The Persecution of the Peacemakers: The Street Spirit Interview with Shelley Douglass, Part 4

by Terry Messman

Jim and Shelley Douglass with Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, c. 1980; courtesy

Street Spirit: I just read John McCoy’s new biography of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, A Still and Quiet Conscience [Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2015]. He is such an inspiring man, but it was shocking to learn about the horrible indignities he suffered for speaking out for peace. Could you describe your impressions of the archbishop when he came to peace demonstrations at Ground Zero?

Shelley Douglass: He’s the kind of person you would never think was an archbishop, you know. You would never think of him as an archbishop or anybody with any power. I mean he’s just this guy, not particularly well dressed. When we knew him, he just seemed like this old guy and he was bald and had kind of a kindly persona. He listened a lot, and didn’t do a lot of talking.

I think that the first time I met him I was in jail. We had gotten arrested for committing civil disobedience and Jim and one other person in our group were both doing a fast. I don’t remember why the archbishop came to visit us in jail, but people were concerned about Jim’s safety, basically. I don’t know who got him to come, but he came, and even though he didn’t look or act like an archbishop, because he was the archbishop, the jail gave him a special visit. And they put Jim in a wheelchair and wheeled him down, and there was the archbishop!

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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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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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The Heart of Nonviolence: The Aurora Forum Interview with the Dalai Lama

by Rev. Scotty McLennan

Portrait of the Dalai Lama; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: This interview was conducted on November 4, 2005, at Heyns Lecture Memorial Church, Stanford University, under the auspices of the Aurora Forum. Scotty McLennan is Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. Please consult the note at the end for links concerning the Dalai Lama, and Aurora Forum. JG

Rev. Scotty McLennan: Why should one be nonviolent?

Dalai Lama: Why is there destruction? If we analyze its opposite — construction — we realize that we love creation and growth. Even something like a flower with no consciousness is a living thing, whenever we see flowers growing, we feel happy. Furthermore, we are a part of nature. Monkeys in trees still better. We prefer real flowers than artificial flowers. Therefore, we love living things. When we destroy living things, that’s violence. So we practice nonviolence.

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Popular Nonviolent Resistance in Bil’in: the Interfaith Peace Builders Interview with Ayad Burnat

by Douglas Kerr

Ayad Burnat speaking to Israeli soldiers in Bil’in; courtesy

Interfaith Peace Builders Preface: Bil’in is a small, peaceful Palestinian village 7 miles west of Ramallah. It has continued its struggle to maintain its existence by fighting to protect its land, olive trees, resources, water and liberty. Its population of 1900 live in an area of approximately 1000 acres or 4000 dunams. The residents of Bil’in depend on agriculture as their main source of income, but close to 60% of Bil’in’s land has been annexed to build Israeli settlements and Israel’s Separation Barrier, destroying more than 1,000 olive trees in the process. Israel began construction of the illegal Separation Barrier in April 2004 by appropriating 570 acres (2300 dunams) of Bil’in land. Residents resisted these injustices despite the increase in night raids by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), arrests and injuries of its residents and activists, and two fatalities. Indeed, Bil’in’s residents, joined by Israeli and international activists, have peacefully demonstrated every Friday in front of the Separation Barrier and the IDF have responded with both physical and psychological violence. Working side-by-side with international and Israeli activists, the people of Bil’in managed to achieve recognition by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2007, when it ruled that the route of the Separation Barrier was illegal and must be changed. The Israeli Defense Force, however, toughened its oppression by systematically arresting members of Bil’in’s Popular Committee, namely, those in charge of organizing the nonviolent demonstrations. In 2009, Abdullah Abu Ramah, coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bil’in, was arrested in his Ramallah home. Despite his recognition by the EU as a “human rights defender,” he was found guilty of “incitement” and “illegal protest,” and imprisoned for 16 months. In June of 2011, in accordance with the 2007 Israeli Supreme Court decision, the Separation Barrier was re-routed and 300 acres (1200 dunams) returned to the village. The Wall and settlement projects to date (2015) still occupy 270 acres (1100 dunams) of Bil’in land. Bil’in’s residents continue steadfastly to demonstrate each Friday. They are the subject of the film 5 Broken Cameras, the 2013 Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary film, directed and narrated by Emad Burnat, brother of Ayad Burnat. R.H. Tracy

Douglas Kerr: How did the nonviolent popular resistance to the Occupation first start in Bil’in?

Ayad Burnat: It is now nine years, in December 2004, since we started nonviolent resistance, when the Israeli bulldozers started to destroy the land, the olive trees of the farmers. All of the people went outside, without prompting, to try to stop the bulldozers from destroying their land. Bil’in is a small village with a population of around 1900 and about 4000 dunams [c. 1000 acres] of land. The Israeli government confiscated 2,300 dunams. This land is full of olive trees. It is the life of the farmers in the village, and most of the people in the village are farmers. This land is their life. We started our nonviolent struggle in Bil’in when we saw these bulldozers destroying the olive trees, and we continued. Between December and February 2005, there was a demonstration every day.

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Gandhi Among the Marxists: The 1932 Labour Monthly Interview With Mohandas Gandhi

by Charles Petrasch

Poster of Marx, Gandhi, and Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: Charles Petrasch was a French journalist working for the French newspaper Le Monde, and in the 1930s was their London correspondent. This interview was conducted in English on 29 October 1931, while Gandhi was in London to attend the Round Table Conference, being held by the British government to discuss constitutional reforms in India. Gandhi wanted self-rule or swaraj. To put pressure on the British government he had organized in India a boycott of British goods, especially cotton and cloth products from the northern English Lancashire mill towns. Gandhi’s sympathies were with labor, and while in England he visited the Lancashire mills to express solidarity, and was warmly received by the unions and workers. It was in this context that the interview took place. Petrasch wrote at the time: “My Indian friends and I had drawn up a list of questions which we wished to put to Gandhi before his departure from London, and we wrote down his replies as the interview went on.” Petrasch’s Indian friends were Marxists, and the interview appeared in Labour Monthly, a Marxist magazine founded and edited by Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) theoretician Rajani Palme Dutt (1896-1974). There was an ongoing dialogue between Gandhi and the Indian and European Marxists, some of it rancorous, as might be surmised by the asides in this interview. We have posted several other articles about Gandhi and Marxism, accessible through our search function. See the note at the end for further textual information regarding publications and dates. JG

Charles Petrasch: In your opinion, what is the method by which the Indian princes, landowners, industrialists and bankers acquire their wealth?

Mohandas K. Gandhi: At present by exploiting the masses.

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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