I woke up the other morning to a fast flick of paper woosh under my door. My groggy eyes took a moment to find it and focus on the squiggly lines making letters and words.
"I'm going to a protest in Norfolk. Want to come? 7:30 am"
I've been at my childhood home in Virginia Beach the last few weeks helping care for my 93 year old grandmother while my parents were out of town. Making sacrifices for those in need, especially family, is a value that my parents hold sacred and made sure to instill in us kids growing up. This morning was proof some things never change. It was my Mom's first day back after a jet lagged trip from Italy and here she is, slipping notes under my door at 6:30 am to rally my lazy bum to go fight injustice.
I staggered out of my room and rubbed my eyes. "What are we protesting exactly?" I asked sleepily. "My friend Steve," she paused, "he might be going to jail today. He organized a peaceful protest of the Navy's recruitment of 5th grade math and science students at the 9/11 air show. He's staged so many anti-war protests over the years he's been banned from military bases. Today he's looking at possible 6 months time for trespassing." My eyes grew wide. "I'll grab my coat."
When we arrived, about 20-30 people had already lined the streets of the Norfolk courthouse with signs of of peaceful resistance, nonviolent demonstration and anti-war pleas. I quickly realized these people were not protesting Steve going to prison, they were fighting for peace.
It was my first act of community protest. I'd never held a sign in front of traffic in the freezing cold before, who can actually say they have? But what I realized about myself from the experience was fascinating. I was beyond moved.
Firstly, because I was standing tall and proud next to my beautiful Mother who has been involved with the Catholic Worker House for 12 years, lifting burdens of the impoverished, bringing light to social justice issues, and shaking up society's complacency to pro war propaganda (let's just say she's a huge fan of the new Pope.) She regularly sleeps in solidarity beside the homeless and sings Christmas carols of forgiveness to prison inmates every year. She is my hero.
Secondly, I had no idea the energy you can transfer through a car windshield. With my sign of non-violence I also held the gaze of every passer by, sending each individual love, abundance, happiness, safety, peace, inner strength, and LIGHT. Some people honked, some people waved, and some people avoided even looking at us. Tears streamed down my face as I smiled back, flashed a peace sign and shone brightly. "This is kind of addicting." I thought to myself, "this is how you create real change."
When the time came we all gathered around Steve as he lead us through a prayer (I'm no longer Catholic but a blessing is a blessing, right?). We all meditated on a light sentence and more importantly, an end to war and violence across the globe. A few minutes later Steve stood in front of a judge and plead guilty, handing over a statement explaining his actions and his passionate stance. The judge deemed him no threat to the public and sentenced only 2 days in jail and a $500 fine. Steve politely declined to pay saying "We don't make any salary with the Catholic Worker and even if we did, we try to render as little to Cesar as possible." (LEGEND!) Steve has been arrested and imprisoned countless times over his decades of nonviolent protest. When sentenced to jail time, he devotes his energy to working with prisoners, helping to rehabilitate through kindness and spirituality in an effort to create change from the inside out.
This couple of hours on a Monday morning inspired me more than I could have ever imagined. I must thank Steve, Kim (his loyal wife) and of course my Mom for being -- yes, a total badass. I've always known you to be passionate about what you preach, but to see you working first hand, with joy not dread or obligation, fighting the good fight in the face of fear, and being the incredible role model of change we wish to see in the world...has changed me forever. You have ignited a flame towards action within me that cannot be burned out, and already the ideas are swarming of what I should do next. I can't say for sure what I'll be able to pull off, but I know that I must try. For the world needs us now more than ever.
Images by Kim Williams
Here is the official statement from Steve Williams-Baggerly to the Judge on November 7, 2016. I found it compelling and wanted to share with all who may be moved to fight for their beliefs, regardless of consequence, in faith of helping the greater good.
Light and Love to you all xx
The annual Air Show at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach is the Navy’s largest open house in North America. Some quarter of a million people attend it over three days, and this year it hosted some very special guests—all 6500 fifth graders in the Virginia Beach Public Schools. All were students in the school system’s STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and were invited to the base on the first day, otherwise closed to the public, for interactive science displays along with their own private Air Show.
When I learned that this year’s show was targeting fifth-graders, I joined friends at Oceana’s main gate holding signs to encourage the students inside the buses streaming in from all over the city, to think about science outside a military context. The next day the Air Show was open to the public and I went in to see what kind of instruction had been offered to the entire fifth grade of the state’s largest city.
Inside, the STEM program still had four locations set up of hands-on activities for kids. Clustered interactive exhibits involving gravity and inertia, geometric design, and weather simulation were scattered amid Oceana’s F/A-18 Super Hornets, Army and Navy helicopters, and a giant Air Force cargo plane all on display. Math activities employing algebra, fractions, and decimals, were spitting distance from a Gatling-style gun from the nose of an F/A-18, which can fire up to 6000 rounds per minute, and a four-man mini submarine used by Navy Seals to approach targets by water. One entire hanger was filled with STEM exhibits. There, several Naval facilities and military contractors sponsored a robotics exhibit, a 3-D printer used to make custom tools, and demonstrations of magnetism and the physics of floatation and submersion. Sharing the hanger were two Navy river patrol boats brimming with machine guns that the kids could swing around and pretend to aim and fire.
Amid the plethora of scientific and technological information available to children at the show, one glaring omission was the purpose for the existence of all the high-tech weaponry on display. Nowhere was their killing vocation acknowledged. Nowhere was the reality for the people on the receiving end of their bullets and bombs even hinted at; the deafening explosions, quaking earth, flying debris, smoke and fire—the instant loss of life, spurting blood, charred flesh, pain and shock, shattering fear, the desperate search for loved ones, and the soul-rending howls of new orphans and widows. No one mentioned the inherently indiscriminate nature of air strikes—that every time a bomb is dropped, a wing launcher is activated, or a door gunner opens fire—that women and children, civilians and innocents, are as likely as anything to be blown to shreds. Nowhere were photos of decapitated, dismembered, or mangled bodies in Middle Eastern towns, villages, and deserts. Nowhere was posted the definition of war crimes.
Neither acknowledged was the brutalization of those ordered do the killing, never mind the possibility that any enthusiastic fifth graders, successfully recruited, might one day come home in a body bag, with traumatic brain injury, without legs, or suffering from moral injury, sexual assault, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and contemplating suicide. None of the realities of war made an appearance.
Rather, rapt attention was paid throughout the day to a sky filled with airborne performers that included vintage aircraft, an Army Special Operations parachute team, and F-22 Raptors from Langley Air Force Base in Hampton. But the Hornets were the real stars. The Air Show’s centerpiece, the daredevil Blue Angels, are F/A-18’s that, along with Oceana F/A-18 squadrons, took turns rolling, flipping, “walking,” falling, and zooming by in tight formation. Appropriate, for at the same time, other Oceana F/A-18’s, flying from carriers in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea, were likely dropping bombs on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and/or Libya. Oceana F/A-18’s have been workhorses of Naval firepower since soon after 9-11—when the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq set the Middle East on fire. Since then, some 4 million people have been killed, tens of millions have been maimed or traumatized, more millions have become refugees, and large swaths of the region have turned incubator for ISIS.
Indeed, Air Shows are a powerfully seductive display of some of the most sophisticated technology on the planet, and the military’s biggest recruiting and public relations tool. The first line of the Air Show program page dedicated to the Blue Angels reads, “The Blue Angels’ mission is to enhance Navy and Marine Corps recruiting efforts…” Today, our nation is engaged in endless war with the entire globe as battlefield. In addition to 600 domestic bases the United States has 800 military bases around the world. We are the only nation to divide the world up into military commands with troops assigned to each, and with carriers and submarines patrolling every ocean. We occupy the Middle East, with bases in every Persian Gulf nation except Iran. Our Special Operations forces operate in over 100 countries. We’ve surrounded Russia and China with bases as well as ballistic missile defense sites and have pushed NATO expansion to Russia’s border. We’ve embarked on a $1 trillion upgrade to all of our nuclear warheads and their delivery systems. The US Department of Defense is the world’s largest employer with over 3.2 million military personnel and civilian contractors on the payroll. It is a Herculean job to train, supply, arm, and deploy, troops and sailors to the ends of our empire and Air Shows play a crucial role in preparing our youth to do their part in future wars.
In essence, Air Shows are religious assemblies. On the flight line, deep reverence for the weapons was palpable. There, God’s attributes as the source of freedom and security, peace and prosperity, were ascribed to the machinery of death. The unwritten Air Show creed is that the planes and choppers make possible life as we know it, and that we owe them our undying allegiance. Yet Biblically speaking, they are “gods of metal,” “the work of our hands,” the idols in our state religion of national security—and at an Air Show, children can actually touch them, sit in their seats, pull their triggers, and run their hands over their bombs. As Americans we ultimately trust in the killing power of our weaponry to save us, and Air Shows are one awe-inspiring way we hand this faith on to our children—one bus load of fifth graders at a time.
-Steve Williams-Baggerly, Virginia Beach Catholic Worker