Megan Rice, Michael R. Walli, Gregory I. Boertje-Obed
We have a dream: One of these days the Pope might scream with joy when he sees the headline in the L’Osservatore Romano: “Elderly nun, peace activist jailed in the US, gets Nuclear-Free Future Award.” And then – we keep on dreaming – he might ask all of Christendom to rise up, in the spirit of the Transform Now Plowshares, against an evil that threatens all of humanity – in acts, as well as words and prayers.
With or without the Pope’s blessing we have to express praise – for whom and why?
On July 2012, Megan Rice, 82, together with Michael R. Walli, 63, und Gregory I. Boertje-Obed, 57, entered the “Y-12 National Security Complex” in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the most closely guarded places where the US stores the highly enriched uranium needed for nuclear bombs. The three of them – all members of the ”Transform Now Plowshares” – spray painted peace slogans onto “the Ft. Knox of uranium,” They unfurled peace banners, hammered on a highly secured storage facility for uranium materials, poured blood from baby bottles onto the walls of the bunker and left messages such as “The fruit of justice is peace”.
When security arrived on the scene more than two hours (!!) after they had first entered the grounds, Megan, Michael and Gregory greeted them singing, with candles, the Bible and roses in their outstretched arms. For the Transform Now Plowshares, the way from Y12 in Oak Ridge to the jail cells in Ocilla, GA and later, federal prison, was flanked by encouragement, solidarity and vigils. But they also encountered their Pontius Pilate, Jeffrey Theodore, Deputy District Attorney for Tennessee, who demanded severe punishment for perpetrating “the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex,” as New York Times called it. There was, Judge Amul Thapar ruled, no precedent for international law (the defendants invoked the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) superseding US law.
Charged, among other things, with “trespassing” and “destruction of government property,” the three repeatedly invoked the tradition of Gospel peacemaking. Attempts to portray this action community as well-meaning but naïve, failed spectacularly. Sr. Megan, for example, holds many qualifications, including teaching certificates, and has a Master’s in cell biology from Boston College) having conducted research on the vulnerability of living tissue to radiation. For Greg and Michael, their commitment to Gospel nonviolence, came after their regrets over their enlistment in the US Army.
Sentencing was on February 18, 2014. 35 months in jail for Rice, 62 each for Walli and Boerje-Obed. When asked, if she felt any repentance or regrets, Sister Megan said, “I only regret that I didn’t do this seventy years ago.
Mary Evelyn Tucker, who heads the Forum for Religion and Ecology at Yale, sees the resistance of her friend Megan Rice and fellow activists Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed in the great tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Saints, all of them? Well, yes, in the sense that all of them were great healers of manmade evils. In his recent encyclical (which he has had to defend against the objections of numerous industry lobbyists and an ultra-orthodox Catholic U.S. think tank) Pope Francis speaks of the need to protect and save the earth against the greed of men.