Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Zen Wisdom from Carl, Plowshares Passion of Isaah, and the Leap from Baptist Road

"You'll be the one that laughs at Carl's jokes," Bill Sulzman said as we pulled on to US 24 at 7 am July 1. "I've heard them too many times by now."

We were driving to Tennessee for a conference celebrating 30 years of plowshares actions against nuclear weapons, co-sponsored by Nukewatch and The Nuclear Resister. I figured it would be a great chance to absorb the corny folk wisdom of the "Fool for Christ" repeat-protester Carl Kabat, subject of a long court trial last December in Greeley. I'll admit, the uncertain state of travel for Carl and his friend Chrissy Kirchhoefer had put me off at first, since it left my wonderful friend MacGregor Eddy as the fifth person out in a Prius (and Chrissy ended up only being on board on the way back). But MacGregor took a train to St. Louis and found herself a ride from there, and by mid-morning, my main concern was getting to St. Louis by 10 pm or so, which would allow me to catch a performance by Susan Cowsill at Off-Broadway. It worked, with 15 minutes to spare. After a grueling road day, Bill shared whiskey with Carl, and our St. Louis hosts Terry and Caroline, while I sauntered out to hear Cowsill legends of the fall.

Susan was wonderful with her own songs and those of brother Barry, Jimmy Webb, Albert Hammond, John Prine, Bob Dylan, et al. (please go see the large collection on my YouTube), but the surprise of the show was hearing the songs of her bassist, Mary Lessaigne. A quirky, brilliant songwriter in her own right, Mary and Susan made for great partners:

On the trip to Bountiful (or Maryville, near Knoxville) July 2, Carl let on as how his constant muttering of "whatever" had led a Catholic Worker friend to warn him he was "dismissive," which became the secret code word of the trip. He also told us of various Catholic Worker marriage rituals, which prompted Bill to ask, "Do you do anything conventional, Carl, or are all your services hippie-dippy in one way or another?"

We stopped to see my parents in Crossville, TN, where Carl shared stories of using horses and mules to plant and harvest corn in his youth.

How to begin to describe the abundant wealth of people giving presentations at the Maryville conference over the weekend? Nuclear facilities experts like Ralph Hutchison, Mary Olson, Jay Coghlan, and Glenn Carroll were all there. The inimitable Kathy Kelly was around to share tales of her pork-loin-slingin' youth in a meat-packing plant. Australian activists Marcus Atkinson and K.A. Garlick gave an update on the power of uranium mining companies, who removed a prime minister with the snap of their fingers in June. And the list went on and on - Steve Kelly, Bill Sulzman, Frank Cordaro, Jim Haber, Sue Ablao, Jackie Hudson, Mariah Klusmire, and a musical performance by early-60s icons Guy and Candie Carawan, joined by son Evan. Dozens of these presentations are on my channel, and are worth your time. I gave a workshop on White House politics, well attended, and I take it as the finest of compliments that two of the three nuns arrested in Colorado in 2002, Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, said they loved it.

Saturday night, Liz McAlister, the widow of Philip Berrigan and a key founding member of Jonah House, gave a prophetic and sobering speech about the necessity of peace actions, evoking images of Isaah and Ezekiel. Four of the eight King of Prussia Plowshares activists from 1980 followed, and the first to the stage was Carl Kabat. Note the focus he places on humor and joy, one reason I consider him a mentor and role model:

Sunday, Carl and Bill and I skipped school to visit Cade's Cove in Smoky Mountain National Park - not too crowded for July 4th, though it got ugly after a while. Meanwhile, those planning civil disobedience at Y-12 went through hours of sessions of affinity-group peace work. That evening, I needed a break from all peace work, and drove to Deral Fenderson's Homestead for a strange and wonderful July 4 celebration. Apologies for no videos of Deral/JJ or Amy (though trust me, they're looking great), but I did get some mighty wonderful sax and trumpet noodling, and a special rendition of the Declaration of Independence:

Didn't sleep much that night, as I had to get back to the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge for the morning's civil disobedience at 9 a.m. The actions were preceded by some great speeches and songs, including young children reading off rules for nonviolence. I had enough time to take a staged shot of MacGregor, who had elected not to get arrested since she faces a serious trial in southern California July 15:

Two groups of protesters performed two simultaneous actions about 10:15 a.m. The three nuns and 11 other people directly entered federal property, making them subject to more serious federal charges. Another 23 people blockaded a road owned by the state, and they were arrested and charged by Tenn. officials. Some highlights of the action are below. (My mom was so impressed by the media coverage, she said that the papers talked about "all the celebrities" at the Maryville conference and the actions. I said they were celebrities among a small group of friends, to be sure.)

Carl, Chrissy, Bill and I all elected not to be arrested this time out, so we started back toward St. Louis by 11 a.m. Chrissy was full of delightful stories about how to interpret Carl and keep him in line, and Carl had to bite his tongue to avoid saying "whatever." We went to the Shlafly Tap Room that evening, and left Carl and Chrissy at the Carl Kabat house.

The trip across Kansas was pretty uneventful, save for the beautiful new wind farm east of Hays, and the scary tornado clouds east of Limon:

Bill and I spent a lot of time talking about sources of inspiration, the love and bonds of the 200-some-odd Plowshares people there that weekend, and the odd scenarios that can still lead a desperate person to suicide. All was well at home, with Abby's birthday being planned, but the story did have a strange postscript: I-25 near my house had been closed most of the day when a woman jumped off the Baptist Road bridge at 2 p.m., in front of a tour bus, as a way of making her suicide certain. The same bridge where the oil truck spilled in early April, a precursor of Deepwater Horizon. And no, for oil trucks and despondent people, there will never be trucks enough. It was good to get solace from Plowshares friends, and a few Zen jokes from Carl, to remind me that I need not pay attention to the blood.

"I think I'll save suicide for another year." - Scott Hutchison, Frightened Rabbit