PORT ORCHARD — About two dozen protesters stood outside the doors of the Kitsap County Administration Building and Courthouse to demonstrate their opposition to what they attest will be an unprecedented $1 trillion upgrade to the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
Fourteen of the activists had been arrested for blocking the gate to Bangor Naval Base at a rally July 25. They were given citations after their arrest, then subsequently arrived on Tuesday, July 25, at the courthouse for a Kitsap District Court mitigation hearing.
Most of the group standing outside the courthouse were members of Pax Christi Tahoma, a Catholic peace organization in Tacoma, and Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, based in Poulsbo.
The demonstration was orderly and respectful, with the pathway leading into the courthouse cleared for visitors. Some in the group of mostly retired individuals held up posters with images of victims suffering from radiation poisoning after two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan at the close of World War II.
Margarita Munoz of the Seattle Peace Chorus led the group in singing “Just Beneath Our Clouds of Grey,” which she wrote specifically for the protest.
Many of the protestors are veterans of the peace movement in the Puget Sound area. Bernie Meyer of Olympia, a one-time Catholic priest in the 1960s who began his nonviolent protests against the Vietnam War. He was jailed in 1970 for protesting the U.S. army’s use of the defoliant chemical Agent Orange, which was suspected at the time of causing cancer in victims.
His most recent encounter with the courts came on Mother’s Day last year. He and two others crossed the blue line separating federal and Kitsap County property at the entrance to Naval Base Kitsap. Meyer, joined by a Buddhist monk and a Vietnam veteran, was inside a mock Trident nuclear missile as they crossed into base territory. For his infraction, he was charged and sentenced to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service. He said he served his sentence helping at the Olympia Food Coop.
“I’m here because I feel the need to be here,” Meyer said. He also was at the courthouse in 1999 for a court hearing following his arrest for blocking traffic at the base. Meyer said he subsequently was found innocent by a jury.
Also at the demonstration was Mack Johnson and his wife, Lisa, of Silverdale. They are retired school teachers — Lisa taught English for 34 years at South Kitsap High and Marcus Whitman Junior High. Mack is retired from North Mason School District.
Lisa Johnson said she’s greatly troubled by the current global political climate. “We have Armageddon on our doorstep,” she said. “We have to speak up to be heard, especially so today when we have a president who says that since we have nuclear weapons, we should use them.”
Jim Brecht, who lives in Pierce County, said he has been part of the nonviolent protest movement to create change. “I decided some time ago to start talking about peace,” Brecht said.
He noted that the U.S. government is planning to spend $1 trillion during the next 30 years upgrading the nation’s nuclear facilities and modernizing nuclear weapons. Some $100 billion of that sum has been designated to build 12 new Trident submarines, which to be based at Bangor.
“This is a tremendous expense for our nation,” Brecht said. “I’m sure we all can think of other, more productive ways to spend this money elsewhere.”
Meyer was scheduled to address the judge at the mitigation hearing. In his prepared remarks, he wrote that an infraction had been committed by him and others, but it was done as part of a vigil and nonviolent action at Naval Base Kitsap in honor of Mother’s Day.
“On the day of the vigil, May 13, 2017, designated peacekeepers coordinated with the state troopers, informing them that we would be conducting a vigil at the main gate.
“The peacekeepers, who wore bright orange vests, entered the roadway first and stopped traffic. I entered the roadway after them, along with several other protesters, with an inflated replica of a Trident missile. After a short time, a state patrolman asked that I leave the roadway and I complied with his request.”
He ended his remarks by attributing his act to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:
“Blessed are the nonviolent, for they will inherit the earth.”