Opening Warrior Eyes

Posted April 11, 2014 by Subversive Peacemaker
Categories: Reflections

Tags: , , , , ,

After participating in last month’s Pacific Life Community demos in Las Vegas, Lorin Peters spent some time in reflection and wrote the following essay from what he likes to think of as his “Gandhian” point of view.

Lorin has been a long time participant in Pacific Life Community. He has taught Gandhian nonviolence (and high school physics) 1972-present in a Catholic HS in Oakland, Ca, served in Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams the summers of 2002-2009, and in Thailand with the Asian Muslim Action Network the springs of 2011-present.


Opening Warrior Eyes
Lorin Peters
2014 Mar

Lacksana and I are on our annual retreat at my brother’s place in Eagle, Idaho, reading by the fire, and reflecting and writing. OK, we are recreating a little, too – Lack downhills, I telemark. The two swans on my brother’s pond occasionally chase and harass certain of the geese. When they have successfully driven a goose away, they celebrate – flapping their wings powerfully, and “standing” on the water, then bobbing their heads up and down in unison. My brother’s wife calls it their “we bad” act.

Some of my thoughts here have been about our Pacific Life Community demonstrations. At some risk of coming across as a “we bad” actor, I would like to share some of my reflections.

Father Louie says, “If a house is on fire, we are obligated to try to rescue the people inside.” Dorothy Day says, “Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.”

From a Gandhian point of view, the objective of an obstructive action or resistance is to “open eyes” and hearts and minds. Including our own (assuming we already have the whole truth is the fundamentalist error.)

I believe that ‘one-person demos’ are more helpful than larger demonstrations. People recognize the courage it takes to stand alone, especially when opposing the state. Fifty people can demonstrate in 50 different places. A single demonstrator is approachable for a discussion or debate – a mass of demonstrators are intimidating. Marketing studies suggest that when people see the same message in three different places, they begin to remember and/ or consider the message (Jay Adkisson).

So I would encourage us to stand alone, or in pairs if you feel you need support. Space ourselves along a road or highway so drivers have maybe 10 seconds to read and react to each message. On a 60 miles-per-hour highway, 10 seconds is about 300 yards apart.

If a pedestrian passes, offer a friendly greeting. If anyone engages in dialogue, ask them what they think or believe, then listen. If we must speak, speak to their concerns.

For those who ‘cross the line,’ we might cross in small enough groups that each resister is engaged by a separate officer, for one-on-one conversations. In other words, don’t cross in groups that prevent individual interactions (unless you need the security of a partner). Then see if the officer is willing to engage in dialogue, eg, “What do you think about ….?” “What do you believe about …?” Then listen. Again, if we must speak, speak to their concerns, not ours.

Consider educating and preparing ourselves for dialogue with our opponents. Some time before a demonstration, write down the pro-war arguments we might expect. Then prepare specific responses to each argument. Historic examples and stories generally are more helpful – people can remember stories better, and people know they are true.

This is also a good discipline before writing or selecting our message posters. Our messages need to address people where they’re at, not where we’re at. So I have spent several hours this week thinking about what Americans believe, and then brainstorming about what they need to hear.

Americans who believe “violence is necessary” perhaps need to hear:
“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” – Jesus
Canada won independence without a war
Denmark stopped Hitler without violence

Those who believe “violence is redemptive” may need to hear:
“He who conquers 10,000 others only makes 10,000 enemies” – Buddha
160 million died in the 20thcentury wars – Is the world safe yet?
Sending our ‘boys’ into other countries makes friends, or enemies?

Those who believe “our military makes us secure” probably need to hear:
What is the Dept of Defense defending in 130 other countries?
Is our military for securing us, or our empire?
Is it “Dept of Defense”, or still “Dept of War”?

Those who believe in “peace through strength” might need to hear:
Do we trust Canada? Why?
Lasting peace comes from positive relationships
Strength creates fear and enemies

Those who believe in “keeping the peace” perhaps need to hear:
British bobbies carry no guns – what’s wrong with US?
What comes from the barrel of a gun – peace, or more war?
Are you keeping the peace, or an empire?

Those who believe in “enforcing the law” may need to hear:
Is the law about control, or truth and justice?
Which is better – punishment, or restitution and healing?
Can we arrest conscience – Can we imprison truth?

Those who believe “America is a democracy” probably need to hear:
Many Americans are not Republican or Democrat – who represents us?
If 51% gets into office, and 49% gets nothing, are the 49% represented?
Why do the rich now spend a billion dollars on each election cycle?
What happens to politicians who do not serve money?
Does Congress represent people, or money?

Those who believe we need ‘nukes’ to deter ‘rogue’ nations might need to hear:
What makes a nation ‘rogue’?
- violating international laws?
- threatening other nations?
- invading other nations?
- possessing nuclear weapons?
Does this ‘rogue’ shoe fit US?
“Judge a tree by its fruit” – Jesus

Those who believe warriors are courageous perhaps need to hear:
Nonviolent warriors are courageous – they “glory in fighting alone” – Gandhi

Those who believe warriors are disciplined may need to hear:
Nonviolent warriors are disciplined – they listen to their enemies

Those who believe warriors are strong probably need to hear:
Nonviolent warriors are strong enough to “love their enemies” – Jesus

Well, these are some of my thoughts and suggestions. I pray they stimulate some of your thoughts and discussions.

Swadeshi Works!

Posted March 13, 2014 by Subversive Peacemaker
Categories: Nonviolence, Reflections

Editor’s Note: Lorin Peters attended the recent Pacific Life Community gathering in Las Vegas. During the retreat he made several references to Gandhi’s vision of “swadeshi”, the self-reliant world Gandhi was trying to build. Lorin wrote the following reflection about a Thai village that has carried out such a project.  He feels that “Gandhi’s vision has many connections to the vision at the core of the Catholic Worker movement.”

Swadeshi Works!

Lorin Peters
2014 Jan 29

Ban Lao was a traditional village in Northeast Thailand. Like most Thai villages of that era (1965-69), it had a Buddhist temple, and an elementary school, but its roads were dirt (the “highway” was gravel), and it had no running water (the system I helped them build was only the second in any village in Thailand). Due mainly to unsanitary conditions in the village well, infant mortality was 50%, as it was in most villages. People went to the provincial hospital only to die; otherwise they consulted the local spirit doctor.

More affluent than most Thai villages of that time, it had one pickup truck, and limited electricity several hours each evening, but no television (there were no TV stations within range). There were high schools 10 km down the road in the provincial town, but no one had ever passed the national matriculation exam. It was affluent because a number of the villagers worked in the provincial offices, or as teachers in other villages.

In India, after the Salt March and the Salt Works Raid (1930), millions of Indians realized they were free to ignore the British colonial power. But Gandhi realized they were not ready for freedom. Many wanted to become capitalists or communists, and replace British domination with their own domination over each other. So Gandhi retired from the independence movement and devoted his next 12 years to developing a culture based, not on power, but on swadeshi (self-reliance, including cooperation and sharing).

He understood that this is the real revolution, not just changing the faces in government. Civil disobedience and defying the government is exciting. But it does not change the culture of domination. Changing culture is not sexy or exciting. But it is the real work of revolution. He developed a comprehensive 18-point “Constructive Programme” to create swadeshi, self-reliant villages which could not be controlled or exploited by any system of colonization or centralized domination, foreign or domestic.

Ban Rai Gong King is a smaller village of 1200 souls near Chiang Mai in North Thailand.
When the Thai economy collapsed abruptly in 1997, due both to irresponsible lending within Thailand and to financial manipulation by foreign investors (see “A Siamese Tragedy” by Walden Bello), many government-financed programs shut down. Most of the villagers lost their jobs. All the local banks, from whom the villagers had always been able to borrow money, immediately stopped lending also.

Then something extraordinary happened in Ban Rai Gong King. The villagers decided to pool their resources and set up a community fund, under the leadership of their headman, Somsak Inthachai, and his wife, Suphaan. I do not know of this happening in other Thai villages. Somsak (Thais always use first names) and Suphaan appear to be college-educated, and to be deeply respected and trusted by their fellow villagers.

The villagers’ goal is a self-sufficient village, including growing and threshing rice, growing vegetables, raising livestock, farming fish, and processing their own agricultural products. They followed a community development approach based on participation by every household and every villager, beginning with community analysis through meetings, agendas, presentations and brainstormings. They identified eight “development areas” for a holistic village (not quite Gandhi’s eighteen), for each of which they created an independent committee and funding scheme. All programs are community initiated, and mostly community funded.

Gandhi’s programme began with khadi (spinning of cotton thread and weaving of homespun cloth) to provide employment and modest income for every family, and freedom from English cloth mills. Ban Rai’s first development area is economic planning, to provide modest income, and freedom from centralized debt institutions. They created a “Village Fund Network Office” where the villagers pool their “savings funds,” and which manages and administers those funds. Fifty percent of the dividends go to the fund members. Fifteen percent go to administration. But the other 35% go to welfare, including the disabled and the underprivileged, health services, scholarships, sports programs, children’s activities, the elderly and the environment.

A second part of Gandhi’s programme was village improvement. Ban Rai’s second area is village environment, including planting trees, sweeping and washing their streets, and restoring their creeks. They promote village pride with the slogan “Love your birthplace.” They organize festivals, tour groups, youth groups, and teenager groups.

A third part of Gandhi’s programme was health education. Ban Rai’s third area is health screening and early detection, including blood pressure and blood testing, body weight and waistline charts, and vision testing.

Ban Rai’s fourth area is classes in health, safety of food (preventing food-borne diseases), baking, and local cuisine. They offer help with newborn children, the injured, the handicapped, the elderly, and hospice.

Ban Rai’s fifth development area was constructing a health service center, in 2007. The center includes maintaining an exercise chart for each villager, a number of treadmills and other exercise machines, a sauna, a number of massage beds, and health foods and medicinal herbs sections. They also sponsor football (soccer) teams and other youth games.

Other sectors of Gandhi’s programme include the eradication of social evils, especially of untouchability, of alcoholism, and of leprosy. Ban Rai’s sixth area is the eradication of vices, especially drugs and alcohol (mostly men), and gambling (mostly women).

Two more of Gandhi’s sectors were uplift of women, and adult education. Ban Rai’s seventh area is social safety, including domestic violence, bodily assault, and theft, and also automobile safety, including traffic rules, seat belts and “driving under the influence.”

Three more of Gandhi’s sectors were uplift of peasants, development of cottage industries, and labor unions dedicated to the well-being of all, including owners. Ban Rai has set up savings groups for those who process herbs, make artificial flowers, make food safe, do composting and organic farming, or Thai massage. They have community funds for wholesale buyers, and for other occupations. They have support groups for those raising cattle, or pigs, doing agriculture, alternative energy (biomass), or developing their own health products, eg, honey shampoo, lemongrass oil (mosquito repellant), butterfly (purple) tea.

Gandhi’s final sector was communal unity across religious lines, especially Hindu and Muslim. Ban Rai’s eighth area is psychological well-being, including emotional, spiritual, and cultural well-being, including their folk music. They have set up groups for grandparents to share their wisdom with the young, for education in democracy, or in traditional medicinal herbs, for training in community leadership, or in “worshipping” (respecting) their monarch. When there is a dispute in the village, they use mediation, not the courts. They use community rehabilitation, not prison.

Except for being located in a tropical forest, Ban Rai could be anywhere in America. Everyone has running water and electricity. The streets are well-paved and clean, the houses are neat and well-maintained, the trees and yards are green. I saw only one old gray house, but the unpainted teak was more than a century old, and the roof tiles were far more subtle and beautiful than any roof tiles in America. Everyone has a cell phone, most have computers, the village has its own website.

As I was admiring one man’s elaborate fence this morning, he came out to greet me. But he was French, not Thai. This is his paradise. If I could handle the Thai seasons – hot, hotter, hottest – I too would consider moving to Ban Rai.

At the end of Headman Somsak’s presentation to our field trip, I said to our whole class, “You have just seen Gandhi’s dream of swadeshi, of self-reliance! This is exactly his vision, what he tried to create, to prepare his people for freedom from exploitation, both capitalist and communist.” Somsak was grinning widely – he spoke to us only in Thai, but he obviously understood my English.

Pacific Life Community at Nellis Air Force Base

Posted March 12, 2014 by Subversive Peacemaker
Categories: Nonviolence, PLC Report

Tags: , , ,

An affirmation of love and life while vigilant against nuclear weapons at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas,Nevada by members of the Pacific Life Community.


Posted February 19, 2014 by Subversive Peacemaker
Categories: Upcoming Events


Yesterday’s sentencing of Greg, Megan and Michael, the three members of Transform Now Plowshares, was the culmination of the government’s collusion with the Nuclear Industrial Complex.  It is collusion in the sense that the government is breaking many laws, including international humanitarian law, in its continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the courts cannot help but see and uphold established precedents, including the Nuremberg Principles. Supposed justice was “blind” to the wrong things in this case, and essentially every other case of this kind.

There is no lack of irony in the timing of yesterday’s sentencing. Seventy-one years ago on February 18, 1943 Sophie Scholl and other members of The White Rose were arrested at the University of Munich for dropping leaflets protesting the evils of the Third Reich.  Click here for an article on this piece of history.  Sophie, her brother, and the other members of The White Rose clearly understood the consequences of their actions, should they be caught.

tnp three sentenced

Greg, Megan and Michael also understood the probable consequences of their actions, and took their action with joyful hearts, fully prepared to accept those consequences. Judge Thapar gave all three significant prison time – Megan 35 months, and Greg and Michael each received 62-month sentences.  The judge’s intention by giving such long prison terms was to dissuade others to engage in such actions and instead to pursue “legal” means.

Of course, those of us pursuing nuclear abolition clearly understand the futility of legal means, which we have all tried over and over. As Felice and Jack of The Nuclear Resister said in a recent post about the Transform Now Plowshares sentencing: “YOU CAN JAIL THE RESISTERS BUT NOT THE RESISTANCE.”

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our brothers and sister in resistance on the next stage of their journey.

Time to get rolling towards the 2014 PLC!!!

Posted February 3, 2014 by Subversive Peacemaker
Categories: Upcoming Events

Tags: , ,

Dear PLC folks,

The 2014 Pacific Life Community retreat takes place from Friday, March 7th to Monday, March 10th.

The Las Vegas Catholic Worker is taking care of Housing and Food and Transportation for the retreat. Other people are co-coordinating the event schedule and it will be available soon. The event will start with dinner at 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 7 and end Monday. We look forward to seeing you.

We need your help to help us provide hospitality to everyone who is coming.  Please download the registration form, fill in all the information requested, and return it to us as soon as you can.

You can either e-mail to or mail to 1420 West Bartlett Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89106-2226.

Peace and blessings, Julia Occhiogrosso and Gary Cavalier

Mary Jane Parrine’s statement to the court

Posted December 15, 2013 by Subversive Peacemaker
Categories: Court

Editor’s Note:  The October 21st Federal trial of seven of the PLC 2013 resisters is a now a memory.  I summarized the trial in a previous post.  Mary Jane Parrine prepared a statement of her intentions to present to the court, and she provided a copy that I share with you here.


MJ Parrine’s statement on intentions, March 4 2013. Oct. 21 2013 Federal Court, Tacoma

I begin by saying that I am guilty. Guilty of not standing up sooner against nuclear weapons. I’ve come very late to the harvest. While hundreds of resisters have been working in this field since the 1970s and earlier, I was silent, comfortable with my moral disapproval, but not acting. I didn’t try to inform myself further about costs, environmental risks, or international law.

Last night I this hit home to me as Ray McGovern told us about a man who followed his conscience to the extreme. Ray knows from his own experience what this means. Maybe he would have used the story in his testimony, if Fr. Bix Bischel had been allowed to call him as a witness. The story was about a German man who was imprisoned for resisting the Nazis. He was told to confess, admit to a crime. He refused and was killed. Later the executioners found a note in his trousers’ pocket stating something that I realized is true for me. As part of a poem, he had written those words: Yes, I confess. I am guilty of being so late to do this.

Now a quick word about how my background affected my thinking on March 4: I’m retired since 2004, but continuing with another form of work that began when I was a family caregiver for many years. Now for the past 9 years as a healthcare advocate for elders and for 14 years in hospital chaplaincy, I know how hard it is to get proper treatment and care. I see face to face how vulnerable each of us is to the effects of stone wall limits set by the healthcare industry and meager government assistance. Any of us can be financially wiped out by illness. At any age we can be warehoused in custodial care, with only minimal therapy, from an accident or a war related traumatic brain injury. Our country’s inadequate healthcare is weakened further as safety net funding is sucked away to support the excesses of the military-corporate complex. Much of that excess goes toward nuclear weapons.

(l to r) Mary Jane Parrine & Ed Ehmke being arrested by Navy officer on March 4, 2014 (photo by Mike Wisniewski)

(l to r) Mary Jane Parrine & Ed Ehmke being arrested by Navy officer on March 4, 2013 (photo by Mike Wisniewski)

My training and work as a historian also influenced my thinking on March 4. In earlier years I focused on poverty, crime, and criminal justice, but lately I’ve looked at how non-violent resistance – citizen intervention—can be effective. Past gains are well known: securing women’s suffrage, ending slavery, and stopping segregation and Jim Crow laws. In recent years I’ve been inspired by the HIV-AIDS activists who have won disability designation and better care at Kaiser. It continues in other ways, other places. So many of these movements have been successful that they give me the courage to go on.

Just before March 4 2013 we had been on retreat for 3 days, in a community that comes together every year to strengthen resistance to nuclear weapons. We spent time in prayer, meetings and meditation, leading up to a final public event that Sunday night. Among the speakers this time was Captain Tom Rogers, a former submarine commander who now works with Ground Zero Center for NonViolent action. He and others at the retreat reinforced my conviction.

Now on the day itself: Many of us stood on the sidewalk with banners that faced the naval base and the entrance area. When some of us walked out onto the street I was struck by the power of this changed position where we held our banners and signs facing outward from the naval base, standing with all those in the base, praying that our message could influence a conversion away from a course that threatens us all. A line in the road did not make a difference to me at that point. What mattered is that the 14 of us who had just walked out, plus the six who had gone before, were together in this common spirit of peace. That spirit extended as well to those who work with the weapons we oppose.

You probably want to ask: Why not stand on the sidewalk to make a statement? Yes all witness is vital in its persistence and presence. It is worthy wherever and however it is done. At times, though, it has to leave the safety of the sidelines. I regret that our action may be misunderstood or be a source of resentment in some quarters. Our intent was not to break a law or to initiate criminal proceedings. We sought only to manifest the urgency of our message. For me, it was the best way at that time to express what I know to be the truth.

Something that stays in my mind about this need to speak the truth is an account from the early days of Christianity as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and John had been arrested and are appearing before the Sanhedrin. They would be set free with a warning to stop speaking about this Jesus and his new teachings. Their reply was a statement that says it all: “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” (4:13-21)


US v Apel: Catholic Workers at the Supreme Court (Post updated 12/9/2013)

Posted December 1, 2013 by ericdebode123
Categories: Upcoming Events

December 6th: Did man protest too close for military’s – and Supreme Court’s – comfort?, by Michael Doyle, McClatchey Washington Bureau, Dec. 4, 2013

Dec 5th:  Here is an entertaining article from the Santa Barbara Independent about Dennis’ case:

Dec. 4th: Argument recap: Skirting a constitutional issue – in the SCOTUS Blog

Dec. 4th: Transcript of oral arguments before the US Supreme Court

Amicus Brief filed on behalf of Dennis by Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action

ABA Preview of the case (links to Merit Briefs and Amicus Briefs)

Dec. 3rd: Can the military restrict protests outside bases? By Erwin Chemerinsky in the ABA Journal

Dec. 3rd: Argument preview: War protests and the military – in the SCOTUS Blog


December 1, 2013:   Two news articles today:

Also in the news:

From Guadalupe to the Supreme Court : Justices to hear Vandenberg protester’s case


December 1, 2013 12:12 AM

Fifteen times, Dennis Apel has been arrested while protesting the military missions at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

He has spent time in federal prison and received a “ban and bar” notice from a past commander of the classified military installation, which legally prohibits him from conducting what he calls peaceful vigils.

As a result of three recent convictions for those protests, the 63-year-old Mr. Apel will on Wednesday walk into the halls of the United States Supreme Court.

On the docket will be one case: The United States of America, petitioner, vs. John Dennis Apel.

Noted constitutional law attorney and University of Irvine law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky took Mr. Apel’s case pro bono and will argue before the Supreme Court Justices that the First Amendment protects Mr. Apel from conviction for “peacefully protesting” on the public right-of-way outside the enclosed base.

“He is David and the United States is Goliath,” Mr. Chemerinsky said in an interview before leaving for Washington, D.C.

The scene at the most revered courtroom in the nation is so far removed from Mr. Apel’s daily life that he finds it bizarre to even imagine.

The Downey native spends most of his working hours in a rickety 117-year-old Victorian home in Guadalupe, a town where the poverty level is estimated to be 85 percent greater than the state average.

Standing in rooms where the floors slope at a dizzying angle from lack of a foundation, he and a dedicated core of volunteers — including his wife of 15 years, Tensie — provide food and clothes to the community’s poor. They run a summer children’s program and a weekly free medical clinic.

The couple are devotees of the Catholic Worker movement, a social reform cause committed to social justice, pacifism and voluntary poverty that they’ve dedicated most of their adult lives to promoting.

They receive no salary — the couple and their two young children survive on his Social Security income, as well as donations and the charity of others.

For more than a dozen years, as part of Mr. Apel’s deep peace-oriented belief system, he has regularly stood outside the gates of Vandenberg, protesting what he believes is an immoral military mission. He has been arrested 15 times, and received “ban and bar” citations that restrict his ability to protest near the classified military installation.

A key element of the Supreme Court argument centers on a small plot of land adjacent to the main base gate on Highway 1, where demonstrators gather to protest missile launches. The space is delineated from restricted space by a painted green line on the asphalt.

Once that line is crossed, the person is warned, and if they don’t leave, are arrested for trespassing.

In contention is that the protest area is part of a highway easement granted to Santa Barbara County and the state by the military, enabling the roadway to be used by the public. Yet those with “ban and bar” notices, as Mr. Apel received in 2003 and 2007, are not allowed to enter that area.

In 2010, while still barred, Mr. Apel protested at Vandenberg three times and was cited each time for violating his ban and bar order.

He appealed, stating that the order requires “absolute ownership” over the specific designated area, which the easement precludes. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in his favor and reversed his trespassing convictions, indicating that off-limits areas apply only to “areas over which the federal government exercises an exclusive right of possession.”

At the Supreme Court, the federal government is seeking the reinstatement of Mr. Apel’s trespassing convictions.

What’s at stake Wednesday is the whether the military will have the ability to control its easements to its property, vs. the First Amendment protections given those who protest on or near military bases.

“When you read our brief, any Supreme Court Justice has to look at this and say this is clear, clear, clear,” Mr. Apel said.

On behalf of Mr. Apel, Mr. Chemerinsky will argue that the law prohibiting people from actions at the base after they receive “ban and bar” notices are applicable only to specific military land, not the public road easements that cross military land nearby. They will contend Mr. Apel’s free speech is restricted because he is not allowed to protest in a designed public area.

The military cannot have exclusive control over the land, Mr. Chemerinsky argues, because the state and county have joint jurisdiction over the easement.

“What the court decides is not just about Dennis Apel, but more general issues of free speech and the right to protest,” said the law dean, who will be arguing for the fifth time before the Supreme Court. “What the court decides would affect free speech. It’s not just Vandenberg. It’s military bases all over the country. It’s a really important free speech issue.”

The Government’s case

In lower court hearings, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Yohalem represented the Air Force, and according to legal reports on the matter, said base officials retained the discretion to exclude individuals from the area even though public access was granted to peaceful protesters in an area and the military did not have exclusive possession of the site.

The U.S., represented by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., will argue that its position does not violate the First Amendment and that the military need not have exclusive control over the land where protests occur.

“The place where the respondent was found was under military command, as a matter of law,” Mr. Verrilli’s brief to the court states.

The highway easement, he added, “does not change that result.” Mr. Apel, the government contends, “makes no effort to reconcile his claims that Vandenberg’s commander lacks all authority over the easement, but nonetheless had authority to designate a protest area within that easement in the litigation settlement on which respondent so heavily relies. The answer, of course, is that the commander does have command authority in that area.”

Ultimately, Mr. Verrilli cites a letter to Mr. Apel from the base commander, citing the Catholic Worker’s past acts of vandalism and trespassing. And in doing so, Mr. Verrilli states it leaves “no doubt that the government had an interest in preventing (the) respondent’s unwelcome return to Vandenberg.”

Mr. Apel’s case has attracted a number of supporters, filing what are called amici curiae briefs to the Supreme Court. Those include the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. Also filing was the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“It is an important First Amendment case involving the right to peaceful protest at or near a military base,” said foundation president David Krieger, who has also been arrested there. “Dennis Apel courageously seeks the right for himself and others to express their grave concerns at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a place where the U.S. regularly tests nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

He suggested more people should join the cause of Mr. Apel.

“I can only hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will stay true to our Constitution and protect the right of the people to free speech,” Mr. Krieger said. “The voices of the people must be heard in places where it matters on this most critical of issues.”

A life of peace

Mr. Apel’s path to the Supreme Court perhaps began at the age of 6, when he firmly stated he planned to be a Franciscan priest, a pursuit he continued through St. Anthony’s Seminary and a year of college. He later earned a degree in biological sciences, and spent his early adulthood as a salesman for a trucking company, hating every minute of the 11 years.

He says he was always drawn to Saint Francis of Assisi.

“He gave up everything to live in voluntary poverty and to serve people who were poor and marginalized,” Mr. Apel said. “That resonated with me.”

During his days working as a salesman he volunteered at night at a rehab hospital for people with burns and spinal cord injuries — a life changing experience. Eventually Mr. Apel was hired to become the first lay chaplain at Los Angeles General Hospital, where he stayed for eight years.

“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” said Mr. Apel, one of seven children from a Catholic family. “I felt like I had purpose back in my life. I felt I was doing more of what I wanted to do.”

It was there he met Tensie, who was a Los Angeles Catholic Worker. The couple have two children, Rozella, 14 and Thomas, 12.

After a stint in Oakland working at a home for people dying of AIDS, the couple moved to Guadalupe in 1996. They now serve about 160 families each week with a food program. One night a week, there is a free medical clinic in the old Victorian, with about 10 people treated by volunteer doctors.

The $35,000 annual budget for the home pays for the rent, utilities, three cars used by volunteers, food for the program and supplies for the medical program. Mr. and Mrs. Apel used to receive a $10 a week stipend, but they haven’t taken that for years. Though they lived at the Victorian for years, they now live in a home purchased by a supporter for their use, rent-free.

A key element of 80-year-old Catholic Worker movement — founded by Dorothy Day — is resistance work.

“If you do service to people who are poor and marginalized, you have to address the reasons why they are poor,” Mr. Apel explained.

For the couple, that meant doing things such as leafleting the Santa Maria Strawberry Festival, to inform attendees about the low wages earned by field workers.

Targeting Vandenberg

Vandenberg’s mission came on the couple’s radar when ICBMs were tested from underground silos not far from Guadalupe, shaking their home’s walls.

“They’re $50 million a pop,” Mr. Apel said. “That’s just part of our military budget, which sacks our economy. … It just seemed clear that that was one of the places we’d try to make an impact. Catholic Worker and Tensie and I are pacifists. Our manner of making a challenge is to go with some signs and peacefully vigil. It’s almost prayerful.”

The idea behind their monthly vigils, he said, is to say in their own way that what Vandenberg is doing is “wrong.”

“We shouldn’t be involved in testing delivery systems for a weapon as hideous as a nuclear weapons,” Mr. Apel said. “It’s clearly indiscriminate, mass murder of noncombatants. It’s not life-giving.”

In addition to those monthly one-hour actions, Mr. Apel and others typically protest on Hiroshima Day, Armed Services Day, and Keep Space for Peace Week.

“This case in the Supreme Court is for three arrests,” noted Mr. Apel. “Those were the last three of 15 arrests, for doing nothing but standing on the side of Highway 1 with a sign. Not trespassing on the base, just standing with a sign. I was arrested 15 times and they prosecuted the last three.”

He’s suspicious that perhaps some of the attention and eventual arrests were sparked by his own protest-related infamy. A decade ago, Mr. Apel sprayed four ounces of his own blood at Vandenberg’s entrance sign just days before the war began in Iraq. He was sentenced to two months in federal prison for vandalism and trespassing.

“After years of me being out there, a new base commander came along and said, ‘This is the guy who threw blood on our wall. He has a ‘ban and bar,’” Mr. Apel surmised. “It was the base commander that said my ban and bar could be enforced outside the green line. It made no sense to me. Every time they’d arrest me, I’d say, ‘I’m sorry, but I have the right to be here.’”

He’s hopeful his case going to the high court will bring more exposure to his cause.

“That means a lot to me,” he said. “Vandenberg can care less why I’m out there. I think the Supreme Court case does two things — it gives the opportunity to protect a first amendment right and second, it gives us the opportunity to get some information into the media that would not get in there normally.”

Mr. Chemerinsky expects that a decision could come in the case by June at the latest.

“It’s incredibly exiting and intimidating,” said Mr. Chemerinsky, who has conducted three moot courts with students in advance of Wednesday’s hearing. “It’s a room that’s simultaneously both intimate and majestic. … I always go in optimistic.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Apel will join his wife and children in the audience section of the Supreme Court, to hear his case argued.

“I’m excited,” Mr. Apel admitted. “I’m apprehensive. I don’t think this is a slam dunk. I think it should be, but I don’t know that it is.”

Being the subject of a Supreme Court hearing ultimately just makes him shake his head.

“I’m just standing there with a sign,” he said. “It borders on the bizarre to me.”



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