Rev. Daniel Berrigan speaks to anti-war demonstrators gathered in front of the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York City on Feb. 24, 1968. (AP)

It was the everyday life of people in Ithaca, N.Y., the everyday life of me, my family and my neighbors. Jesuit priest, scholar, philosopher, poet and servant of justice Daniel Berrigan had arrived in town and thoroughly awakened anyone willing to wake, and a few who were not so willing. Many had already opened their eyes, of course, but had not yet gotten out of bed and stood up. At the time, there was very little anti-Vietnam War sentiment anywhere in the country, and, as with other progressive towns, Ithaca tended to wear its radicalism when convenient. We held a rally, and in addition to Berrigan, who looked like just a pleasant priest to the newspaper, we had to come up with another speaker, and finally found an anti-war professor who wore a suit and a crew cut. “See? We won’t hurt you,” we said. “We’re nice, clean and normal. And, uh, Christian and patriotic.” That’s how it was. For me, the change was rapid. The kid next door, Pfc. Johnny Todi, was killed in ’67. I didn’t really know him; they were moving out when we were moving in. But I had seen him, and now he was dead. Dan Berrigan arrived in ’66, and after listening to his every talk, and somehow once ending up with him as my confessor in a hallway at Cornell University, I found myself regularly with others who were involved in what was going on. With Dan and Cornell priest David Connor, we held discussions, “underground masses” and dinners in our homes; and we grew closer and closer to an understanding of our responsibility to act in every way we could to end the monstrous war on Vietnam. It wasn’t only war, though. Dan to his marrow lived the justice principle of Martin Luther King Jr., believing that war and poverty are rooted in racism, extreme materialism and militarism. Never for one minute was any of this projected as a guru thing, a groovy thing, a cool thing or any kind of thing at all. It was just necessary and natural, ordinary even, carried on amid the grief and grievousness of the America we lived in and could no longer believe in or support in its errant — and narcissistic at the least, perniciously iniquitous at worst — ways. Its death ways. Today, with notable exceptions of great, joyful courage and commitment, our numb and weary country suffers from battered-person and batterer syndrome, with suppressed trauma, guilt and fear. Indifference is just a defense mechanism. Donald Trump is a burlesque of the insanity. But during the period of the Vietnam War, they hadn’t yet embedded and purchased the news. They hadn’t yet brought the body bags home in the middle of the night or turned to drone assassinations as official policy. No one had begun to grasp the knelling of the befouled planet’s bell. Slowly, slowly did the populace turn against the war, right up until the great eruption, when it felt like the whole country did. But it was just our everyday lives. If David Connor was driving down to Baltimore for the sentencing of the Catonsville Nine, you got a ride with him. You stopped on the way to visit a draft card burner in prison in Pennsylvania. You lived that way. With Cornell’s Barton Hall full of FBI at the huge gathering for Dan in ’70, he stole out of the building to go underground in a very tall Bread and Puppet costume. We knew he was in there. I touched the figure’s black robe as he walked by and out the door. During the four months Dan was a fugitive, we kept a place prepared in the basement in case the knock ever came. It was just everyday life. Our kids were arrested with us when, four years almost to the day after the Catonsville draft files burning, six of us women and 13 of our children blockaded the Ithaca Selective Service office. Our kids knew Dan. “Don’t you think we watch the news?” said the littlest one, under the prosecutor’s pressure to admit that her mother made her do it. We didn’t think of ourselves as activists. No one thought to count arrests or take pictures. Dan made it seem to us that we just knew what we had to do. We didn’t really want to, just as he didn’t really want to go to Catonsville when his brother Phil invited him to join the action. Young Americans, at an average age of 19, were dying by the thousands in a far-off country the U.S. was poisoning and murdering, or they died later by their own hands. Stopping it was a part of every day. We just did what we had to do as best we could. “Do what you can’t not do,” Dan said. Maybe now that Dan and his brothers and Howard Zinn, who flew to Hanoi with him, and the moms and dads, teachers, draft resisters, peace vets, students, clergy and Martin Luther King Jr., who lost his life for blasting the war, have walked on; now that they are pure essence, spirit or Love — or whatever unifies the universe — maybe we will all do it again when our Mother needs us desperately to. If so, they will help us.
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