmen Square speaking out against a repressive regime. And here we were, about to experience a pretty cushy arrest process. I was grateful to live in a country where I could be pretty certain I wouldn't be shot at the end.

Finally, Ana and I were among the last people in line...toe to toe with officers who by now were probably ready to go home. One particularly stern looking young man kept readjusting his grip on his billy club, fanning his fingers out as he did so and staring straight ahead. Is he worried about the 80 something year old nun to my right causing a problem or the lady with the walker, I thought to myself. Some people just get off on power I guess. The final reading of the California Code was read, the final threat of arrest was made, and we were all grabbed by one arm and led to the first arrest station: emptying our pockets into a plastic bag, being wanded with a metal detector and handcuffed. The officer who had led me by the arm must have thought I was a blood relative of Houdini so he put the cuffs on as tight as he could, behind my back. Ana was cuffed behind her back also while the others were cuffed in front. Did we look more threatening than the others? One veteran older lady told us we should have requested looser cuffs and to have them in front. But that's not why we went. That Friday, we were in solidarity with all those who are unjustly incarcerated. Sitting in the van with our hands uncomfortably behind our backs, Ana and I reflected on what we were doing and how we were feeling, and what it might have been like for Jesus.

After some struggling to get the woman with the walker into the van, we headed off to the next station on the Lab property: the cage. When the van pulled up to the cyclone fenced enclosures, the protesters already present looked like prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. These were permanently constructed pens and I could only wonder what purpose they served the other 364 days of the year. The upside of going into the pen was the handcuffs were removed. We stayed there very briefly before being led to a warehouse for booking. Name, rank, serial number...well actually, just CA Drivers License, state your place of birth, get a citation and an escort to the North gate. Walking back to the car, Ana and I felt that we had made the right choice for how to spend Good Friday and grateful for the opportunity to experience just a little taste of what millions of people go through everyday. Note: the Alameda County Sheriff Dept officers were very kind and polite as were the LLNL guards. I wish them well and hope they were given some food for thought.