ITHACA, N.Y. – In the early morning hours of April 4, 2018, Clare Grady arrived at the Kings Bay Naval Base on the coast of Georgia, where the Trident nuclear missile system is stored. She’d traveled there with six other anti-nuclear activists, but they parted ways in the parking lot: two to a monument to nuclear weapons, three to the bunkers where weapons are stored.
Grady, 60, a longtime Ithaca Catholic Worker, and Martha Hennessey, granddaughter of Dorothy Day, headed toward the Strategic Weapons Facility, Atlantic building, the base’s administrative headquarters. It was dark, but they were in plain sight. There were workers in the parking lot, workers inside the building, Grady said in a retelling of the action featured on Democracy Now.
But Grady wasn’t worried about getting caught. Following a family legacy of Catholic resistance, Grady considers anti-nuclear actions and their adjudication to be part of bearing witness to government violence.
With Hennessey, Grady strung crime scene tape across the door to the building and hung an indictment for war crimes. The two poured small vials of their blood on the ground. They held a banner reading, “The Ultimate Logic of Trident: Omnicide,” and spray painted the walkway, “Love One Another.”
Grady and Hennessey waited while security guards drove by and left them alone. They joined Mark Colville and Patrick O’Neill at “the shrine” to nuclear missiles, as they call an on-site monument. They waited while security guards passed en route to the bunker, where Carmen Trotta, Elizabeth McAlister and Steve Kelly were the first to be arrested.
The group’s symbolic disarmament took aim not just at the Trident system’s potential, but at its everyday use. “It’s not just if we launch these weapons,” Grady said, “but how they are used every day like a cocked gun. Even if you never pull the trigger, you are using that gun.”
A year after the action, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 are facing charges of conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval installation, depredation of government property and trespass – charges carrying up to 25 years in federal prison. McAlister, Kelly and Colville remain in Glynn County Jail while Trotta, Hennessey, O’Neill and Grady are awaiting trial from their homes on $50,000 bonds, wearing ankle monitors. All are prepared to fight an application of the law that they consider unjust, to stand up for what Grady calls “the supreme laws of the land” that prohibit weapons of mass destruction.
At her West Hill house, Grady finds herself in a familiar place. April 4, 2018 was not the first time Grady spilled her blood at a military site, and it’s not the first time she’s staring down a lengthy federal prison sentence. The legacy of faith-based resistance runs deep in her family, and she feels her parents’ commitment to justness “almost like cellular memory.”
A Family History of Activism
Grady’s first memories of a courtroom date to 1971. She was 12, living in a 12-story building in the Bronx in a family of eight. Her father was an organizer first and sociologist second, working on the periphery of several draft board raids as J. Edgar Hoover cracked down on Vietnam protesters. Her mother, Teresa, used yoga breathing techniques to calm her sister, also Teresa, after a harrowing encounter with FBI agents in the building elevator. When agents knocked on the apartment door, her nana said in a thick Irish brogue, “Go away will ya.”
“I was born into a family of faith-based resisters,” Grady said.
When John Peter Grady stood trial as one of the Camden 28, a group infiltrated by an FBI informant and charged for destroying draft files, Teresa brought the five kids to watch.
Clare remembers hearing Howard Zinn testify that the war in Vietnam was about resource extraction. She remembers hearing Elizabeth Good, a mother who’d lost her son in the war, sobbing before resolving to testify. She remembers the pandemonium that enveloped the gallery as the jury read not guilty after not guilty for each of the counts faced by each of the defendants.
Mary Anne Grady Flores, the eldest of the kids, was 14 at the time. She remembers her dad as a savvy strategist who invited jurors to take notes and ask questions, and the group of co-defendants claiming power in the courtroom.
“They walked into that courtroom singing Irish rebellion songs. They walked in with joy, and to declare that joy to the jury,” she said. When the verdicts came back not guilty, the gallery broke into song again with a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
“That was a formative thing in my life. For all of us five kids,” Clare said.
The Grady family moved to Ithaca shortly after the trial, more than four decades ago. John taught at Ithaca College while expanding the scope of his activism from war protests to prison abolition. Clare brought a film about the Attica Prison uprising into Ithaca High School and was disheartened by “academic” critiques of its composition. She felt stifled.
“Suddenly I’m in another world,” she said of her transition from what she remembers as a 10 percent white school in the Bronx to a 90 percent white school in Ithaca. “I couldn’t wait to leave.”
She canvassed with the United Farm Workers in California and learned how the labor movement had compromised on racial justice. She dallied with college courses in New York City while enmeshed in a circle of Chilean artists and activists.
Her family drew her back to Ithaca, but would also continue to push her toward activism as Clare worked to determine what she would compromise on and what she would confront relentlessly.
‘When bloodshed is being carried out in my name, I need to not just talk about (it)’
What’s yours to change? For Grady, the answer is expansive.
“It is not another person, but maybe the institution that represents you, or certainly with your government doing something with your money in your name, that’s yours to change. And if your church is doing something in your name, that’s yours to change.”
Grady learned of the Plowshares movement soon after it launched in 1980, when a group of activists hammered on nose cones in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania and invoked the book of Isaiah’s exhortation to “beat swords into plowshares.”
Grady found the action empowering. “I realized, ‘Oh, they’re not asking the government to do anything. They’re doing it.’”
Her brother and sister joined a Plowshares action in Connecticut, and soon Clare followed suit.
At the Griffiss Airforce Base in Rome, New York, Grady hammered on a B-52 re-equipped to carry missiles in 1983. At an Army recruiting center in Lansing, New York, she spilled her blood with a group called the St. Patrick’s Four in 2004. She served two years in federal prison in West Virginia and six months in Philadelphia for each action.
“These actions were similar concrete expressions of my religious belief that when bloodshed is being carried out in my name, I need to not just talk about (it) but also and importantly take action which clearly manifests my withdrawal of consent to such bloodshed,” Grady wrote in an affidavit submitted ahead of the Kings Bay trial.
As much as Kings Bay is a continuation of her life’s work, though, Grady is trying to change the peace movement from within, too.
“This choice to do the Kings Bay Plowshares symbolic disarmament is very familiar and very old for me, it’s part of my lineage,” she said, but is also a step toward “attending to what I had been leaving out a lot, to my shame, which had been racial justice in my community.”
Carried out on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the action was not only about the threat nuclear weapons pose to people “over there,” Grady said. The action was meant to address how nuclear weapons are used daily to uphold injustice at home.
The Trident missile system, Grady said, “is a weapon of force in a whole sequence of weapons, down to the police gun on the street, to enforce the systems of white supremacy and global capitalism, which all lead to environmental destruction.”
Racism, extreme materialism, militarism – Dr. King called these the “giant triplets” that must be conquered in his 1967 speech condemning the Vietnam War.
“We repent of the sin of white supremacy that oppresses and takes the lives of people of color here in the United States and throughout the world,” the Kings Bay action statement prepared by Grady and her six compatriots reads. “We resist militarism that has employed deadly violence to enforce global domination. We believe reparations are required for stolen land, labor and lives.”
Preparing for Trial in Ithaca
In addition to her ankle monitor, Grady has a curfew and needs permission to travel outside the Ithaca area. These restrictions have scarcely cut into her local organizing work, though.
After nearly two decades of working at Loaves & Fishes, Grady is well connected to social justice and religious groups beyond the Catholic Workers and her home parish of Immaculate Conception. She participated in the Shawn Greenwood Working Group, which pushed for truth and accountability after Ithaca police shot and killed a black man. She worked toward school equity following allegations of racial discrimination in the district. She routinely participates in interfaith discussions around indigenous claims to land and sovereignty.
As Grady readies for her case to be heard, a group of organizers is coordinating support for her and her six co-defendants. A petition has been circulated to peace activists around the world, with signatures from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Dr. William Barber, and four other Nobel Laureates.
Addressed to Attorney General William Barr, the petition asks for the charges against the Kings Bay 7 to be dismissed. “We who share the moral vision of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 proclaim our support for their courage and sustained sacrifice and call for the immediate dismissal of all charges against them. The defendants invite us to act creatively. They invite us to join global coalitions working to promote governments’ adherence to, and full implementation of, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” it reads.
The judge presiding over the case has spent months deliberating on a Religious Freedom Restoration Act motion to dismiss all charges on the basis that the co-defendants’ actions were an expression of religious beliefs. A date is not yet set, but a trial is expected to begin in Georgia this spring.
Featured image: Clare Grady at her West Hill home. (Devon Magliozzi/The Ithaca Voice)