Two weeks ago, as I was driving home from work, I heard a story about 3 people who broke into an Oak Ridge facility that deals with depleted uranium. It was surprisingly easy--but it shouldn't have been, since the facility was supposed to be one of the most secure in the country.
When I heard the story on the radio, it focused on the 82 year old nun, who, if convicted, is likely to die in prison. It may not surprise you to find out that she's completely at peace with that possibility.
I thought about the radicals I used to know, and I wondered what makes some of us follow paths that might be called terrorism, while some of us go into academia, while others settle into suburban lives of contentment or quiet desperation or both.
I didn't think about the other people in the story until I read this article in The Washington Post. Part of the piece focuses on the security guard who has had his life upended. He should have shot first and asked questions later. But because he has a long history at nuclear sites and he understands the approach of these kind of protesters, he determined that they weren't dangerous.
He's the only one who has faced such the severe penalty of job loss. His superiors have been disciplined. I suspect that various authorities were mortified by how easy it was for a group of 3 ordinary people to break into the facility, and they needed scapegoats.
When I was in undergraduate school in the 1980's, I met more radicals than I do now. I knew people who would have been willing to do anything--anything--to stop the nuclear-industrial complex. I wonder what's become of them. Are they still protesting nuclear weapons? Have they moved on to something else?
I used to feel the future of the world hung in the balance and was held captive by these weapons and policies. Now I'm far more worried about global warming and sea level rise. It's hard for me to imagine the kinds of protest I might once have thought about but been too cowardly to carry out. What object shall we splash blood (fake blood, of course) upon?
Once I didn't use the AC during the summer--I didn't want to contribute to global warming. I was young and principled once. Now I am older, and I use the AC. I give money to groups who work in peaceful, non-confrontational ways to bring about a more just world. I write letters. I do some networking.
I know that I could do more, and when I hear about nuns breaking into nuclear facilities, I immediately feel inadequate. It's good to remember that there are other ways to work for justice.
The group of radicals didn't succeed in their goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. It's not even clear that they built much sympathy for their cause. And my brain can't move far away from that poor security guard who spared them but then sacrificed so much.
Still, as I move into comfortable middle age, it's also good to be reminded that I could be doing more, even if I don't want to turn off the AC. I don't have to turn off the AC, but I can take other steps towards a more peaceful future.
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