The Plowshares movement is an anti-nuclear weapons and (mostly) Christian pacifist movement that advocates active resistance to war. The group often practices a form of symbolic protest that involves the damaging of weapons and military property. The movement gained notoriety in the early 1980s when several members damaged nuclear warhead nose cones and were subsequently convicted. The name "plowshares" refers to the text of prophet Isaiah who said that weapons shall be beaten into plowshares.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. — Isaiah 2:3-4
On September 9, 1980, Daniel Berrigan, his brother Philip Berrigan, and six others (the "Plowshares Eight") began the Plowshares Movement under the premise of beating swords to ploughshares. They trespassed onto the General Electric Nuclear Missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where they damaged MK12A nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files. They were arrested and charged with more than ten different felony and misdemeanor counts. On April 10, 1990, after 10 years of appeals, the Berrigans' group was re-sentenced and paroled for up to 23 and 1/2 months in consideration of time already served in prison. Their legal battle was re-created in Emile de Antonio's 1982 film In the King of Prussia, which starred Martin Sheen and featured appearances by the Plowshares Eight as themselves.
Other actions followed. As of 2000, some 71 such actions happened on several continents, sharing these elements: 1. absolutely nonviolent to people, 2. each actor claimed personal responsibility for her or his actions, never fleeing the scene but rather standing accountable, 3. making some effort, big or small, real or symbolic, to turn swords into plowshares.
There have been several more such actions in the new millennium. Over the years, some of these have resulted in acquittals and the vast majority end in prison time for the actors, the longest of which were those meted out to the 1984 group, the Silo Pruning Hooks (after the Biblical verse admonishing people to turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks—both Micah and Isaiah), two of whom earned 18 years in federal prison for entering a Minuteman II missile silo. The "swords" have included live nuclear weapons, components of the nuclear arsenal, and even armed forces personal field weapons.
Pouring of blood
Pouring of blood is a controversial symbolic act to symbolize the recognition of the violence of the government and the potential for people to honor life instead of death in that location. Generally it has been blood that has come from the activist, collected, and carried to the action site for use to symbolically remind other people of the deathly purpose of that institution, system or installation, and simultaneously is praying to reclaim that entity and the people working on it for goodness' sake, for the sake of life-affirming purposes instead of its current purpose. Symbolically it reminds others what the weapons are designed for, and is used to break through the rationalizations that justify weapons of mass destruction.
Plowshares activist Mary Sprunger-Froese explained:
War has been sanitized . . . because we mostly do it through our technology and satellite surveillance. Back when people [fought] hand to hand, you would see the blood and gore and you would see the consequences. Now we're so far removed and we watch war coverage on TV like it's a miniseries. That's so desensitizing, deadening. So when we use blood, it has a very powerful effect. . . . The blood is very real, very arresting, shocking, and in your face. It says, "This is what we're talking about - human life. All this technology is made to destroy it, to spill human blood."
Greg Boertje-Obed, Plowshares activist and ex-army officer, adds:
It's making visible what these weapons are about because many people have a problem with killing but in the military now you just push a button and the killing is distant, removed. That makes it much easier. We've found that the military people are offended when you pour blood on their weapons because they don't like to think of it as a bloody machine. . . . So it's very necessary to try to break through that with a symbol that is shocking. It may not affect people in a positive way but there is the chance that later on, in another moment, people can be affected by it. I met a U.S. marshal who was a fundamentalist Christian and he was especially turned off by the blood. He said that we were wasting the blood and it was a sin. It could have been given to somebody and used to save a life; he was just stuck on it. He could not see that the military weapons are a sin and that nuclear weapons are a crime.
On April 30, 2008, three Plowshares activists entered the GCSB Waihopai base near Blenheim, New Zealand and punctured an inflated radome used in the ECHELON signal interception program, causing $1.2 million in damages. In March 2010 the three men stood trial by jury at the District Court in Wellington and were acquitted. The New Zealand Attorney-General then lodged a civil claim, on behalf of the GCSB, for $1.2 million. This claim was dropped in February 2014.
On November 2, 2009, a Plowshares action took place in the U.S. at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, where Trident nuclear weapons are stored or deployed on Trident submarines. These weapons constitute the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the US.
On July 28, 2012, three Plowshares activists, Sister Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, who compose the Transform Now Plowshares movement, breached security at the U.S. Department of Energy's Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, causing the government to temporarily shut down the weapons facility. Once inside a "secure" area, the activists hung protest banners on a uranium storage site, poured human blood and spray-painted the walls with anti-war slogans. Following a controversial trial, the three activists were convicted in early May 2013 on the charges of damaging property in violation of 18 US Code 1363, damaging federal property in excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, and intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155. Megan Rice was sentenced to 35 months, or just under three years. The other two protesters, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, both were sentenced to 62 months, or a little more than five years.
The National Nuclear Security Administration has acknowledged the seriousness of the 2012 Plowshares action, which involved the protesters walking into a high-security zone of the plant, calling the security breach "unprecedented." Independent security contractor, WSI, has since had a weeklong "security stand-down," a halt to weapons production, and mandatory refresher training for all security staff.
Non-proliferation policy experts are concerned about the relative ease with which these unarmed, unsophisticated protesters could cut through a fence and walk into the center of the facility. This is further evidence that nuclear security—the securing of highly enriched uranium and plutonium—should be a top priority to prevent terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear bomb-making material. These experts have questioned “the use of private contractors to provide security at facilities that manufacture and store the government's most dangerous military material”.
- Bryan Law
- Catonsville Nine
- Chicago Seven
- Civil disobedience
- Evangelical environmentalism
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- Harrisburg Seven
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- The Baltimore Four
- Seeds of hope
- The Camden 28
- The Saint Patrick's Day Four
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- Sister Megan Rice
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