In two weeks, much of the world will be reflecting on the 70th anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The world witnessed the brutal violence unleashed from those early versions of nuclear weapons, but it did not stop the US and other nations from continuing to manufacture and test these weapons.
However, just as nation states engaged in nuclear proliferation, grassroots efforts emerged to resist the production, testing, deployment and use of nuclear weaponry around the world. In the US, this resistance took on many forms, such as education, civil disobedience and direct action against the production, testing and deployment of these weapons.
Grassroots resistance groups engaged in physical occupation of facilities where research and weapons manufacturing took place. Resisters got arrested at Congressional offices when elected officials voted for more funding for weapons of mass destruction. Other people entered US military bases where nuclear weapons were being deployed, particularly Air Force bases, which transported nuclear missiles on B-52 Bombers. And then there were those who began planning direct action, sometimes involving the taking jack-hammers to missile silos peppered through rural US.The later form of direct action activist became known as the Plowshares resisters, named after the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah’s vision. The first of such actions was captured in a docu-drama known as In the King of Prussia, which dealt with activists arrested for entering A GE plant in the town of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, which made nuclear weapons components.
West Michigan saw its share of activists participate in such actions, both across the state and here in Grand Rapids.
Beginning in the early 1980s, with the Reagan administration aggressively promoting the use of nuclear weapons, activists began doing research on Department of Defense contracts with private companies to make parts for nuclear weapons. This research was critical at the time, since these contracts were with companies who only made one part of the nuclear weapons, thus making it harder to determine how many were involved in nuclear weapons production.
A group of activists came together in Lansing, known as Covenant for Peace, which began a years long campaign against a nuclear weapons manufacturer in Walled Lake, Michigan, Williams International. The campaign began with research and reconnaissance work before engaging in direct action. The first direct action took place in 1983, with people entering the property of Williams International and to prevent workers from entering the building in order to build more nuclear weapons parts. One of those arrested with Matthew Goodheart, who was working for the Institute for Global Education in Grand Rapids in the early 1980s.
Goodheart and others were charged with trespassing in the District Court. However, out of fear that such actions would continue to take place, Williams International worked with the legal system and got a judge in the Circuit Court to adopt an injunction (front page seen here). This injunction would allow the court to demand that anyone who was arrested resisting the weapons manufacturing at Williams International, be required to sign a statement saying they would never take such action again. If those arrested did not sign the court document, they would be given an indefinite sentence, meaning they would stay in jail until they signed the statement or until the judge decided to release them.
Another major campaign that took place against nuclear weapons in Michigan, was a campaign against the Wurtsmith Air Force Base, located in Oscoda, MI. This bases was one of many US nuclear deployment installations, where B-52 Bombers carried nuclear weapons 24 hours around the clock in the air. This was done to make sure that some nuclear weapons would not be destroyed in the event of a nuclear attack.
A campaign was begun against Wurtsmith in 1984, with actions like the one pictured here, where activists entered the base on specifics days of the year to protest the presence of nuclear weapons on the base. The action depicted in the picture here took place on the Hiroshima bombing anniversary in 1985. The person in the photo is Theresa Wylie, who was part of the Koinonia House in Grand Rapids. Theresa, along with several other people from West Michigan were arrest in August of 1985, but released later that same day by US military officials. After years of resistance and US military restructuring, Wurthsmith Air Force Base close in 1993.
In Part II, we will look at some examples of nuclear resistance that took place in Grand Rapids that involved direct action.