Terry Messman: Blockading the ‘White Train of Death’

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You know the saints not by their works but by their dreams. Terry Messman’s wonderful article on Jim and Shelley Douglass and the great movement of White Train activists and Catholic communitarians gives you a glimpse at not only the fruits of their lives of faith but of the dreams that inspire.

I first visited Jim and Shelley at the Ground Zero community near Seattle in 1984. Barbara Bennett (of blessed memory) and I were driving from Davis, Calif., to Seattle to catch the Inside Passage car ferry to Haines, Alaska, then on to Anchorage. We spent the night at the Ground Zero community’s tracks house outside the perimeter of the Bangor nuclear submarine base on the Hood Canal. I remember watching the sunset turn the gun-metal grey sub hangers a deep, disturbing red.

I’ve had the honor of knowing Jim and Shelley since then and being a guest and hosting them as guests in the tradition of Christian hospitality. They are mentors, saints, prophets, and friends. (Learn more about Jim Douglass’ books and witness and Shelley Douglass’ witness and ministry at Mary’s House.)

Thank you to Terry Messman for this exceptional article on one portion of their lives:

Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, has been a lifelong source of inspiration for James and Shelley Douglass, both in their nonviolent resistance to war and nuclear weapons, and also in their solidarity with poor and homeless people.

Day devoted her life to the works of mercy for the poorest of the poor, and often quoted Fyodor Dostoevsky on the high cost of living out the ideal of love in the real world. “As Dostoevsky said: ‘Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.’”

The same warning might be given to those who try to live out the ideal of nonviolence in action, since love and nonviolence are essentially one and the same. (One of Mohandas Gandhi’s descriptions of nonviolent resistance is “love-force.”)

Although it may be heartening to read about nonviolence in the lives of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Dorothy Day, it is a more “harsh and dreadful” proposition to engage in actual resistance to a nuclear submarine capable of destroying hundreds of cities, and protected by the most powerful government in the world.

Instead of nonviolence in dreams, one faces nonviolence in handcuffs and jail cells, nonviolence sailing in the path of massive submarines, nonviolence on the tracks blockading “the train out of hell.”

By the early 1980s, Jim and Shelley Douglass and the members of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action had created a highly visible campaign of resistance to the Trident nuclear submarine based at Bangor Naval Base near Seattle. …

Read Blockading the ‘White Train of Death’ by Terry Messman

Protest Against Trains Carrying Depleted Uranium to Utah

DUprotestutahMarc Haddock had a brief news report in Deseret News on the protesters who came out against shipping depleted uranium into Utah. The trains are scheduled to start rolling across the country from Savannah to Utah sometime this week.

My favorite quote in the article is from Ed B. Firmage, emeritus law professor at the University of Utah, who says: “If you or I brought nuclear material into the state, we would be arrested as terrorists. So why can the state do it?”

It sounds like it’s time to relaunch the White Train resistance network. These were trains that transported the parts for nuclear weapons from the PanTex plant in Texas to various sites around the U.S.  (read more here).

Catholic pacifists Jim and Shelley Douglass were lead organizers for those who protested the trains by holding vigils on the train tracks. Often they sat on the tracks to block the trains and risked arrest. (The February 1984 issue of Sojourners magazine details this whole resistance movement.)

Here’s Haddock’s article:

SALT LAKE CITY — Two dozen protesters braved the cold Saturday morning, December 19, to protest plans to ship more than 3,000 tons of depleted uranium through the state to Utah’s western desert.

The protest was organized by the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah as a train carrying the first of three planned shipments of depleted uranium nears the state.

“We cannot allow this waste to be buried here, and we are asking Gov. Herbert to help us turn these trains around,” said Christopher Thomas, policy director for HEAL Utah.

Thomas said a compromise worked out between Gov. Gary Herbert and the U.S. Department of Energy Thursday is inadequate. Under the agreement, the state will allow the first of three trains loaded with the radioactive waste to enter the state, but not to bury the material at EnergySolutions disposal site near Clive until additional safety measures can be taken.

“This is no time to declare victory just because we’ve delayed the time of our defeat,” he said. “Gov. Herbert’s agreement has not stopped these shipments from coming, it’s only slowed them down.” Thomas was cheered on by a small but vocal group sporting signs that read “No DU” and “Nuclear waste is immoral.”

Political activist Claire Geddes also spoke to the small group. “This material needs to be placed in deep storage, not in a lake bed,” she said.

On the fringe of the gathering, Ed B. Firmage, emeritus law professor at the University of Utah, passed out a letter likening the decision to allow the nuclear material into the state as an act of terrorism.

“If you or I brought nuclear material into the state, we would be arrested as terrorists,” he said. “So why can the state do it?”
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