Our Efforts are Not Wasted

By Janet Daley (interviewer) | 1986-08-01 12:00:00

CANDIS: . How can we protect children from the influences of media propaganda without restricting them?

Berrigan: I don't think that restricting is necessarily bad. Our children are restricted and usually they won't watch anything on TV except the evening news. We explain to them how contaminating advertising is; we constantly give examples of consumerism: You're stuffing yourself, or you're preening your body, or you're dealing with things you want but don't really need. Life becomes only a series of consumings--food, clothing, pleasure--distractions.

Our children are raised in a community and we rotate the child-care. They teach us so much--they are a constant reminder of the assault that the world's children are under. No one tells them what is being imposed upon them, what oppression really means. We explain this to our children and they understand why usually it is dangerous to turn on that tube.

CANDIS: Are you concerned that when you are no longer there to restrict them, when they go out into the world, they will become fascinated with what is destructive?

Berrigan: Well, at their relatives' houses they get more than enough exposure. We aren't there to referee and no one is offering them an explanation. But while we're travelling back and forth, we do talk to them about what they watch. That's about the best we can do. It's the "war game" that indirectly spawns this wasteland in the media. I mean, the weapons are there to allow the corporations to exploit all over the world. And the wasteland is no more than an articulation of what exploitation is about, on a domestic level.

CANDIS: Why did you perform direct actions? Was it symbolic or informational?

Berrigan: It was to open up questions in people's minds and remind them of what wasn't being revealed. For example, we use blood in the Pentagon as a reminder that this is a bloody place. The work of this institution (and 32,000 people work in that building) is bloody business. It's killing people. But because of the antiseptic environment, the employees there rarely think about the fact that the "Department of Defence" is really the "Department of Death." So it's a reminder that we all have a responsibility to reality and can't live a pretense. That's what symbolic actions mean. I suppose symbolic action is the deepest reality.

CANDIS: Do you think that humanity will ever get out of this destructive cycle we are in?

Berrigan: Well, when U Thant was Secretary-General of the U.N., he opposed the Vietnam War. He said, "If the American people knew the truth about this war, they would stop it." It was in the interest of the government to prevent the media's fully reporting on it or its underlying causes. The same thing is being done now. If Americans knew our Cold War history, that the U.S. led it all the way, they'd stop it. But our government will try to see that they don't know.

CANDIS: Then how do we get the information out?

Berrigan: It's a question not only of getting the information out but also of appealing to the moral sense in people that this is disastrously, abysmally wrong. Evil. We're looking at doomsday, and we're wondering how the hell this happened. You know, some guy stood up in the audience one night and asked, "How did we ever get into this awful mess?" He wanted a couple of sentences as to how we were drawn in.

CANDIS: The history of the world in twenty-five words.

Berrigan: Exactly. Except that we can't give just twenty-five words. It's an acculturating process. You go from crime to crime. You get used to this one and then you get tailored for the next one. And it's bigger, and so on.

When [there's] any exposé of what the government is doing, then the next morning they have a staff meeting at the White House for "damage control." They govern by public relations. It's a mistake even to call it government, because there is a monster ruling. It's a sophisticated tyranny imposed on people by appealing to American myths: "God and Country. " "We are lagging in our patriotism," "This is the greatest country on earth but we are not appreciative enough." "We have to be first, because the whole world is turning against us." In damage control they resurrect these myths. You know, peoples' principles are a bit foggy, and so they get bewildered by this public relations tactic.

CANDIS: How can we counter this military linguistics?

Berrigan: Disclosing truth on an informational level is, of course, very important, but in addition there has to be public action. People have to get back to the streets. They have to make the exposé in a corporate way, by investing their lives. Going through the expense of planning, of working with others, of drawing together--demonstrations, protest, and resistance. That's essential. Change has come only from this expensive way of exerting public responsibility.

Right now Americans tend to be cynical. They are burnt out. They haven't got the moral and political energy for the long haul, which is necessary to cultivate a life of stamina.

CANDIS: There aren't enough positive images. We are bombarded with negative images of starving and tortured people, and most news is bad news. I think that's why Reagan has been so successful; he has created a series of positive images, myths or not, which people can feel a part of and empowered by. How can we create positive image which empower us and enhance our stamina?

Berrigan: I personally am constantly exposed to positive images because I am living with extraordinary people who are doing things and who haven't quit. You have sisters and brothers in jail. Take Jean Holiday, for example. Jean is the wife of one of the great international Old Testament Bible scholars; he is an expert on Jeremiah. She is a nurse, a midwife. She has done three Plowshares actions, and her son Martin is now locked up doing an eight-year sentence for doing another Plowshares action in western Missouri. Jean Holiday is one of the great American women. She has recently been released from jail, but you think of Jean Holiday in jail , you think about what she has been through, and you say, "By God, there is a triumphant human spirit!" Jean Holiday must believe things that I don't believe because I get bummed out from time to time.

There are signs of hope around. There are lots of people, many of them under the roofs of communities, sacrificing stringently against this public madness of nuclearism.

CANDIS: So you see alternative communities as the way to go, then, for strength and support?

Berrigan: Oh sure. In communities we can insulate one another from this constant bombardment of bad news, which of course afflicts any sensitive person.

CANDIS: Is the U.S. movement growing or in a slump?

Berrigan: There is some evidence that it is intensifying. The Monday morning when Reagan bombed Libya, 44 people were busted (I was among them) in Baltimore, for a Contra demonstration, because the vote in the House was coming up again. That was multiplied all over the United States, and almost none of it was covered by the media. In these isolated groups, where 50 or 100 or 200 people were arrested for civil disobedience, they didn't even know that there were sisters and brothers in other cities doing this. There was no communication at all. It was all done in response to the atrocity of the invasion of Nicaragua. That was

evidence to me that people are in for the long haul, and are increasingly seeing that the law is really the problem.

The law is jammed through Congress by the bosses and then imposed on the people. You've got to break the law because the law legalizes and moralizes it. It kind of sanctifies it, because we're people of the Magna Carta.

I'm in touch with a group in West Germany. A judge, who is a dear friend, has been instrumental in organizing Judges and Prosecutors Against Nuclear Weapons. He wrote to me the other day, "You know, I have been working on this for months. There are fourteen judges who are going to be at Mutlangen, which is a Pershing II base in south Germany, and we're going to break the law there."

Well, this is a very significant action because these guys are the custodians of the law which insulates and legalizes all of this madness. The fourteen are going in their robes. They are going to introduce a lot of ironies and contradictions to be sifted out by the German cops, who frequently come before them to testify against defendants. You know, they're going to be arresting their own judges! I hope that it comes off, and that we hear about it, and I hope that if we don't hear about it, we question why. Because the German press, except Der Spiegel, is becoming worse.

CANDIS: Leadership is essential for alternative political movements. This appears to be affecting the Greens in Germany. How do you read the that situation? Is it disintegrating?

Berrigan: I'm afraid it is. People like Petra Kelly and Gert Bastian will tell you very honestly that it is. And this is traceable, at least in their minds, to the priority of ideology in the lives of line-shaping party members, and the Bundestag. Not belief. Not conviction. Ideology. The ideology won't stand the test. I mean, here you have Marxist ideologues on a humanistic level who, when the risks come and they're asked to demonstrate in East Berlin, and risk being jailed over there, well, they aren't there.

CANDIS: At Greenham Common, they have established an alternative community for women, which provides sanctuary from the existing social structure. A lot of women go there, not so much for political reasons, but for personal and social reasons, and they are politicized by the experience.

Berrigan: People can sustain one another. When you go through a victory, it's won over despair. Liz [McAllister, Berrigan's wife] was talking about the despair that hit them at Alderton--herself, Helen Woodson, and Anne Montgomery--when Libya was bombed. She thought, "Great; here I am locked up for three years, and in Helen's case, twelve years, and it doesn't seem to have done that much."

You have to wrestle with this and you can only do this with others who are involved. You constantly remind yourself about the causes for hope. You say, look, these are people who have transcended all of this, and they won't be bowed by it. They'll continue. They are trustworthy, they are faithful. Furthermore, Gandhi used to maintain that, to continue on in the struggle, as he did for 38 years, one must have a scripture--a standard by which to measure your life. You have to be able to say, "Well, in these areas, I'm barbaric, and I'm violent, and I've got to take responsibility for that." You must be responsible to yourself.

Most of all, you have to do what you can. The contributions of any of us are miniscule and they have to be kept modest, if they are to be kept within any bounds of truth and reality. You can't take yourself too seriously. And you have to realize that the little people do it. Always. They do it through heroism and gallantry and deep conviction, and this is what finally wins through in the end. We can't quit now. Our efforts are not wasted.

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1986

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1986, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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