by Br. Daryl Charron, C.PP.S., Director of Peace & Justice Ministry
“Open the door to a nuclear weapons free world!” This was our message to the public on Dec. 13th as we walked in procession in downtown Kansas City. We came to protest nuclear weapons stockpiling as well as the environmental destruction and exorbitant cost of the plant’s relocation. We were there in support of eight activists pleading not guilty to charges of trespassing onto the relocated National Nuclear Security Administration’s Kansas City Plant on July 13th. I felt grateful to be a part of this public witness against the continuing production of nuclear weapons as I helped carry the door with other activists through the streets of downtown Kansas City. This door was truly symbolic as it was the door the protesters stepped through when they were arrested on July 13th. As I carried the door into the courtroom that day with two others, I appreciated all the more the power of civil disobedience for the sake of a better world. It was good to be in solidarity with the folks from both Catholic Worker Houses of Kansas City as well as Jerusalem Farm. I also found it spirit-filled and meaningful to have the opportunity to make a statement and walk through the symbolic door during our prayer vigil prior to the trial. We filled the courtroom along with other protesters to try to make a difference through this public demonstration. I was especially impressed with the skills of defense attorney Henry Stoever who managed to extend this trial for close to three hours as he questioned the eight defendants.
Presiding Judge Ardie Bland surprised me the most. He had sentenced other nuclear activists to jail just two years ago. This time after much thought and what appeared to be more compassion and empathy he had a different sentence. The judge allowed for lengthy testimonies of the protesters as well as a ten minute video of the actual event on July 13th despite numerous attempts of the prosecuting attorney to get such efforts sustained. I admire Henry Stoever and his wife, Jane, for the thoroughness in which they prepared and it payed off. Judge Bland said, “If you are not getting to anyone else, you’re getting to me. I think you’re educating, because every time I learn something.” The judge then proceeded to give them each a sentence of writing essays in response to six topics that he had created. That way, their public witness could be recorded permanently at public court records. For me, this exemplifies the significance of engaging in civil disobedience for the sake of making change for the common good of us all. I encourage all of you to read the article of Megan Fincher in the National Catholic Reporter from December 30th to get a fuller picture of what happened in the courtroom that day.