Author Archive: Terry Messman

TERRY MESSMAN is the editor and designer of Street Spirit, a street newspaper published by the American Friends Service Committee and sold by homeless vendors in Berkeley, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, California; he is as well editor of the website with the same name. For more than three decades Terry has been the program coordinator for the AFSC’s Homeless Organizing Project.

Shelley Douglass: Living for Peace in the Shadow of Death

by Terry Messman

The destruction of creation and its creatures is done in the name of profit, convenience, and wealth. The truth is that capitalism is poison, and we are its victims.”   Shelley Douglass

The path of nonviolence is a lifelong journey that leads in unexpected directions to far-distant destinations. One of the most meaningful milestones on Shelley Douglass’s path of nonviolence came on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 16, 1983, when she walked down the railroad tracks into the Bangor naval base with Karol Schulkin and Mary Grondin from the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

As the three women walked down the tracks used to transport nuclear warheads and missile motors into the naval base, they posted photographs of the atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — a prophetic warning of the catastrophic consequences of Trident nuclear submarines. The photos revealed the human face of war, the face of defenseless civilians struck down in a nuclear holocaust. The women continued on this pilgrimage deep into the heart of the Trident base, until security officers arrested them an hour after they began.

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Working for Peace and Justice: The Street Spirit Interview with Shelley Douglass, Part 1

by Terry Messman

Shelley Douglass (left with microphone) speaking out against the deaths of children caused by U.S. sanctions in Iraq; courtesy

The whole point of the arms race is to protect what we have that really isn’t justifiably ours. As long as we remain complicit with that, then to that extent we’re complicit with weapons like the Trident. So we were trying to withdraw our cooperation as much as we could.” Shelley Douglass

Street Spirit: You’ve devoted many years of your life to nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons. When did you first become involved in the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action?

Shelley Douglass: The Pacific Life Community was the original group that started the Trident campaign. The crucial thing about it was that the whistle was blown on the Trident by the man that was designing it, Robert Aldridge. Jim and I had met Bob Aldridge when we were in the middle of the Hickham trial in Honolulu. [Editor: Jim Douglass, Jim Albertini and Chuck Julie were on trial for an act of civil disobedience at Hickam Air Force Base in protest of the Vietnam War. TM]

We didn’t know very much about Bob Aldridge until he came to visit us at our home in Hedley, British Columbia, several years later. He told us a very moving story about how he had spent his life designing nuclear weapons, and he and his whole family had made the decision that he should resign from his job for reasons of conscience. They had taken a tremendous cut in income. They had 10 kids, and his wife had gone back to work, and the whole family was behind this decision.

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Surprising Requests for Mercy: The Street Spirit Interview with Shelley Douglass, Part 2

by Terry Messman

You age and die on death row if they don’t electrocute you or murder you in some other way. One of the men had a stroke and had to be taken care of. Leroy was one of the major caregivers for him. Leroy was never an angel, but he became a very compassionate person.” Shelley Douglass

Poster art courtesy

Street Spirit: You described in Part 1 how you first became inspired by the Catholic Worker while in college. How did you begin Mary’s House in Birmingham?

Shelley Douglass: When we moved here to Birmingham, we were sort of delegated by Ground Zero to watch trains, but after we had been here for two years we realized there were no more trains to watch. So we had to make the choice: Do we go back to Ground Zero, or do we stay here, and if we stay here, what are we here for? That just kind of fit in with my always having wanted to do a Catholic Worker. So we decided that we would do a Catholic Worker, even though we had no money. I mean, you never have any money when you start a Catholic Worker.

Spirit: Dorothy Day described one of the primary missions of the Catholic Worker as providing houses of hospitality. Does Mary’s House offer hospitality?

Douglass: Well, physically, Mary’s House is a big old house, kind of like many Catholic Worker houses. It was built in 1920 in the Ensley area of Birmingham, which used to be a big steel and brick making area. It’s got four bedrooms, one of which I sleep in, and three of them we use as hospitality, primarily for families or single women. People come and stay while they get on their feet. It’s kind of like a big family house.

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Life at Ground Zero of the Nuclear Arms Race

by Terry Messman

March 2015 anti-nuclear weapons demonstration, courtesy

Jim and Shelley Douglass helped to organize one of the nation’s most significant and multifaceted campaigns of nonviolent resistance when they uprooted their lives, left their home behind, and literally moved right next door to Ground Zero of the nuclear arms race, in a home adjacent to the Bangor Naval Submarine Base in Kitsap County, Washington. Their new next-door neighbors were a fleet of Trident submarines and an unimaginably destructive stockpile of Trident missiles in weapons bunkers. In the interview posted here, Jim Douglass has starkly described the genocidal power of this weapons system. “A single Trident submarine could destroy an entire country. A fleet of Tridents could destroy the world.”

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Blockading the “White Train of Death”

by Terry Messman

Book jacket art courtesy

A reporter warned Jim Douglass that he had observed a train north of Seattle that looked like it was “carrying big-time weapons.” The reporter added that the heavily armored, all-white train looked like “the train out of hell.”

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 “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.”

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Gandhi’s Vision of Nonviolence, Holding Firm to Truth: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 4

by Terry Messman

Anti Iraq War protest, Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2007, courtesy

We chose to be in the sights of the weapons of our own troops. For a few days, we were just as vulnerable as the Iraqi people. Explosions were occurring all over the city from missile attacks by our fleet in the Gulf.” Jim Douglass

Street Spirit: Gandhi referred to campaigns of nonviolent resistance as “satyagraha” — holding firmly to truth. What are the essential steps in building satyagraha campaigns, both in Gandhi’s era and in our time?

Jim Douglass: The most basic thing is the commitment of the people who seek to engage in such a campaign. There would have never been satyagraha campaigns in Gandhi’s life if he hadn’t created communities out of which they could be waged. The ashrams in South Africa and later in India were the bases of his work. And even though the number of people living in community and taking vows of nonviolence was small, those people were totally freed to work together and to respond to the specific evils they focused on. As Gandhi always taught, you can’t take on everything in the world, so you focus by identifying a social evil, as for example we did in the Trident campaign.

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Acts of Resistance and Works of Mercy: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 3

by Terry Messman

The White Train transported nuclear weapons to military bases across the nation; photo by Chris Guenzler, courtesy

Street Spirit: The White Train campaign mobilized people in hundreds of far-flung communities to stand in nonviolent resistance along the tracks where nuclear weapons were transported. How did the White Train campaign get started?

Jim Douglass: Well, the White Train campaign began as the Tracks campaign at a time when we didn’t yet know there was a White Train. Shelley and I had been looking at a house for years next to the Trident base as a location that was analogous to the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, which was itself a piece of land 3.8 acres in size alongside the Trident base that we had bought as a community.

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The Auschwitz of Puget Sound: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 2

by Terry Messman

Poster art courtesy Ground Zero Center;

When Father Dave Becker came to dinner at the home of Jim and Shelley Douglass next to the Trident base, the first sentence he said after he sat down on the sofa was, “I want to understand from you what it means to be the chaplain of the Auschwitz of Puget Sound.”

Street Spirit: After Robert Aldridge alerted you that first-strike Trident nuclear submarines would be based near Seattle, what were the first steps in planning a campaign that could resist such an overwhelming weapons system?

James Douglass: Number one, every worker on the Trident nuclear submarine base is Robert Aldridge.

Spirit: A potential Robert Aldridge, meaning a person of conscience?

Douglass: Yes, potentially. Therefore we must respect, understand and grow in truth through dialogue with every worker, and every civilian military employee on the Trident nuclear submarine base. We lived alongside it and worked alongside it. So everything we did had to fulfill that purpose.

On the one hand, we had to block the system — that systemic violence we’re talking about. That’s the Trident system which could literally destroy the world through nuclear fire and radioactivity. We had to block that through nonviolent and loving resistance.

And secondly, we had to engage in dialogue and respectful relationships with the people who were involved in that system, just as all of us were, and are, involved.

We are all involved. That goes from paying taxes, which we all do, even those of us who are military tax resisters because they collect the taxes in other ways. And through our silence, which we all do to the extent that we all aren’t constantly out there speaking against the evils in our society. And the number one evil is our capacity to destroy all life on earth, since we are U.S. citizens with the most powerful arsenal ever devised.

So on the one hand, resistance. On the other hand, dialogue.

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“We Non-Cooperated with Everything”: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 1

by Terry Messman

Protest Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 2015; left to right: Br. Utsumi Shonin, Father Bill Bichsel, Sr. Denise Laffin, Shelley Douglass and Jim Douglass; courtesy

One Trident submarine can destroy a country. A fleet of Trident submarines is capable of destroying the world. Jim Douglass explains how Ground Zero Center organized a visionary campaign of nonviolent resistance to confront “the Auschwitz of Puget Sound.”

Street Spirit: While you were a professor of religion at the University of Hawaii in the late 1960s, you became active in the movement to end the Vietnam War. What led you to become involved in antiwar resistance while teaching in Hawaii?

James Douglass: Before living in Hawaii, I lived in British Columbia in Canada for two years, writing my book The Nonviolent Cross. So I was out of it in terms of resistance in the United States since I wasn’t living there. Going to Hawaii meant beginning to teach in a context which was also the R&R center for the military in the Vietnam War.

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Blues for Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Terry Messman

Martin Luther King, Jr.; courtesy

Two of the most inspiring currents in modern American history came together when Muddy Waters and his electrifying Chicago blues band traveled to Resurrection City in Washington, D.C., on May 18, 1968, to play a benefit concert for the poor people and civil rights activists camped out in a shantytown in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial.

Both of the mighty rivers that converged on that fateful day in the nation’s capital — the river of song and the river of justice — had their headwaters in the state of Mississippi, in two of the nation’s most poverty-stricken areas.

The river of song had its source at the ramshackle wooden shack where Muddy Waters lived and labored and first played the blues; while the river of justice had its headwaters in Marks, Mississippi, the small town in Quitman County where Martin Luther King, Jr. first saw the full extent of childhood poverty and hunger.

“Justice is like a Mighty Stream”

The two rivers had joined together in Resurrection City, the encampment created by the Poor People’s Campaign in May 1968. One of Dr. King’s most oft-cited passages from the prophet Amos likens justice to a “mighty stream.” Five years earlier, Dr. King had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the massive March on Washington in August 1963 while standing at the same location where Resurrection City now stood. He had quoted Amos in his speech: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi