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On this week's Peace of History:
In recognition of this spooky holiday, let us consider some truly scary questions -- what should you do if an apocalyptic weapons system was being constructed just several miles away from where you live? And what happens when our enemies follow our lead and make their own?
These were some of the central questions that the protestors from the Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA) posed to the people of New London County, Connecticut in the summer of 1960. Conceived primarily by Bradford Lyttle and sponsored by the CNVA, the Polaris Action was a summer-long campaign to “educate Americans to the realities and dangers of the nuclear deterrent policy typified by the Polaris submarines and their deadly cargoes of nuclear missiles” that were being built at General Dynamics/Electric Boat in Groton. Hundreds of participants marched, distributed leaflets, conversed with workers, stood in daily vigils, and made lasting connections with both the local communities and with each other.
"Polaris Action may be thought of as a giant test tube in which are being tried out a great variety of novel peace education activities." The four goals as articulated in the CNVA bulletin "Polaris Action" were:
It was this great experiment in New London and surrounding areas that attracted hundreds of activists to the summer-long action. When the summer ended, however, upon reflection of previous "summer actions" sponsored by the CNVA, many CNVA members including Marj and Bob Swann decided that the old formula “...where we stirred up the community for the summer and then everyone left -- either going to prison or returning home” was neither practical nor morally responsible. So several CNVA members including the Swanns decided to establish a permanent base in southeastern Connecticut to continue to protest the arms race at the largest submarine manufacturing facility in the country, and to promote economic alternatives.
One initially skeptical journalist, Barbara Deming, was a participant of Polaris Action whose involvement proved to be invaluable. When Barbara Deming joined CNVA and became an activist, her involvement also brought in her partner, painter Mary Meigs. The group decided to make a move to a rural area where they could have a larger community and have the space to organize trainings and workshops. Mary Meigs bought the Campbell Farm in Voluntown, Connecticut and gifted it to CNVA to have it be used as the new headquarters of the New England chapter. The property was reestablished as a land trust, and eventually became the Voluntown Peace Trust we know today.
Today, the anti-nuclear weapons movement is still active, and as the U.S. recently withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, perhaps it warrants as much support as it did six decades ago. Many of you are aware of the Kings Bay Plowshares, seven of whom were recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for their protest actions on April 4, 2018. On that day, seven Catholic peace activists entered the Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay, Georgia to peacefully and symbolically disarm those Trident nuclear missiles, and to deface monuments that glorify those missiles. One could draw a line from those audacious CNVA activists who attempted to board Polaris submarines in the New London area 59 years ago to the brave actions of our allies in Georgia today. Since the Polaris Action in 1960, Polaris subs were replaced by Trident-armed Ohio-class submarines -- and now the Ohio-class is being replaced by the new Trident-armed Columbia-class submarines. The following links provide more information on the Kings Bay Plowshares:
Next week: We will zoom in on journalist-feminist-author Barbara Deming -- what turned her from her cynical skepticism, why she joined CNVA, and how she helped the movement grow in its understanding of nonviolence.