Friday, 4 May 2012

‘Violence ends where love begins’: A conversation with Sr. Anne Montgomery

by John Dear SJ                               Peace Movement Aotaroa                                    May. 01, 2012
Sr. Anne Montgomery is a legend in some peace movement circles. A member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, she has spent more than three years in prison for many civil disobedience actions against war, including seven Plowshares anti-nuclear disarmament actions; many years teaching in Harlem; and many years living with the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron, Palestine-Israel. She spoke with me on the phone the other day from her community in the Bay Area.
John Dear: What led you to work full time for disarmament, justice and peace?
Montgomery: In the 1970s, I was working with students in Albany and Harlem. My awareness came from people who were poor and knew the government wasn't there for them. Eighteen-year-olds had just gotten the right to vote but didn't use it because they felt it was useless.  My work with the poor, challenged me to join the demonstrations and get involved.
Dear: In 1980, you joined Daniel and Philip Berrigan in the Plowshares Eight disarmament action in King of Prussia, Penn. What was that action like?
Montgomery:  It turned out that it was easy to get inside the General Electric Plant. I helped distract the guard then went inside, and there they were -- the nuclear nose cones. We were able to hammer on a nuclear nose cone to symbolize the need for nuclear disarmament. We used the Isaiah quote as the basis for our witness: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and study war no more." We said people should start dismantling these weapons. It was a symbolic action, but it was also real because we made those nose cones unusable. I spent 11 weeks in jail. In all these actions, the Holy Spirit is with us in a very real way.
 We always take responsibility for what we have done. It's interesting that later, women in prison always understand our actions because of their familiarity with injustice, but they never understand why we wait to be arrested. We take responsibility.
I spent the most time in prison, nearly two years, for the Pershing Plowshares action, for trespassing  at the Martin Marietta plant in Orlando, Fla. We hammered and poured blood on Pershing II missile components and on a Patriot missile launcher and displayed a banner that read, "Violence Ends Where Love Begins." The Plowshares Eight action set in motion a whole movement, but the Thames River Plowshares also stands out because of the sense of vulnerability I felt in the face of our nation's addiction to power and greed, in the face of such blasphemous power. On Labor Day 1989, we swam in freezing water for an hour and a half in the Thames River in Connecticut to reach the Trident nuclear sub, which was being readied for sea trials. Three boarded it from a canoe; those of us who were swimming got caught in the tide. Some reached the side and hammered on it.
Dear: What was your time in prison like?
Montgomery: After the Plowshares Eight, I wasn't afraid of the women in prison, that they might think we were crazy. I always noticed that the women immediately offer you something and ask you what you need. They're very welcoming. That was a big relief and a wonderful experience.  The women support one another, and they hunger for something spiritual. So we always started prayer groups and Scripture study groups, and the women liked that. That was always positive. But you become very aware of the injustice poor women suffer.
I have hope in knowing that God's power and God's nonviolence are stronger than violence and war. Love is stronger than evil, hate, fear or war. The opposite of love is fear, and the government tries to keep us in permanent fear. But when we come together in love and struggle for peace, we are no longer afraid and we can change things. As we trust each other and God, our fear lessens. . Love is always stronger. That gives me hope.                          [Excerpts from a long story]

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