Photo credit to Lisa Wells of the Isthmus
I locked up the church doors, then tucked in to sleep on a small open spot on the floor of the sanctuary, between chairs and right next to a huge east-facing window. It was Friday night, March 24, the first day of a regional anti-war event I’d helped organize, the 20th Midwest Catholic Worker Faith and Resistance Gathering. I was there hoping to help prevent nuclear war.
People had converged from eight states at a church on Old Sauk Road. Friends old and new greeted each other with smiles, hugs, and shrieks of joy. We ate dinner, then watched Theaters of War, a new documentary about how the Pentagon and the CIA use Hollywood to promote the U.S. military.
I slept, cozy on a camping pad and under a comforter, with a shirt rolled up as a pillow. I woke up around midnight to open the door and greet Chrissy, Lindsey and Theo, young Catholic Worker activists who’d driven from St. Louis. They carried in sleeping bags and got settled.
I woke up briefly again in the very early morning. Outside the big window snow had started to fall thickly. By morning a foot had accumulated, beautiful and heavy on the evergreens, roofs and roads. At 6:30 a.m., Barb and Mike from northern Wisconsin arrived to cook breakfast. We carried in boxes of banana bread and cartons of eggs, and a lively day of work began. We would spend the next three days together learning, reflecting, and preparing to act on Monday.
Working against militarism in the U.S. can be daunting. People sometimes ask me, “Isn’t it depressing?” I think it’s depressing to not speak out against war. Speaking out gives me hope. We are in an unprecedentedly dangerous time, in a proxy war with Russia. Last year after Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, friends and I started doing war abolition walks in Madison to call for a ceasefire and diplomacy in Ukraine, and an end to all war. We’ve done 28 walks since last April. We hold signs that say, “Defuse Nuclear War” and “Weapons Makers Are the Only Winners.” We’ve started a Madison chapter of the international war abolition group World BEYOND War.
Doing the walks together interrupts my fear. People stop to talk with us, their faces lit up with hope. They say, “Thank you for doing this,” and “I agree,” and “Why don’t we hear this perspective in the media?”
In the last year, the U.S. has sent and promised $55 billion of weapons to Ukraine to kill people. I fund war when I pay taxes. Much of that money goes to companies that profit from war, like Lockheed Martin which makes F-35 fighter jets.
F-35s cost about $75 million per plane. They can carry nuclear bombs. They are flown by a single pilot. Design and performance problems have plagued the F-35. In 2022 alone, three F-35s crashed. Twenty of these jets are to arrive this spring in Madison at the Truax Air National Guard base; the first arrived April 25.
The F-35 fighters will bring war home to Wisconsin. We gathered to say no to F-35s and war anywhere. Saying no to war gives me hope. Well over 100 people attended the weekend events. On Saturday, we listened to speakers, sang, shared meals and stories. Three saxophonists performed: Father Joe played soprano sax, Ann from Kansas played alto sax, and I played tenor. Sunday some of us went to St. Thomas Aquinas church for Catholic Mass where the priest spoke about our nonviolent witness in front of 500 parishioners. Many of us went to a Wild Church outdoor service at Owen Park, with snow on the ground and blue sky overhead.
We who gathered are timid, brave, faithful and stubborn. Young and old and in-between. Non-religious, Catholics, Quakers, Muslims, Mennonites, and Wild Church practitioners. Veterans, parents of young children, priests, nuns, students, ministers, and Catholic Workers. The Catholic Worker movement was started in the Great Depression, 1933, by Dorothy Day and others in New York City. The movement has a long history of resisting war. Today there are 176 Catholic Worker communities around the world. Many run houses of hospitality, where volunteers and formerly-unhoused people live together. The Catholic Workers in the Midwest get together in a different city each year for the Faith and Resistance Gatherings. The first was in 2003, just before the U.S. invaded Iraq, a war that by low estimates killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Andrea and Justin, who helped lead the 2023 Madison gathering, are raising money now for a new Catholic Worker house of hospitality here.
Monday morning was cold and damp. At 5:30 a.m., about 40 of us gathered at the gates of Truax to say no to F-35s and war. Later that morning, many more people joined us for a protest at the Capitol. What did we accomplish that long weekend? Our civil disobedience actions on Monday got lots of media attention. We took steps to build a mass movement to end war before it ends human life on this planet.
No one was arrested. That afternoon, Catholic Workers headed out towards their homes, already planning their next gathering.
The next day I was interrupted by a newly unfamiliar noise. Last fall the F-16 jets that had been at Truax were sent elsewhere, to make way for the F-35s. We’d had peace and quiet since then. But that morning, March 28, I once again heard a booming noise. Looking out the window, I saw two fighter jets swooping low and loud in the sky. These visitors felt like a warning.
When the planes fly over, it reminds me to work to end the organized mass murder called war. It can be hard to speak up but I feel better when I try. Last year I heard about the concept of war abolition. My first reaction was, “That’s impossible.” But slavery abolitionists used to be told that. The antiwar movement is growing. That gives me hope.
Janet is part of the WNPJ member group, Madison for a World BEHYOND WAr.
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