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Ear to the Ground

Daniel Berrigan: Forty Years After Catonsville

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Posted on May 22, 2008

Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges recently spoke to Father Daniel Berrigan, who at 87 is observing the 40th anniversary of a crucial act of civil disobedience in Catonsville, Md. The priest offers Hedges a frank assessment of our times: “I have never had such meager expectations of the system.”

Chris Hedges in The Nation:

Forty years ago this month, Father Daniel Berrigan walked into a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, with eight other activists, including his brother, Father Philip Berrigan, and removed draft files of young men who were about to be sent to Vietnam. The group carted the files outside and burned them in two garbage cans with homemade napalm. Father Berrigan was tried, found guilty, spent four months as a fugitive from the FBI, was apprehended and sent to prison for eighteen months.

Father Berrigan, unbowed at 87, sat primly in a straight-backed wooden chair as the afternoon light slanted in from the windows, illuminating the collection of watercolors and religious icons on the walls of his small apartment in upper Manhattan. Time and age have not blunted this Jesuit priest’s fierce critique of the American empire or his radical interpretation of the Gospels. There would be many more “actions” and jail time after his release from prison, including a sentence for his illegal entry into a General Electric nuclear missile plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, on September 9, 1980, with seven other activists, where they poured blood and hammered on Mark 12A warheads.

“This is the worst time of my long life,” he said with a sigh. “I have never had such meager expectations of the system. I find those expectations verified in the paucity and shallowness every day I live.”

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By Don Stivers, May 23, 2008 at 4:52 pm Link to this comment

Gosh troublesum.  You must have hit a sore spot.  We do need activists out there.  I’m one of those spineless twits.  But, first, we must try to get attention without violence.  But, when people get REALLY fed up, they go bizerck, pick up arms and hang people who they think is responsible for their misery.  Look at Mussolini and his mistress.  The premier of was it Yugoslavia?  That could happen in this country.

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By Don Stivers, May 23, 2008 at 8:34 am Link to this comment

Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali, Tommy Smith, John Carlos, all did things that were vilified then and now, with the help of 20/20 hindsight, are seen as men who stood up for righteousness.  White folk could only see black men breaking the rules or law.  What they did was very courageous and I wish I had the strength they had to protest to what is happening in this country now. 

My mother, who was Canadian, was thrown off of a bus in Houston, Texas for giving her seat to a black woman who had a load of laundry.  (The black woman was thrown off too.)  How things have changed and only because of people who stood up against the wrongs that so permeate society. 

We still have far to go and it seems, with this administration,  we are going backwards.  We need more of people like Daniel Barrigan, Muhammad Ali, Tommy Smith and John Carlos.  And there are others I have failed to mention.

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By troublesum, May 23, 2008 at 3:09 am Link to this comment

Be careful Chris Hedges.  The people who post here don’t like it to be implied that they have responsibilities beyond cheerleading for their candidates and spending all day writing 20 page comments here.  What are you some kind of radical nut case?  Who cares about Daniel Barrigan anyway?  He is under the influence of the god delusion.

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