Stephen Burke

Ithaca Notes

Clare Grady of Ithaca is a member of a religious-based political group called the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, who in April of last year broke into the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base on the southern coast of Georgia to protest nuclear war.

The base is the Atlantic post for U.S. Navy submarines powered by nuclear reactors and armed with nuclear missiles.

The Plowshares group is part of a movement that takes its name from the Biblical injunction against war, to “beat swords into plowshares” and “study war no more.”

Since its beginning in the early 1980s, the movement has undertaken scores of protests domestically and internationally, generally involving non-violent trespass and symbolic destruction of weapons on military property.

The Kings Bay protest was timed to coincide with the birthdate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Among his many honors, Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and said in his acceptance speech:

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Dr. King spoke of ‘the triple evils’ of racism, poverty, and war, and that they’re tied together,” Grady said in a recent interview in Ithaca. (Her group was found guilty last month on all charges and she is home, heavily monitored, awaiting a sentencing hearing, possibly in January.)

“Nuclear weapons are a dehumanizing, lethal force, and not just when they’re launched,” Grady said. “We’re violated by their very existence.”

Along with the threat to people and the planet, Grady spoke of nuclear weapons as “stealing trillions of dollars” from essential needs.

“But in the jail cells,” Grady said, rather than any recognition of these wrongs, “instead you see scapegoating” of people of color and the poor. Blacks are less than 15 percent of the U.S. population, but the majority race in U.S. prisons. A majority of prisoners of all races had annual incomes of less than $22,500 before jailing.

To Grady, as to King, the “triple evils” are entwined and clear.

“Nuclear weapons are state-sponsored violence and they’re above the law. Our action and the court trial are stages to examine the legal justice system and what it actually protects.

“Part of our witness is to bring to light what’s hidden in plain sight.”

Grady describes the Kings Bay setting as “a beautiful coastline, an idyllic town,” meanwhile “with weapons that could destroy the whole planet.”

She spoke of the “secrets” that make our society “sick,” which unless revealed can’t be healed.

The Plowshares movement is rooted in Catholicism, and Grady, a staunch Irish-Catholic, spoke of its actions and tactics as “sacramental” in symbolism and goals.

In perhaps its most visceral gesture, at Kings Bay the group poured out small vials of their own blood. They hung crime scene tape, and “posted an indictment rooted in law,” Grady said, concerning what constitutes a war crime, saying the legal definition needs to go much further, to include possession (thus threatened use) of genocidal weapons.

Despite its perceived radicalism, Grady prosaically described the work of her movement as “public service.”

“What standing do these weapons have under the law?” she asked. “We’re trying to examine right relationships between criminality and the Doomsday Machine,” citing Daniel Ellsberg’s recent book of that name (subtitled “Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner”), which the New York Times called “a commendable and important effort to make vivid the genuine madness” of nuclear weaponry.

Grady’s group was forbidden by the judge to introduce excerpts from the book into evidence at their trial, nor any discussion of political, religious, or humanitarian motivations for their actions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the jury found them guilty on all counts, one misdemeanor and two federal charges, in about two hours.

Each of the group faces jail time of 25 years and two months.

Grady specifically asked the Ithaca Times, home paper to many of her friends, to tell readers she hopes for and expects considerably lighter sentencing.

“The judge has certain discretion,” Grady said. “She can consider certain things, upward departure, downward departure,” she said, in the argot of a veteran political jailbird.

To simplify the issue, she mentioned the guards at the base, who are authorized to shoot to kill. “But they see it is some people with a banner,” Clare Grady said, and act accordingly.

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