Letter from Block Island. Daniel Berrigan.

Berrigan after his arrest by FBI agents on Block Island, 1968.
Dear readers,

We are back on this lovely rock where we have come at the end of each summer for the last half dozen years.

Our rented house is nothing fancy, but big enough to sleep members of the family that come and go over the week and a front porch with a view of the pond and the ocean that is priceless.

Tomorrow we will find a good spot to watch the eclipse with the approved glasses Anne was smart enough to purchase online several weeks ago.

Tuesday night we will go to the town library to watch a movie about the peace activist, Daniel Berrigan. The library has an exhibit about Berrigan that will be there through October.

This from The Block Island Times:

“Seeking Shelter from the Storm” is a documentary film that evokes the life and faith of Father Daniel Berrigan and William Stringfellow on Block Island. The documentary will make its debut at the Island Free Library on Tuesday, Aug. 1 at 5:30 p.m.

Known internationally as theologians, poets and peace-makers, Berrigan and Sringfellow found respite — shelter from social and personal storms — on Block Island. Using interviews, photos, writings and island footage, the viewer is immersed in 1970s and ‘80s Block Island, Berrigan and Stringfellow’s writings and actions, and the Block Island community. Sue Hagedorn, Jim Reale and Seedworks Films (www.seedworksfilms.org) paint a portrait of Daniel Berrigan and Bill Stringfellow that reflect on the history and beauty of island life that inspired and included these revolutionary thinkers and poets. 

“Seeking Shelter” features Island residents and visitors John Gasner, Nancy Greenaway, Jim Wallis, Mary Donnelly, Jim Reale, Patrick Cobb, Keith and Kay Lewis, Ann Tickner, Frances and Gordon Smith, and Martha Wilson, and was assisted by Pam Littlefield Gasner and the Block Island Historical Society, Martha Ball, Amy Jaffe, and Missy Conant. Funding included grants from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, and the Roosa Fund. The film was made in the context of the creation of the “Seeking Shelter from the Storm”exhibit, coordinated by Denny O’Toole, that is on view until Columbus Day at the Island Free Library.

Last summer I posted this about Berrigan and the history of politics on Block Island.

In 1968 Berrigan was part of a group that burned draft records in Catonsville, Maryland in protest of the War in Vietnam.

Convicted, Berrigan fled and hid in the Block Island barn of two locals who provided him space.

“We have chosen to be branded peace criminals by war criminals,” Berrigan famously said while a fugitive of justice, days before his arrest by FBI agents in a barn on Block Island.


Dumb war.

“I don’t oppose all wars,” State Senator Barack Obama said in October 2002. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.”

Bombing a country to stop bombing a country is a dumb war.

Dumb wars kill people.

Andy Borowitz wrote satirically in yesterday’s New Yorker:

Attempting to quell criticism of his proposal for a limited military mission in Syria, President Obama floated a more modest strategy today, saying that any U.S. action in Syria would have “no objective whatsoever.”

Satire  became reality in today’s New York Times:

“The kind of attack the administration appears to be planning will demonstrate to Syria and to others that there is a cost the United States is willing to impose for crossing clearly established American red lines and violating widely held international norms,” said Richard Fontaine, the president of the Center for a New American Security, a centrist research center.

But, he said, “It probably will do very little to alter the fundamental balance of forces on the ground or hasten the end of the conflict.”

Bombing people to restore a blurry red line.


From Glen Brown:

On Syria/Remembering “Shock and Awe”

Aptitude and madness flew together,

creating irregular arcs of light in night.
Pilots winged without sleep
and with crazed eyes and clenched toes.
Jets rumbled with fevers of impatience.
The armchair commanders said,
“The world could wait no longer.”
So they rushed into the unknowable,
and the world was tilted by an invasion,
choking with fiery air.
We were never shown the unspeakable:
mutilations and murders.
But we were awed by broadcasts
of sorties unleashing raucous skies,
leaving behind in their wake
bursts of death and torrents of terror.
How was it to live among Blitzkriegs
of shattered glass and concrete,
sirens and foreboding clouds
of hydrogen sulfide?
When they dropped their payloads,
smoke rose from behind upturned thumbs.

Today, President Obama speaks of Dr. King, and prepares for another war.



“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.” – Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  A Time to Break the Silence, April 4th, 1967.

ALEC protests begin. Banner drop and arrests at the Palmer House. More to come.



The Chicago Moral Monday Coalition, an alliance of Chicago clergy, lay people, unions and community organizations protested yesterday, Monday, at the Palmer House, 17 E. Monroe. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is slated to meet at the hotel this Wednesday for its 40th annual national conference. The Coalition is demanding that the Palmer House rescind its invitation to ALEC. Numerous coalition members were arrested.

Moral Monday Coalition partners include local clergy and laypeople, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), National Nurses United (NNU), US Uncut, Chicago Youth Climate Coalition, Chicago Fracking Working Group, Communities United Against Foreclosures and Evictions, Young People’s Assembly on Violence and Youth Services Project, Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP)

A large demonstration against ALEC is planned for Thursday at noon.

See you there.

Ten years after.


We were driving back from a demonstration of hundreds of thousands that had gathered on the Washington DC mall. Hundreds of thousands more had protested in cities all around the world. Over a million people in the streets.

“No war.”

Ten years ago.

As we drove home to Chicago I read aloud the report of the protest in the NY Times to the others in the car.

The Times began their report with, “There are two superpowers in the world this morning: The United States and world public opinion.”

We were elated.

Like so much of what The Times wrote about Iraq and the lead up to the war that started ten years ago today, they were wrong about that too.

George Bush would not be deterred by millions of people saying, “No war.”

Last night, the great Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy asked a lecture hall full of people in Chicago, who had won and who had lost the war?

The people of Iraq have not won. Not the American people either.

George Bush spends his days painting bad paintings of himself in the shower.

Tony Blair has become a Christian evangelist who charges $500,000 a speech.

I remember getting into a discussion with a young man in a Bucktown restaurant ten years ago.

“We’ll wrap this thing up in a few days,” he assured me.

I shook my head. I was old enough to have seen all this before. “Years,” I said. “Urban warfare. House by house. Thousands will die.”

“No way,” he assured me.

Happy Birthday Muhammad Ali.


I like to play a self-serving game with people called Who’s the most famous person you ever met?

Self-serving, because I know I will win.

It always starts the same.

First I have to define what met means.

It doesn’t mean be in the same room. Or see from a distance.

You have to have shaken hands or exchanged words.

It’s all a sham, of course. Because in 1967 I met the most famous person in the whole world.

I was at an anti-war demonstration at the Century City Hotel in Los Angeles.

On June 23, 1967, President Lyndon Johnson was attending a $500-a-plate fundraising dinner at the hotel, nestled between Beverly Hills and Westwood. That afternoon thousands of us gathered at nearby Cheviot Hills Park for a march through Century City and then to the hotel to protest the Vietnam War. The pre-march rally was like a summer festival, vendors selling hot dog and young people flying kites. Anti-war celebrities like Benjamin Spock and H. Rap Brown spoke to the crowd before we began marching in the early evening peacefully up the Avenue of the Stars towards the Hotel.

While walking around the park I spotted a smaller crowd gathered around Muhammad Ali. Ali had been stripped of his championship for refusing to be inducted into the Army to fight a war in violation of his religious beliefs.

Muhammad Ali!

I pushed my way through the crowd, pulled out my wallet, found my draft card and grabbed a pen out of somebody’s hand. “Mr. Ali. Would you sign my draft card?” I asked.

And he did.

Later the demonstration of 20,000 was broken up violently by the Los Angeles Police Department in what became known in LA as the Century City Riots.

Ali turns 70 on Tuesday.

There is a good article in the LA Times today on Muhammad Ali by Dave Zirin.


I posted one of my photos of Illinois State Police from Sunday’s anti-NATO protest on Facebook yesterday. It provoked some passionate comments.

One was from a cop, my friend and former neighbor, Abraham.

Abraham did what you would expect most cops to do. He defended his buddies and his job.

What my friend Abraham doesn’t say is whether he was on duty yesterday at the NATO protest.

Or if he has traveled around the city these last few days like I have.

I was in Grant Park yesterday. There were thousands of people who looked pretty much like people I have been with at protests my entire life. If I said that there were a hundred Black Bloc anarchists, that would be an over-estimate.

A friend joked that you would confuse them for clerks at Hollisters.

More significant were the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who threw their medals over the security fence surrounding the NATO meeting Green Zone.

But Rahm and the fed’s security response was so out of whack compared to the actual situation that it is a metaphor for all that we were protesting.

Abraham and a dozen of his buddies could have controlled the crowd. There were far more bloodied heads than arrests and most of those arrested were released without charges.

Rahm’s priorities meant spending $30 million in preparation and security on the NATO meeting while closing neighborhood mental health clinics that cost the city $2.5 million a year.

Rahm’s priorities mean reducing library hours, cutting public service pensions, closing schools and provoking a teacher strike while giving tax breaks to Sears and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

And then there is NATO itself. The only military alliance in the world, spending 70% of the world’s military budget. Most of the dollars coming from the US. Their war in Afghanistan is this country’s longest and is a NATO operation.

But Abraham is just a guy who grew up next door in Logan Square. His mom taught me how to make Puerto Rican arroz con gandules.

Look at the picture. It’s hard to see the Abrahams behind all that military hardware and robo-cop equipment. And it’s hard for those guys to see the people on the street through the plastic face masks.

That’s pretty much how the one percent want it.