Of Plowshares & Red Roses
Certain movements serve as 'prophetic shock-minorities'
Sr. Ardeth Platte, OP, was my first, and best, academic boss. I was teaching part-time at St. Joseph Elementary School in Saginaw, Michigan. (Have you heard the song about Saginaw?) My wife Elizabeth and I were living Saginaw’s public housing project, across from a railroad switching yard. As a conscientious objector, I had a patchwork of jobs, and teaching Civics (as a Dorothy Day anarchist) was one of them. A few weeks ago, Sr. Ardeth died, in her mid-eighties. Since I’d known her she had, among other things, done lots of teaching and lots of leading, including a stint as a council person for the city. She had also joined the Plowshares Movement, as in turning swords into plowshares. Doing so landed her in jail a number of times. Her crime? Calling attention to the madness of nuclear stockpiling by entering restricted areas where weapons of mass destruction were kept. May she rest in peace.
And now for Red Rose Rescue. Recently the group visited my hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (There’s no song about it, but you’ll see a bumper sticker that reads, “If It Ain’t Dutch, It Ain’t Much.) The Red Roses gather in front of abortion centers to pray. A few brave souls enter the “abortuary” to speak, respectfully, to the waiting women and to offer them red roses. Soon enough these witnesses to life find themselves in police cars and, after a ride to the station, duly charged and booked. Theologian Monica Migliorino Miller, arrested in Grand Rapids, writes that “during a Red Rose Rescue a team of pro-lifers enter the actual places where the innocent unborn are about to be ‘dragged to death.’ In the words of Saint Mother Teresa, they enter the ‘dark holes of the poor.’” The rescuers “stay in the place of execution in solidarity with their abandoned brothers and sisters…for as long as they can.” Red Rose Rescue plans to hold its first national conference next month. Godspeed, good friends.
Both movements, Plowshares and Red Rose Rescue, aim for something quite different from, say, the day-to-day political organizing of the American Solidarity Party, to which I make modest contributions. Truth be told, the politically minded might dismiss both groups as distractions.
But they are anything but, unless we’ve decided that the only real game in town is a numbers game. The Thomist Jacques Maritain, among the finest thinkers of the past century, would tell us that both movements could serve as “prophetic shock-minorities.” He insists “they are needed especially in the periods of crisis, birth, or basic renewal of a democratic society.” Our is such a period.
Discernment is necessary, to be sure. Maritain points to the fundamental difference between John Brown and Mohandas Gandhi. An inspiration can begin as genuine only to become corrupt. A genuine inspiration will see civil disobedience as exceptional; it will never attack the innocent; and it will always seek dialogue with the people whom it hopes to awaken.
On the whole, I think, prophetic witness does not fare well in the context of mass movements that aim to exert maximum political pressure. Maybe that’s what Peter Maurin had in mind when he said, “Strikes don’t strike me.” To be sure, Dorothy Day spoke for strikers. She accepted arrest in solidarity with the United Farm Workers of America. I doubt whether she saw much hope in the Teamsters.
As a teacher I was fond of saying that a tough problem would “be left as an exercise for the reader.” Enter Black Lives Matter. I venture to say that I would trust a great many individual participants. But, to my mind, the jury is out on its leadership. It should remain out for some time.
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