This column was published in The River Reporter on 27 April 2006.
As it happened, business brought me to the suburbs of Philadelphia on Good Friday. I realized that if I arranged my schedule right I could get to the Lockheed Martin offices in King of Prussia in time for the 29th annual Good Friday protest by the Brandywine Peace Community.
The Brandywine Peace Community, based in Swarthmore, PA, is one of a number of religion-based groups that have been practicing nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action for years. You don’t hear much about them, and they don’t seek a lot of publicity—but they have borne a constant and unwavering witness against war and militarism.
Lockheed Martin, of course, is the world’s largest weapons manufacturer, and one of the Iraq war’s main profiteers. In a strange yet somehow appropriate circumstance, their facility lies directly behind the enormous and glitzy King of Prussia Mall, across from an IMAX theatre.
The protest took the form of a Good Friday litany, with far-ranging commentary that powerfully linked the stations of the cross with the impact of military spending and the expansion of the American empire on human needs. A full account of the event, including the readings used in the litany, can be found at http://www.brandywinepeace.com/good%20friday%202006.html. Following are some quotes from that account, edited slightly, with my own observations thrown in.
“About 100 people participated under a cloudy day marked by periods of light rain… More than the usual number of Upper Merion police and police vans were present. …At the driveway entrance, there was an upright full-sized coffin … pictures of Iraqi children, [and] a large sign with the Lockheed Martin logo reading: ‘We’re making a killing!’” There was also a stack of smaller crosses. Each featured the names of one Iraqi and one American killed in the war, as well as one person identified as ‘a victim of poverty and the domestic-war economy.’ After each reading, someone carried one of the crosses into the driveway entrance.
“At the 12th station, ‘Jesus Dies on the Cross,’ a bell-intoned period of silence … ended with the broadcast of ‘Adagio for Strings,’ as those in the driveway laid their crosses down, and began a procession down the drive with a large cross overhead draped in purple and white cloth. …A solid line of Lockheed Martin security personnel prevented the procession from delivering the cross to Lockheed Martin as Upper Merion police surrounded and began arresting the kneeling activists. …The bearers of the large cross being held upright were among the last to be arrested and the last arrest was made with the security head of the Lockheed Martin complex holding the upright cross.”
The author then had to carry the cross across the driveway to where the other activists were waiting. (The symbolism would have made for a great photograph.) But the last arrest was of a young woman who had sat down in the driveway and refused to move, despite many requests from the officers. Finally, they lifted her up and placed her limp body in a police vehicle. Fittingly enough, this happened just as the final station, “Jesus is Laid in the Tomb,” was being read. (I asked an organizer later if this had been planned, but it wasn’t.)
The next Monday, in a hotel on my way back home, I stumbled on a showing of “The Passion of the Christ,” which I hadn’t seen before. As the camera lingered over the instruments of torture in the infamous scourging scene, I wondered how anyone who had seen the film could condone the use of torture in the War on Terror, or fail to think about Abu Ghraib. The Brandywine activists are correct in bringing these two things together, and in pointing unflinchingly to the cross of war that humanity still bears.