Stories from an insurrectionary childhood

From Waging Non-Violence:

October 19, 2012

Seamus Philip celebrated his three month birthday on Thursday. It was just like every other day — nursing and pooping, laughing and cooing, chewing on his hands and slobbering. He giggles and smiles and looks deep into your eyes now. He can hold his head up and has mounted an aggressive conditioning regime with the goal of turning over and crawling ASAP. Watching him, loving him, caring for him, living with his constant changes — all of this provides daily opportunities for me to reflect on my own early years and upbringing.

I wonder how his dad and I will impart our values and core beliefs, I wonder what kind of man he will grown up to be; I wonder what stories he will tell his friends and his children about his childhood. I already know they won’t be the same stories I tell.

I was born into and brought up at Jonah House — a nonviolent resistance community grounded in its founders’ Catholic faith and built for the express purpose of nurturing and sustaining resistance. It was formed in the early 1970s, when the war in Vietnam was effectively off the front pages and effectively over in the minds of most people as a result of Nixon’s Vietnamization of the war. The anti-war movement had been killed off, bought off, turned off or sent off to jail.

My parents — Elizabeth McAlister and Philip Berrigan — and their friends looked around. They saw the continuation of war in Southeast Asia, thousands of nuclear weapons and new wars on the horizon, and they wondered who was preparing the next anti-war movement as the war planners at the Pentagon prepared for the next war. They concluded that it was them.

They concluded that the anti-war movement that confronted the war in Southeast Asia had tended to be episodic, reactive and too intense to sustain a long-term commitment from most individuals. People tuned in, turned on and burnt out — in a tightly orchestrated cycle that went way too fast to build the kind of opposition that lasted. Then they looked at the Catholic Worker, which has been plodding along — sometimes huge and vibrant, sometimes small and on the margins, but comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable since the 1930s. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin had created a place where it was “easier for people to be good,” where laypeople could practice the works of mercy, serving the poor while resisting the forces of war, racism and capitalism that create poverty. How had they kept going? The answer: community. Shared purpose, shared prayer, shared study, shared work.

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