On June 15, 1961, a team of six people attempted to stop the launch of one of the first nuclear weapon submarines in the world — with just a canoe, their own bodies, and sheer determination. This was not the impulsive act of some hooligans, but rather a carefully planned protest action with trained and extremely disciplined activists. Ed Guerard, one of the main participants of the action, wrote a breathless account of the events from his perspective which we present today.
To summarize, the New England Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) had organized this protest action to halt the launch of the Thomas Edison polaris-class submarine. While about 60 other people participated in the protest by distributing leaflets and standing in vigil, a smaller team set out to physically confront the submarine on the water by canoe. The team was stopped by law enforcers on the way to the launch site, but the police reaction to the nonviolent activists was notably restrained, even as one officer panickedly called for backup when two of the activists simply started to walk off with their canoe. No one was detained, no weapons were drawn, and no physical violence committed besides some rough grabbing. One or two at a time, each member of the canoe team got past the multiple law enforcers using disarming civility and by “talking about the Constitution” — classic nonviolence tactics.
Due to the delay with the police, the team entered the water just one or two at a time, making them easier to apprehend by Navy personnel. They were fished out by the Navy quickly. At least one activist, the author of the account, was tied and repeatedly kicked by the sailors — right up until he simply spoke to the lead kicker, reminding him of their common humanity. The kicking stopped — another successful nonviolence move.
One witness to the protest compared the chase and apprehension of the direct activists to the ancient Roman circus, where popular legends claim early Christian martyrs were slaughtered for sport due to their own nonviolence. Indeed, the protest action at Electric Boat was a performance to show the public that there is another way — a way to live and think differently from the popular Cold War zero-sum militaristic ideology. But it was also a real attempt at halting the sub launch “over our dead bodies” — the sincerity of which can be seen in how Guerard repeatedly attempted to get loose of the Navy sailors’ ties (hilariously dispelling the reputation of mariners and strong knots), even as he was repeatedly kicked and retied, all to complete his mission to halt one of the “genocide machines.”
The activists were eventually taken to the Coast Guard Commanding Officer. There, they explained nonviolent philosophy and the reasons for their disruptive actions, continuing to use exactly the tactics that they had been using all day: acknowledgement of common humanity, transparent sincerity, and disarming civility.
Shortly thereafter, they were released.
(Click the image below to download the PDF version of the original clipping)
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“Family Day at the Roman Circus.” Polaris Action Bulletin. 29 June 1961 (Bulletin #24), page 4.
“Thomas Edison Protest.” Polaris Action Bulletin. 29 June 1961 (Bulletin #24), page 4.
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