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Review of I Refuse to Kill: My Path to Nonviolent Action in the 1960s, by Francesco Da Vinci

This article was first published in the War Resisters League’s section of Waging Nonviolence on January 12, 2022.  Click here for more information about the War Resisters League.  Click here to read and subscribe to Waging Nonviolence.

Some months after my 18th birthday a letter from the Selective Service arrived in my mailbox. I had not yet registered for the draft, it stated correctly, adding that failure to do so could land me in prison for up to five years or require me to pay a hefty fine, or both. Yikes.

Growing up in an affluent Massachusetts suburb, where nearly everyone went to college and barely anyone joined the military, the U.S. war in Vietnam was almost as far away socially as it was geographically. Sure, I knew the war was on and that I’d probably be against it if I thought much about it. But it didn’t really affect me or anyone I knew. However, with the threat of prison as an alternative, I headed to the closest draft board office, signed up, and soon was issued a draft card.

The memories came back as I read “I Refuse to Kill: My Path to Nonviolent Action in the 1960s,” an engaging new memoir by Francesco Da Vinci. Born into a prosperous family in an affluent Virginia suburb, Francesco grew up without much religious training and little direct exposure to pacifism. But his psychiatrist father taught that love was a transformative power. And it was the dawn of “the 60s.”

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Like others of his generation, Francesco was swept up in the idealism unleashed by the election of John F. Kennedy as president. While his best friend Jerry talked about enlisting in the armed forces, Francesco stepped tentatively into an antiwar perspective and belief in nonviolence, if not yet activism. Though his parents forbade him from attending the 1963 March on Washington, Martin Luther King’s example and the courageous acts of other civil rights activists helped shape his moral outlook. “Each call to conscience that I experienced planted a seed,” he recalls, a seed that would eventually sprout into an application for exemption as a conscientious objector, or CO.

With engaging prose and photos — many from Francesco’s own camera, which he started carrying with him in high school — the memoir chronicles a young man’s principled encounters with the war system in which he refused to participate. Along the way, he becomes a skilled photographer, falls in love, starts a peace center, and tries repeatedly to convince his Virginia draft board that his objection to war is sincere.

Francesco with Cesar Chavez, 1970

Francesco Da Vinci with Cesar Chavez, 1970

Like many other men of his generation, Francesco had to become intimate with the bureaucratic complexities of the draft. Exemptions. Deferments. Classifications. Inductions. And local draft boards which had the authority to determine who was eligible for what.

The system, which exists to this day despite a brief hiatus in the late 1970s, has evolved since the U.S. Civil War, when the only way to avoid conscription was to pay for someone to take your place. In World War I, members of Christian churches with established pacifist beliefs could be exempt from military service. However, they were often cruelly treated, and some 500 conscientious objectors were sent to federal prison.

By World War II, members of other religious groups could gain CO status, but they remained a minority among Quakers, Mennonites, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Brethren. Many — more than 12,000, according to the Center on Conscience and War — performed alternative service, such as forestry, farm labor and work in hospitals for people with mental illness. Other pacifists, who refused to cooperate at all with the system, went to prison.

When the U.S. waded into the “big muddy” of Vietnam, a successful CO application still required belief in a “Supreme Being.” By the time the war ended, Supreme Court decisions had expanded the definition of CO twice, first, in the 1965 Seeger decision to include religious objectors who did not believe in a Supreme Being, and second, in the 1970 Welsh decision to include those who held moral or ethical beliefs akin to religion.

For CO applicants like Francesco, the challenge

Quaker woman reading the names of the Vietnam war dead -1969- Photo by Francesco Da Vinci

Quaker woman reading names of US soldiers who died in Vietnam outside the Los Angeles Induction Center, 1969.  Photo: Francesco Da Vinci

was not only to articulate their views, but to show that they were sincerely and deeply held to the satisfaction of the local draft board. And since draft boards, appointed by Pentagon officials, tended to be skeptical of anyone who tried to evade military

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service, it was no simple task. This was especially so in conservative areas, like the Virginia county where Francesco grew up and submitted his registration form.

With a student deferment while he attended the University of Maryland, Francesco initially occupied himself with studies and recreation. “My previous goal of applying nonviolence in the service of others conveniently slipped to the back-burner,” he recalls. But as the war escalated and continued to gnaw at his conscience, Francesco began to contemplate applying for CO status and going to prison if his application was turned down.

With his girlfriend, Jane, Francesco’s antiwar journey finally stepped out of his head and into the streets when he joined a massive march on the Pentagon in 1967. In the crush of protesters, a soldier whacked him in the ribs with a rifle, but he writes, “We had reached a turning point in our lives. No longer were we watching history; we were making history.”

Francesco at the Poor People's Campaign - 1968

Francesco Da Vinci at the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968.

His conscience was bolstered by exposure to widespread antiwar sentiment during a family trip to Europe and the antiwar candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy. By 1968, Francesco was ready to leave his student deferment aside and apply to be a CO. It was not an easy step to take. “Just because you don’t believe in the war doesn’t mean you have to be a martyr,” his father tells him. “You realize, of course, that if you go ahead with this, you’ll end up in prison?”

While a CO exemption was perfectly legal, Francesco writes that refusal to serve in the armed forces was widely seen as a sign of cowardice and lack of patriotism. “The aspersions hurled at COs were even worse than those aimed at antiwar marchers: draft-dodgers, commie sympathizers, subversives, saboteurs of our country’s war effort,” he writes.“Many regarded the act of applying as a conscientious objector in and of itself as treasonous. Almost nowhere in the media were COs being supported, and whatever was written about them was almost invariably distorted.”

“Most conscientious objectors could state that the light of traditional organized religion guided them. In my case, I was guided by a non-religious but spiritual philosophy — a set of ethics that countered violence and racial injustice with nonviolent action. I suspected my individualistic religion of ‘nonviolent activism’ would undoubtedly put my CO case in jeopardy,” Francesco states. He was right: the Fairfax County Draft Board turned him down, 4 to 0.

“By late 1960s, an estimated 5,000 war resisters and prisoners of conscience were serving sentences for refusing to participate in any way with the war machine, even alternative service,” according to the Center on Conscience and War. Heading for his first induction physical, Francesco thought he would be one of them.

His “Kafkaesque” experience at the induction center brings to mind Arlo Guthrie’s tale of being “injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.” Like Arlo, when Francesco declared he would not serve in the military, he was singled out for special questioning, fingerprinted and sent away. (Or as Arlo was told, “Kid, we don’t like your kind. We’re gonna send your fingerprints off to Washington.”)

Francesco’s story goes on, through a move to California, a series of appeals, a succession of lawyers, exposure to the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez, marriage to his college sweetheart, a phase of self-righteous preachiness (“obnoxious as a newly converted non-smoker”), and the establishment of a peace center in San Diego, where he led regular trips to the bus station to leaflet young men on their way to induction. Throughout,

Francesco talking about the war with a skeptical draft board clerk.  1971

Francesco speaks to a skeptical draft board clerk in San Diego, 1971

he describes his deepening commitment to nonviolence amidst the clamor of a changing antiwar movement.

I won’t give away the ending, other than to say he does an excellent job of capturing the emotions and tensions which accompanied his chosen path. The book is full of dialogue, taken from journals Francesco began keeping in his youth, and concludes with an excerpt from his final CO application, in which he articulates his nonviolent philosophy. I appreciated the addition of context helpful to contemporary readers, like using a quotation from Colin Kaepernick to accompany his account of police brutality during the 1968 Democratic Convention. Looking back on the My Lai Massacre and the Phoenix Program, he asks, “In our democratic society, are we to remain silent in the face of terrorist activities sanctioned by our government?” It’s a question that is disturbingly timely. 

coverFor those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the draft, such as the difference between alternative service and non-combat military service for COs, additional details would be helpful, since young men are still required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthdays. In fact, an effort to force young women to register, too, is gaining traction in Congress, where it’s being promoted — by Democrats — as a step toward gender equality. Although no one has been prosecuted for years, the maximum penalty for non-compliance — even failing to provide the agency with address changes — is still punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a hefty fine, which has been raised to $250,000. I would have also liked to learn more about the non-lawyers who mastered the details of the system and conducted regular counselling sessions to help young men decide what to do. 

“I felt saddened that we were venturing to the Moon when we still had not learned how to live on Earth,” Francesco reflected about the 1969 moon landing. “In the realm of our solar system, only Earth was teeming with life. Perhaps, I hoped, space exploration would awaken humanity to the dire need for change among the super powers — a major redistribution of wealth coupled with a reduction of their excessive military budgets. Without the conversion of war economies to peace

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economies and without corporations paying their fair share, the gap between the haves and the have-nots would continue to widen. The result — a needless cycle of global suffering and death.” Need I say more?

In the end, my own path to nonviolent action bypassed the Selective Service. During my first year of college, everyone born the same day as me drew #6 in the draft lottery, placing us near the head of the list for induction. Selective Service sent me a form asking if I were eligible for any exemptions or deferments. Without knowing much about it, I checked the box for “conscientious objector” and sent it back. But when I received another form, asking me to explain the nature of my beliefs and demonstrate their sincerity, I had no idea where to turn for advice. Lucky for me, the draft ended, for which I can thank Francesco Da Vinci and the thousands of others who said “No, I refuse to kill.”

Francesco says Robert Richter, whose documentaries about nuclear weapons and the School of the Americas were nominated for Oscars, has expressed interest in making a film based on the book.


This piece was first published in the New Hampshire Bulletin on December 22, 2021.  It was prompted, in part, by an earlier article in the same publication which talked about “allowing women to be included in the selective service” and referred to coercive measures as “incentives.”

Plans to mandate Selective Service registration for women were dropped in last-minute negotiations over the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed Congress on Dec. 15. But they will no doubt return. So will proposals to end mandatory registration for men. The latter is a better step toward gender equality.

Although military conscription ended in 1973 and the Defense Department appears to have absolutely no interest in restoring the draft, the federal government has required since 1980 that all men submit their names and contact info to a massive data base. Failure to do so within 30 days of a man’s 18th birthday makes him potentially subject to five years of imprisonment or a fine of $250,000 or both. So does failure to notify Selective Service of an address change, something that is frequent among the 18- to 26-year-old set that would be subject to the draft should it be revived.

No one has been prosecuted under the Selective Service Act for decades, but Congress and many state governments have adopted additional sanctions to coerce young men to register. For example, male applicants for federal job training and jobs in federal executive branch agencies must prove that they have registered or that they are exempt, according to the Center on Conscience and War. Many states have adopted similar measures, including requirements that men be registered before receiving a driver’s license. In New Hampshire, male non-registrants are barred from state jobs and admission to state-funded institutions of higher education.

The draft itself ended in 1973 due to the unpopularity of the U.S. war in Vietnam. Registration ended in 1975. But President Jimmy Carter brought it back in 1980 out of a desire to look tough following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Since then, young men have been required to sign up and the Pentagon maintains a network of draft boards – one for each county – ready to spring into action should conscription be renewed.

Maintenance of the system cost the taxpayers $27.9 million this year, enough to provide pre-school for 4,213 children at $6,622 each, which the Private School Review says is the average pre-school tuition in New Hampshire.

If you’re looking for an example of wasteful government spending, you need look no further than the Selective Service System. As Bernard Rostker, director of the Selective Service System from 1979-1981 testified to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service in 2019, The current system of registration is ineffective and frankly less than useless.”

If you’re looking for a way to promote equal opportunities for women, draft registration is the wrong approach. As Tori Bateman of the American Friends Service Committee says, “This is not feminism; it simply expands an unjust system to more people.”

“Selective Service registration for males is a pillar of the U.S war culture and economy,” adds Bow resident Mary Lee Sargent, a longtime feminist peace activist and teacher of American history. “Expanding this system to include women is the opposite of what feminists should support; it strengthens a system and values that must be abolished, not expanded.”

Instead of expanding the Selective Service System, Congress should end it once and for all. Fortunately, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., and U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rodney Davis, R-Ill., have sponsored legislation to end the Selective Service System entirely. That is the best path to equality.

When members of the Clamshell Alliance held a demonstration at the Manchester headquarters of Public Service Company of New Hampshire, the lead builder of a nuclear power plant 40 miles away in Seabrook, they expected to get arrested. What surprised them was to learn that one of the participants in their May 26, 1980 action was actually an officer with the New Hampshire State Police. The undercover cop, James Nims, even participated in the group’s meeting with their lawyer and passed on what he learned to prosecutors.

It was not the first time Clamshell members discovered they were being surveilled and infiltrated. One of the 180 No Nukes activists arrested at the Alliance’s second civil disobedience action, August 22, 1976, was an undercover cop. And just prior to a major demonstration in 1978, Clamshell members discovered a State Police van with a camera trained on the office where a planning meeting was being held.

Governor Meldrim Thomson, who called the Clamshell a “terrorist” group after members of Lyndon Larouche’s U.S. Labor Party “briefed” State Police officials (really), considered contracting with a private security firm to spy on the Alliance. Instead, the company made a deal with Public Service Company to provide “a general plan on how a facility would handle various emergencies,” a representative told The Real Paper, adding, “that could include anything from nuclear terrorism to political demonstrations.”

The Clamshell Alliance wasn’t the only No Nukes group to have its actions disrupted by spies and infiltrators.

As reported in a 1978 article in The Real Paper, the Atlanta Journal had found that as early as September 1977, “the Georgia Power Company was engaged in a massive anti-nuclear surveillance program, with a $750,000 annual budget and nine full-time undercover agents, taken from the ranks of such public agencies as Army Intelligence, the Treasury Department, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.” The Journal’s sources revealed “a national network exists to circulate information on so-called dissidents.”

Following a 1977 demonstration at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plants, the Abalone Alliance imagediscovered that two of the 47 people arrested had been cops. “The undercover agents were the only ones who ever even mentioned the possibility of violence,” observed an Alliance member quoted in The Real Paper. “One in particular seemed to want to incite it. He tried to smuggle wire-cutters onto the site, and attempted to get us to change our route at the last minute.”

Whether infiltrators in radical groups are simply passing on information to whomever hired them, or actively trying to provoke actions to de-legitimize the groups, activists should be prepared. That’s the point of “How Agents Provocateurs Harm Our Movements,” a new report by Steve Chase published by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

Agent-Provocateurs-CoverThe use of agents provocateurs “by power elites and movement opponents to weaken the unity of civil resistance movements, discredit them in the eyes of the wider public, and justify greater and more draconian repression by police and security forces” is an old practice, not limited to the United States. Chase not only dips into the well-documented history of the African American freedom movement, which saw FBI spies high in the ranks of the Black Panther Party and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but also provides examples from Guatemala, Thailand, India, Poland, and the UK.

Part of the problem, as the Abalone Alliance example illustrates, is that it is often the agents who propose the most “radical” seeming actions within movements and encourage behavior harmful to their cause. Of course, there are also sincere activists who advocate a “diversity of tactics,” including low-level violence, despite ample evidence that disciplined nonviolence is generally more effective.

That evidence comes from scholars Chase cites, such as Omar Wasow, Sharon Erickson Nepstad, and Erica Chenoweth, who have shown that movements which rely on disciplined nonviolence are more effective at reaching their goals than movements which employ or tolerate violence. Chenoweth correlates the declining effectiveness of recent nonviolent civil resistance campaigns with “a higher proportion of primarily nonviolent uprisings [which] tolerate, embrace, or fail to contain violent flanks.”

“Indeed,” Chase emphasizes, “the power elites that hire agent provocateurs clearly understand that undermining a movement’s nonviolent discipline and encouraging low-level violence makes movements easier to defeat. If this was not the case, how likely would it be that oppressive regimes all over the world would continue to spend significant time, human resources, and money trying to get activists in social movements to engage in such violent activities?”

It’s counter-productive to assume that all advocates of physically aggressive tactics are covert agents. (One can also imagine infiltrators among a movement’s conservative elements, counselling “go slow” approaches.) Chase looks to activist Lisha Sterling for advice. “In the end,” Sterling says, “there may well be some people whom you never figure out are infiltrators until long after everything is over. The best solution to the problem of the unknown infiltrator is not to distrust everyone, but rather to avoid this potentially disastrous tension altogether by adopting and enforcing a clear code of conduct for all participants. If you isolate people who refuse to maintain your agreed upon security protocols or who break your code of conduct, then you will have effectively defeated the enemy in your camp.”

Chase, a longtime organizer, educator, and writer who is currently the Assistant Director of Solidarity 2020 and Beyond, provides a number of other tips, including:

• Stating a clear collective commitment to nonviolent discipline in all our calls for action and avoiding the rhetoric of “diversity of tactics;”

• Providing trainings before major resistance actions explaining why maintaining nonviolent discipline increases movement effectiveness;

• Encouraging the formation of smaller movement affinity/support groups as cells within a larger action to help maintain effective behavior, increase personal accountability, provide mutual aid, and help people deal with their emotions in the face of violent repression and provocation; and

• Using trained peacekeepers at our actions to help well-meaning activists not take the bait to engage in impulsive, but unhelpful, movement behavior.

He also calls for “challenging macho posturing within our movement culture and encouraging the full participation of women in the leadership of people’s movements (which research indicates usually improves nonviolent discipline and movement effectiveness considerably).”

Marla Marcum of the Climate Disobedience Center says the No Coal, No Gas Campaign, which seeks the shutdown of New England’s last coal-fired power plant, has on more than one occasion observed people believed to be infiltrators in their trainings and at their actions. It’s one reason the campaign puts a priority on community building. “We assume that we will always have infiltrators in a publicly announced mass action,” Marcum says. “The way we did this last one with encampment OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERArequired for anybody who was risking arrest kept our numbers lower, but we also believe that someone in the core team knew every person who showed up at camp. This doesn’t preclude infiltration, but it does raise the bar.”

Read about the campaign to shut down Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire and the October 3, 2021 civil resistance action.

Steve Chase says, “By developing our capacity to resist the marketing of movement violence, we can make our movements more successful and inoculate ourselves from the harm caused by agent provocateurs and agent provocateur-like behavior.”

When I ran the New Hampshire office of the American Friends Service Committee, I hung a plastic bug from the ceiling to remind us that someone could be listening. It was no joke.

Click here to order or download a copy of “How Agents Provocateurs Harm Our Movements.”

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This article was first published on November 28, 2021 at InDepthNH, New Hampshire’s best online news source.  Subscrbe (for free!) using the box on the home-page, or click here to donate.

PORTSMOUTH, NEW HAMPSHIRE—When Jake Roche asked then-candidate Joe Biden about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill to prohibit first use of nuclear weapons, the former vice president laughed. “I supported it twenty years before she introduced it,” he said.

Calling nuclear weapons an existential threat, Biden told the Berlin, New Hampshire audience that he considered nuclear weapons “an existential threat.”

Re-stating his support for a “no first use” policy, Biden went on to say, “My effort will continue to be, as president of the United States, to continue to reduce the total number of weapons that exist in the world that are nuclear in nature.”

That was two long years ago. A year into Biden’s presidency, groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists and NH Peace Action think he needs a reminder.

That’s why they gathered at Market Square in Portsmouth on a blustery Saturday afternoon.

“The United States is now upgrading and rebuilding its entire nuclear arsenal at tremendous cost,” Judy Elliott told a group of about 20 people huddled in the cold in front of North Church. “President Biden’s first budget failed to slow that dangerous juggernaut or even to cut the new weapons added by the Trump administration,” the Canterbury activist said.

There were two reasons why they chose Portsmouth. First, the Port City is one of nine New Hampshire cities and towns which have adopted resolutions calling not only for a “no first use” policy but for steps leading to the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. Dover’s City Council, Durham’s Town Council, and Town Meetings in New London, Exeter, Barrington, Warner, Alstead, Peterborough, and Lee have adopted similar resolutions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAccording to Sandra Yarne, a Durham peace activist who emceed the rally, over 300 local and state officials from 41 states have written to Biden asking for him to adopt a No First Use pledge and a number of other policies aimed at taking the world “back from the brink” of nuclear holocaust.

“Local leaders around the country understand that nuclear weapons are the greatest threat to public health that we face,” said Dr. Ira Helfand, past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a leading advocate of the Back from the Brink agenda. “We have to understand that these weapons do not make us safe; they are the greatest threat to our security, and we need a fundamental change in U.S. nuclear policy based on that reality.”

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There’s another reason for the location – and timing – of the Portsmouth event. The Biden administration is in the process of drafting its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which the Union of Concerned Scientists says, “provides top-level guidance for all decisions made about nuclear weapons while it remains in place, so it informs the choices of those throughout the military and civilian nuclear weapons establishment as they prepare budgets and pursue programs that can reach decades into the future.” It’s a document that every president since Bill Clinton has revised and approved.

By gathering in Portsmouth, the hosting groups hoped to get the attention of local resident Jake Sullivan, the president’s National Security Advisor. Although responsibility for drafting the new NPR rests primarily with officials at the Defense Department, Sullivan has the president’s ear. And it’s the president who would ultimately sign off on any revision to the nuclear doctrine.

The 2018 version, approved by President Donald Trump, expanded the circumstances under which the United States would consider using nuclear weapons, including against non-nuclear adversaries. In other words, the United States was now openly declaring that it would consider starting a nuclear war. Moreover, the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons rested with a single individual, a president known for erratic and impulsive behavior.

In addition, the Trump NPR advocated development of a new “low-yield” warhead to be deployed on submarine-launched missiles. Former Defense Secretary William Perry, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and two dozen other former high officials called the new warhead “dangerous, unjustified, and redundant.” Despite such formidable opposition, it went into production and was deployed early in 2020.

Follow the Money

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABased on campaign rhetoric, we might have expected the Biden administration to change course. Even the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, published in March, 2021, stated, “We will take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.” But in Washington, proof of the pudding is in the budget, and the Biden administration’s first defense budget includes funds for continued production of a new generation of missiles, planes, and submarines designed to launch nuclear weapons.

“For the United States to spend $62,000 per minute on these weapons and now considering spending up to two trillion dollars to upgrade them is a huge waste of money and continues to escalate such spending by our adversaries, making the world less safe,” said Representative Peter Somssich (D-Portsmouth), who spoke at the rally. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Isn’t it insulting that spending two trillion dollars for infrastructure, such as childcare, community college, climate change issues, are controversial for some senators in Washington but huge Pentagon spending on nuclear weapons is not,” he added.

Speakers at the rally called attention to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a global accord which went into force last January without the support of the United States or other nuclear powers. “Development, testing, production, acquisition, possession, and threat of use are violations of international law,” observed Dr. Jehann El-Bisi, who also noted how nuclear testing and uranium mining have ravaged indigenous OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcommunities.

“Thou shalt not kill. That commandment alone is a basis for upholding the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” she insisted. “With the Nuclear Posture Review now underway, we send a clear message to the Biden Administration: Honor the treaties, honor the international laws: it’s time for no nukes! It’s time for a nuclear free future!”

The Nuclear Posture Review should not be centeredOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA on great power competition but on an understanding of the consequences of nuclear war, emphasized Dr. Helfand, who drove to Portsmouth for the rally from his home in Northampton, Massachusetts. “This is not about who comes out on top ten or fifteen years from now. This is about whether we survive.”

“We need to get rid of nuclear weapons because the great powers need to stop competing with each other,” he added. “They need to start cooperating to deal with the other great crises facing us, like the climate crisis, like the danger of new epidemic diseases.”

“Our security demands that they be eliminated,” he said.

Rally participants left with hope that Jake Sullivan had heard them.

For more about Back to the Brink, visit www.preventnuclearwar.org.

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This article was first published at Waging Nonviolence on October 26, 2021.  This version uses my own photos.  Click here to sign up for weekly updates from Waging Nonviolence, and please consider sending them a donation.

New Hampshire’s No Coal No Gas campaign deployed kayaktivists and a garden blockade as part of its latest day of mass action aimed at closing Merrimack Station.

BOW, NEW HAMPSHIRE—There’s one form of power that’s generated when hot water turns turbines to create electricity.

There are other forms of power held by investors, property owners and regulatory agencies.

And then there’s people power, which can be harnessed to affect decisions of investors, property owners and regulatory agencies — such that fossil fuel-burning operations cease running. That’s what the No Coal No Gas campaign seeks to do with its focus on shutting down New England’s last coal-burning power plant, Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire.

No Coal No Gas, which launched its first protest against the power plant in 2019, returned to Bow on October 3 for a day of mass action. In addition to a rally on an adjacent ballfield and a flotilla of “kayaktivists” in the Merrimack River, campaign members planted gardens on company property, including a bed hacked out with pickaxes in the middle of an access road. After several state police cruisers arrived and dozens of officers in full riot

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgear marched in from behind the gardeners, 18 people were arrested.

Speaking at the rally, attended by about 200 people, Mary Fite, a Bow resident, focused her comments on the plant’s Connecticut-based owner, Granite Shore Power — a joint venture of Atlas Holdings and Castleton Commodities. With her three children and partner at her side, she charged, “They don’t care about your health, and they don’t care about your children. They don’t care about future generations. Granite Shore Power does not care about climate change or the future of planet Earth.”

As the crowd cheered, Fite added a rallying cry, “Granite Shore Power wants to intimidate residents and invalidate our concerns, but here we are!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKatie Lessard, a Bow High School student, also spoke, telling the rallygoers, “As a young person, it’s really important for us to take action in shutting down the climate crisis before it’s too late, because if left unchecked it will have worse and worse effects for my generation.” She noted that most of her peers agreed as well.

The demonstration was the latest in the No Coal No Gas campaign, which is backed by 350NH and the Climate Disobedience Center. “Arrest is not the goal,” commented organizer Isaac Petersen after the arrestees had been taken away. Civil resistance is just one of the nonviolent tools the campaign employs, he said.

The October 3 action followed months of planning, weeks of training, and a weekend action camp held at Pitch Perfect — a woodsy campground in Canterbury, New Hampshire, about 15 miles north of the power plant. “I support what they’re doing wholeheartedly,” said LeeAnn Mackey, owner of the rustic campground where activists pitched tents, shared meals, held workshops, made banners and organized plans.

They also learned and sang songs, including one with gardening lyrics: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” Another, Greg Greenway’s “Do What Must Be Done,” lent itself to slogans printed on the backs of “No Coal No Gas” T-shirts.

Do What Must Be Done

The action camp was a “huge part” of the action, explained Emma Shapiro-Weiss, co-director of 350NH. It established an opportunity for “a lot of new people having conversations with each other about what nonviolence looks like, why we are here, why we are doing this work, why we are spending a whole weekend with each other in the middle-of-nowhere, New Hampshire, and challenging this coal plant.”

Importantly, the camp also helped build trust among participants, as it was a prerequisite for anyone considering civil disobedience. As Shapiro-Weiss explained, recalling the group’s imperative, “If you’re going to be with us taking action on Sunday, you’ve got to be in camp on Saturday.” Participants attended workshops on the campaign’s history and strategy, discussed nonviolence and how the movement addresses generational and racial diversity. There was plenty of time for large group circles, small group discussions, banner painting and preparation for the Sunday action.

banner-making

Showing what is possible

No Coal No Gas launched in 2019 when a few climate activists removed coal from the piles outside the Bow power plant, later dumping it on the State House lawn in Concord to demand that the state act to end the use of fossil fuels. Later that year, a larger group returned to Bow, this time dressed in Tyvek suits and carrying empty buckets, as if to say, “We’ll stop the use of coal if we have to remove it bucket by bucket.” Sixty-seven people were arrested for criminal trespass.

While many of them accepted plea bargained sentences, 19 have appealed to the Superior Court for a new trial, which has not yet been scheduled. One of them, the Rev. Kendra Ford of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was back on October 3. “The plant is still burning coal, and we want it to stop burning coal, so I have to come back,” she said.

During the winter of 2019-2020, No Coal No Gas staged nonviolent blockades of trains carrying coal to Bow. Police arrested coal train protesters in several Massachusetts towns, as well as at a railroad bridge in Hooksett, New Hampshire. Five cases from the train blockades are still pending in court, according to Climate Disobedience Center’s Marla Marcum, who’s keeping track of all the legal entanglements.

The point, they say, is to “show what is possible,” beyond the specifics of any one action.

“All too often, conversations around climate action are constrained by the concept of ‘political feasibility,’ instead of being guided by moral necessity. We commit to taking moral action to do what must be done and hope to show that collective resistance and a Just Transition are both necessary and possible,” says a statement on the campaign’s website.

No Coal No Gas lists “building unity and community” as its top goal, above even stopping the burning of coal. That goal was served by the action camp, which for 350NH’s Emma Shapiro-Weiss meant “being in community with some people that I’ve been in community with for years, and lots of new people that we’re bringing in, new perspectives and new ideas.”

Finally, the No Coal No Gas website says, “We aim to shut down the last coal-fired power plant in New

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEngland not already slated for closure. By using creative, nonviolent confrontation, we will unmask the violence happening in Bow and around the world.”

It’s always been a nonviolent, direct-action campaign, Shapiro-Weiss said. “[Nonviolence] has enabled us to reach a huge audience to create relationships that I really don’t see in other

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcampaigns.”

Skill-building and relationships have also enabled No Coal No Gas campaigners to resist other environmental threats, for example by joining the movement against the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota.

From the time she joined the 350NH staff in 2019, involvement in No Coal No Gas campaign introduced Shapiro-Weiss to a “wonderful regional group of organizers and people that were really saying ‘no’ to the fossil fuel industry, to the destruction of our world, and figuring out how we were going to build the world we want to see.”

Targeting the corporate owners

In addition to the demonstrations on train tracks and at the power plant, No Coal No Gas has also organized a utility bill payment strike and tried to influence decisions of ISO New England — a relatively obscure agency that oversees the regional power grid, under the oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. It is only through ISO’s subsidies that Granite Shore Power is able to keep the fires burning at Bow. That means, as Isaac Petersen explained during one of the action camp workshops, the ISO is “one of the organizations that has the power to shut down the Bow coal plant.”

According to ISO’s data, coal provides only 0.15 percent of the region’s electricity, compared to more than 3 percent for wind and more than 2 percent for solar. Rather than providing baseload capacity, the Bow plant fires up only on the hottest and coldest days. Since it’s otherwise uneconomical to keep a power plant operating for only a few days a year, Granite Shore depends on subsidies, or “forward capacity payments,” built into the rate structure to remain profitable.

As Bow resident Mary Fite put it during the rally,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA “They will try and keep this plant going as long as profits are there, as long as it’s being funded by us. They will keep on taking handouts to stay online.”

Untangling the technical details has required the campaign to develop what one activist called “a high level of nerd-dom.” At the time of the last subsidy auction, No Coal No Gas generated about 100 comments submitted to ISO and FERC to deny ongoing subsidies to Granite Shore. They have also held demonstrations outside the ISO’s Holyoke, Massachusetts offices.

The campaign is now organizing another round of comments to the FERC. As an October 20 alert put it, “We are sending public comments to FERC’s new Office of Public Participation demanding that they require ISO-NE to prioritize renewable energy and climate justice. ISO New England seemed quite alarmed by the 100 comments we submitted to FERC last March — let’s see how they react to even more comments!”

Planning for a week of demonstrations focused on Granite Shore Power’s corporate owners, both of which are headquartered in southwestern Connecticut, is also underway.

No Coal No Gas operates with “mass calls,” affinity groups, working groups — such as one

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfocused on the ISO — and a coordinating committee that meets regularly and is open to all campaigners. Support from 350NH and Climate Disobedience Center staff provides continuity in what’s mostly a volunteer-driven project. Regular “onboarding” sessions, often coupled with one-on-one meetings, are held to invite and orient newcomers to the campaign’s goals and plans.

They know their openness makes it possible for the power company and police to keep an eye on them. But through their community-building activity, they believe they can protect themselves from infiltration. “On the whole, we want to be as open as possible,” Shapiro-Weiss said. “We’re not hiding who we are. This is what we’re doing. Come and join us.”

arrestee loaded on busWhen the campaign succeeds in stopping the burning of coal in Bow, organizers say the “No Gas” part of the equation will be brought forward.

Atlas Holdings has already converted one coal plant in upstate New York to gas. The company is using the power to “mine” bitcoin, a process which uses massive amounts of electricity to run huge banks of computers. According to a recent New York Times article, the process of creating bitcoin consumes more energy than is used by Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million.” But Atlas says bitcoin mining at its Dresden, New York power plant complements the “power plant’s unique commitment to environmental stewardship.”

“It’s wild, it sounds like a conspiracy theory,” Shapiro-Weiss commented.

Bow boat famp

After months of planning, the October 3 demonstration required some last-minute adjustments by organizers. Unlike the 2019 demonstration, when the Bow Police posted “No Parking” signs along one side of the road to Merrimack Station, both sides of the road were posted on October 3. Campaigners adapted by parking miles away and carpooling to the site.

No Coal No Gas activists ran into similar trouble when the boat ramp — which they thought they had permission to launch their kayaks from — was blocked off with chains. “Restricted Access. Law Enforcement, Fire, Police or Rescue Only,” read the bold-face signs by what is normally Bow’s only access to the river. Kayaktivists adapted by launching their boats across the river in Allenstown instead.

Emma Shapiro-Weiss gardensShapiro-Weiss, who was one of the activists planting a garden in the middle of Merrimack Station’s access road, said she was stunned by the overwhelming police presence. “I had this weird moment when I was being arrested,” she said. “I was the final person taken, and found just myself surrounded by riot cops, and just took a moment to take it in.” She said to herself, “This is what the state, this is what the fossil fuel industry will do to protect this big, outdated, ancient asset — instead of protecting us, the people, and taking action against the climate crisis.”

Without missing a beat, Shapiro-Weiss boldly stated, “This is why we’re doing this.”

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Emma Shapiro-Weiss under arrest

“We will keep coming back” until coal-burning ends, activists say

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This article was first published in InDepthNH on October 4, 2021.  This version has more photos.

BOW, NEW HAMPSIRE—Aiming to reclaim the coal-fired power plant in Bow for life-affirming purposes, a group of activists used pickaxes, shovels, and rakes to plant a garden in the middle of one of the plant’s access roads on Sunday afternoon. After a few dozen state police in full riot gear showed up, 18 people were arrested.

The gardening action followed a rally attended by about 200 people in the ballfield opposite Merrimack Station, New England’s last operating coal-fired power plant. Mary Fite, a Bow resident who came with her partner and their three children,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA addressed her comments to the plant’s Connecticut-based owner, Granite Shore Power, a joint venture of Atlas Holdings and Castleton Commodities. “They don’t care about your health, and they don’t care about your children. They don’t care about future generations,” she charged. “Granite Shore Power does not care about climate change or the future of planet earth.”

“Granite Shore Power wants to intimidate residents and invalidate our concerns, but here we are!” she said, to cheers from the crowd.

Kate Lessard, a Bow High School student, also spoke. “As a young person, it’s really important for us to take action in shutting down the climate crisis before it’s too late because if left unchecked it will have worse and worse effects for my generation,” she said in an interview before the rally, adding that a majority of her peers agree.

After the rally, the group split into three parts, one which launched canoes and kayaks from the Allenstown side of the Merrimack and rallied in the

Rally on the River, photo by Judy Elliott 

Kayak rally photo by Judy Elliott

water on the east side of the plant for about two hours. While a second group followed a marching band north on River Road, the third group carried seedlings, bags of topsoil and garden tools up the access road marked “employee entrance.”

With one group of gardeners remaining in the area by River Road and starting a garden in the grassy roadside, the others marched right past the sign that said, “Merrimack Station Employee Entrance.” After a short walk, they stretched their “Tear It Down” banner across the road. With two people holding the banner and thirteen on the ground, two activists took picOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAkaxes and began tearing up the asphalt. That’s when the State Police cruisers showed up.

After the pickaxe wielders were taken away without resistance by State Police, the others poured topsoil and began planting seedlings, but the garden project was interrupted by about two dozen police in full riot gear marching up from behind. More riot police appeared from the other side and blocked off the access road.

Emma Shapiro-Weiss of 350NH

A Bow Police sound truck on the other side of a chain link fence blared warnings that the gardeners were trespassing on private property. Arrests began about fifteen minutes later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When it was over, 16 more people had been arrested, again with no resistance, each marched by two officers down the road, where they were handcuffed and instructed to stay put.

One of them was Sue Durling, a Hillsboro resident who used her rolling OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwalker to join the march and the mid-road gardening project. “I need to do something. I can’t sit around and do nothing and leave this world to my grandchildren as it is. I have to do this,” she said. Durling and two others were given summonses, charging them with criminal trespass and given a November 8 court date.

The others were taken in a school bus to the Merrimack County House of Corrections in Boscawearrestee loaded on busn, from which they were all released on their own recognizance with misdemeanor charges and the same November 8 appointment at Concord District Court.

The demonstration was the latest in the No Coal No Gas campaign, which is backed by groups including 350NH, Rights and Democracy, and the Climate Disobedience Center. “Arrest is not the goal,” commented organizer Isaac Petersen after the arrestees had been taken away. Civil disobedience is just one of the nonviolent tools the campaign employs, he said.

Sunday’s action followed months of planning, weeks of training, and a weekend action camp held at Pitch Perfect in Canterbury. “I support what they’re doing wholeheartedly,” said LeeAnn Mackey, owner of the rustic campground where activists pitched tents, shared meals, held workshops, made banners, and made plans.

They also learned and sang songs, including one with a gardening theme. “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds,” were the lyrics of one chant-like song. Another, Greg Greenway’s Do What Must Be Done“Do What Must Be Done,” lent itself to slogans printed on the backs of “No Coal No Gas” t-shirts.

No Coal No Gas launched in 2019 when a few climate activists removed some coal from the piles outside the Bow power plant, later dumping it on the State House lawn in Concord as a demand that the state take action to end the use of climate-disrupting fossil fuels. Later that year, a larger group returned to Bow, this time dressed in Tyvek suits and carrying empty buckets as if to say, “we’ll stop the use of coal if we have to remove it bucket by bucket.” Sixty-seven people were arrested for criminal trespass.

While many of them accepted plea bargained sentences, 19 have appealed to Superior Court for a new trial, which has not yet been scheduled. One of them, the Rev. Kendra Ford from Portsmouth, was back on Sunday. “The plant is still burning coal, and we want it to stop burning coal, so I have to come back,” said Rev. Ford.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“This plant stands in for all the other places in the world where we’re still extracting coal, transporting coal, still burning coal, and putting carbon into the atmosphere,” she added. “This plant and all the other fossil fuel infrastructure needs to close down, and we’re just going to keep showing up and demanding that stop for the sake of our planet and our future.”

During the winter of 2019-2020, No Coal No Gas staged nonviolent blockades of trains carrying coal to Bow. Police arrested coal train protesters in several Massachusetts towns as well as at a railroad bridge in Hooksett. Five cases from the train blockades are still pending in court, according to a campaign spokesperson.

The point, they say, goes beyond the specifics of any one action, but to “show what is possible.”

“All too often, conversations around climate actionOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA are constrained by the concept of ‘political feasibility,’ instead of being guided by moral necessity. We commit to taking moral action to do what must be done and hope to show that collective resistance and a Just Transition are both necessary and possible,” says a statement on their website.

They list building unity and community as their top goal, above even stopping the burning of coal.

Finally, they say, “We aim to shut down the last coal-fired power plant in New England not already slated for closure. By using creative, nonviolent confrontation, we will unmask the violence happening in Bow and around the world.”

In addition to the demonstrations on the tracks and at the power plant, No Coal No Gas has also organized a utility bill payment strike and tried to influence decisions of ISO New England, a relatively obscure agency which oversees the regional power grid under the oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is only through ISO’s “Forward Capacity Auctions” that Granite Shore Power is able to keep the fires burning at Bow. That means, as Isaac Petersen explained during one of the action camp workshops, the ISO is “one of the organizations that has the power to shut down the Bow coal plant.”

According to ISO’s data, coal provides only 0.15%

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof the region’s electricity, compared to more than 3% for wind and more than 2% for solar. Rather than providing baseload capacity, the Bow plant fires up only on the hottest and coldest days. Since it’s otherwise uneconomical to keep a power plant operating for only a few days a year, Granite Shore depends on subsidies, or “forward capacity payments,” built into the rate structure to remain profitable.

As Bow resident Mary Fite put it during the rally, “They will try and keep this plant going as long as profits are there, as long as it’s being funded by us. They will keep on taking handouts to stay online.”

Untangling the technical details has required the campaign to develop what one activist called “a high level of nerd-dom.” At the time of the last Forward Capacity Auction, No Coal No Gas generated about 100 comments submitted to ISO and FERC to deny ongoing subsidies to Granite Shore. They have also held demonstrations outside the ISO’s Holyoke, Massachusetts offices.

After months of planning, Sunday’s demonstration required some last-minute adjustments by organizers. Unlike the 2019 demonstration, when the Bow Police posted “No Parking” signs along one side of River Road, most of the roadside on

Bow boat fampboth sides were posted on Sunday. That meant participants had to park miles away and carpool to the site.

Likewise, although they thought they had permission to use a boat ramp south of the plant to launch their kayaks, by Sunday morning the site, which is owned by Merrimack Station, was blocked off with chains. “Restricted Access. Law Enforcement, Fire, Police, or Rescue Only,” read bold-face signs by what is normally Bow’s only access to the river.

Organizers adapted by using a put-in across the river in Allenstown instead.

In message to 350NH supporters after the action Lila Kohrman-Glaser, the grassroots group’s co-director, said, “Today we are fighting hard for the world that we need. We are putting our bodies on the line to shut down the Merrimack Generating Station and we won’t stop until we have won.”

“If there’s one thing this year has taught me, it’s that I don’t know exactly what tomorrow will bring. I DO KNOW THAT WE WILL KEEP COMING BACK until we end the use of coal once and for all,” she added.

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Day 3 of the 2021 Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice

This article was first published on September 26, 2021 at InDepthNH.

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The Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice ended Saturday pretty much the way it began, with a plea for immigrants and their allies to press New Hampshire’s Senators to actively support a broad pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

The 3-day event, which began at the Norris Cotton Federal Building in Manchester Thursday and ended outside the Strafford County House of Corrections in Dover on Saturday, coincided with a national “Day of Action” sponsored by the We Are Home Campaign.

Participants prayed, sang, and walked, sometimes in the rain, carrying a banner that said, “We Are Home. Pathway to Citizenship Now.” The walkers were accompanied by support vehicles, which drove slowly along the side of the road, offering water, rides to rest rooms, and shuttling walkers OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

between sites.

Read about Day 1 of the Solidarity Walk here.

Read about Day 2 of the Solidarity Walk here.

Saturday’s walk began at the Union Congregational Church in Madbury, where the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ holds its Sunday services. From there, a group of about 30, including two in a stroller, made their way through six miles of Madbury and Dover roads to the county jail, which serves as an immigrant detention center and has been the site of numerous protests and vigils. As at other stops, the group paused for prayer, song, and short speeches about the need for humane immigration policies.

Like similar walks in 2018 and 2019, the event was sponsored by the NH Immigrant Solidarity Network, a project sponsored by the Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP).

2019 Solidarity Walk

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This year’s walk focused on winning passage of a broad pathway to citizenship for immigrants. Although proposals to open a pathway for all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country is not being actively considered in Congress, the budget bill being batted around Capitol Hill could open a pathway for many of them. Drafts name farmworkers and others who are considered “essential workers,” those enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and those who have Temporary Protective Status (TPS), a category which enables people from countries undergoing instability to remain in the United States.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMartha Alvarado, a GSOP member from Nashua, joined the walk on Saturday. She walked in earlier years, too, and has also gone to the State House to advocate for a law making it possible for New Hampshire residents without immigration documents to obtain driver licenses. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Alvarado said she has many friends who are undocumented, or are on DACA or TPS. They are supporting their families, helping their communities, and paying taxes, she said, often working in restaurants, housekeeping, and other sectors. “They are needed,” she told me as we walked along Watson Road.

Despite the change in administrations, undocumented residents still live with a fear of detention and deportation. According to We Are Home, the number of people in detention has increased since the start of the Biden administration, nearly doubling in mid-July.

“They are very honorable people, very beautiful, they don’t do any harm,” Alvarado said. “They don’t want welfare, they just want to work.” Alvarado said immigration reform would allow them to get driver’s licenses and remain in their communities with a greater measure of security.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But progress toward immigration reform has been minimal. Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, who spoke outside the jail and again outside the Maranatha Church, said that since President Ronald Reagan signed an immigration bill in 1986, all the legislative changes have been in the wrong direction. “Everything that comes is to further close the path that was already a mess to navigate.”

“Call your Senators,” she urged. “In private they support us, but their vote is not with us.”

Sarah Jane Knoy, GSOP’s executive director, explained the dissatisfaction felt by immigrants and their allies. “People are more frustrated than ever at the failure of the Democrats to enact meaningful immigration reform. We understood we were in trouble under Trump, but we don’t feel like we should be in trouble anymore.” She said the state’s two U.S. Senators and two U.S. Representatives declined invitations to join the walk or meet with the walkers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaria Perez, a Democratic State Representative from Milford and an immigrant from El Salvador, shared the frustration. Speaking outside the jail, she said, “When it’s election time they come around and ask us to vote for them but where are they when we need them?”

Outside her church in Madbury, the Rev. Sandra Pontoh welcomed the walkers and voiced gratitude on behalf of the Indonesian community. Recalling a fear that even those who had agreed to be placed under an “order of supervision” by immigration authorities could be deported, she said, “You make us feel that we are not alone.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“You fought for the fifty participants of the order of supervision when they were about to be deported in June 2017.” Since then, thanks to a favorable federal court ruling, many of the Indonesians have received stays of deportation and won asylum. “So, thank you,” she said.

Speaking to walkers and supporters seated in folding chairs carefully spaced in a parking lot outside the church, Rev. Pontoh introduced one of her congregants, Andrey Massie of Somersworth. Saying he was unaccustomed to public speaking, Massie held the audience as he told a story about coming to New Hampshire from Indonesia when he was 7 or 8 years old.

The family had a tourist visa good for six months. Their plan, he said, was to visit, work a little, earn some money, and return to Indonesia. But when his dad was diagnosed with cancer, plans changed. Knowing they would get better medical care here than back home, they chose to overstay their visa, joining millions of other undocumented immigrants. Their status meant they couldn’t obtain lawful employment, couldn’t drive, and couldn’t vote.

Massie enrolled in school and grew up like any other kid, he said. He adapted quickly, learned English, and made friends. “I didn’t know anything about immigration, I didn’t know anything about papers,” he explained.

But things changed when he reached his teenage OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAyears. “In high school, the biggest thing that made you cool was getting your driver’s license, and that was just not a possibility for me at the time.” As he watched his friends getting cars, getting jobs, and having fun, he became confused. “I go to the same school as you guys, eat the same food, we hang out, do the same things. But why can’t I have what you have?,” he wondered.

The situation changed for the better in 2012 when President Barack Obama established Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Under DACA, many of those like Massie who had been grown up undocumented in America after being brought to the country as children could apply for special status that would allow them to work, drive, and go to school without fear of deportation. With help from Rev. Pontoh, Massie applied for DACA and then was able to get a social security number, a driver’s license, and a job.

But the bad news hit when his father had to return to Indonesia, where his health worsened. Massie explained that he and his mom were able to speak to him over Skype, but the physical separation was painful. When his dad sunk into a coma, Massie kept his eye on his laptop and watched as his dad passed away.

His voice shaking, Massie recalled the support his father had given him growing up, but “when he needed me the most I couldn’t be there.”

Massie also recalled his dad’s words before he took his final flight back to Indonesia. “His last message to me was to take care of my mom,” he said. And with DACA, he was able to do it while attending and graduating from UNH.

“It’s been a long road. It wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t in the DACA program,” he said.

As a program created by a presidential order rather than legislation, DACA is not a secure status, nor does it provide an opportunity for recipients to become U.S. citizens.

“That pathway to citizenship would really mean a lot to me, it would really mean a lot to my family, and to my mom,” he concluded. “I have to remember, too, from my dad’s message, I’m not just doing this for myself.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaking the mic after Massie’s talk, Eva Castillo reminded him that he, too, could call New Hampshire’s Senators so that they get the message, too. Looking at Massie and pointing to an American flag, she said, “You grew up swearing allegiance to this flag, just like any other American kid.”

Castillo’s closing words were familiar. “Thank you, and call your Senators.”

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Day Two of the Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice

This article was first published on September 25, 2021 at InDepthNH.

solidarity walk

Rested up from the previous day, participants in the Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice started day 2 where they left off the day before, at the Northwood Congregational Church. Sarah Jane Knoy, executive director of the Granite State Organizing Project, began a short program with a reminder that the Immigrant Solidarity Network is a faith-based project. The walk was part of a “holy mission,” she said. But there was no doubt it was a holy mission with a political objective: getting New Hampshire’s Senators to be stronger backers of legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for as many undocumented immigrants as possible.

Read about Day One of the Solidarity Walk here.

Rev. Renee Rouse, pastor at the church, reinforced Knoy’s words with a prayer, calling on God to “empower each and every one of us … to be partners in this solidarity, to make a difference in getting those in power to take it seriously, to move this oppressive block of hatred, this oppressive block of indifference, and move it out of the way, so that your children, of brown and black and beige and yellow could be allowed to have what you always said was theirs, the promised land of freedom.”

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With the prayerful words in their ears and hearts, about ten walkers left the church and set out on an eastward path, facing into traffic on the north side of Route 4. Accompanied throughout the day by 3 support vehicles, they would continue for about 12 miles, enduring sporadic showers, until they reached the Lee Traffic Circle about 6 hours later.

Linds Jakows, GSOP’s Immigrant Justice Organizer, said it was the first time they had done a walk like this, not just a few blocks but across miles of highway. “It really made me think about the stories of the people who have walked for miles for a better life,” Jakows observed at the end of the day.

It wasn’t just the visibility for the Dover resident. It was also about strengthening relationships with otOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAher participants and offering “a way to invite people in to being part of the movement.”

The immigrant justice movement nationwide, coordinated by a coalition called “We Are Home,” is pressing Congress for legislation that would make it possible for several large groups of immigrants – DACA recipients known as “Dreamers,” those with Temporary Protective Status, and those who are considered “essential workers” – to get on a pathway to becoming citizens. The coalition had been hoping the proposal would be included in the budget bill under debate on Capitol Hill, but the measure is now in doubt following a ruling by the Senate’s parliamentarian that the measure isn’t really about the budget. But for Jakows, “It’s not about Senate parliamentarian, it’s about how many people are out in the streets and talking to their friends and getting them to put pressure on the Senators.”

From the supermarket parking lot by the Lee Traffic Circle, the drivers shuttled the walkers to the Community Church of Durham, where church members had prepared a meal, served in the upstairs parlor. After another prayer offered by the Rev. David Grishaw-Jones and an acknowledgment that the land the walkers had tread and where the church stood was the ancient home of the Abenaki, Pennacook, and Wabanaki people, the walkers, drivers, and church members heard a short presentation by Yanovy Hondares Rivalta, a recent arrival from Cuba.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHondares came to the United States seeking asylum from Cuba, which he said has been ruled by a dictatorship for 62 years. In Cuba, he said, speaking through a translator, “you really have no rights to anything.” That’s why he left almost two years ago for an arduous journey through 9 countries. “I was hungry, I was cold, I was scared on the journey here, and there were times where I was close to just throwing in the towel,” he said. He was also assaulted twice, once in Panama and once in Mexico, and had his passport and savings stolen by the Honduran police.

“Thank God I’m here, surrounded by good people,” he said. But despite the ongoing challenge of getting his asylum application processed, at least he now feels safe. “I am happy to be here,” he concluded.

The march concludes Saturday with a walk from the Madbury Town Hall to the Strafford County House of Corrections, which serves as an immigrant detention facility under a contract between the county and the federal government. After a program outside the jail, they’ll return to Madbury for a celebration hosted by the local Indonesian immigrant community.

Day One of the 2021 Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice

This article was first published on September 24, 2021 at InDepthNH.

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Eustaquio “TJ” Carvalho can’t forget the day he woke up to find his family’s home filled with immigration police. Nine years old at the time, he said, “I wake up to go to school and there’s a man standing in the middle of my room. I knew that something was wrong.” He found out that after a workplace dispute, his dad’s boss had called ICE, the federal immigration police, who had come to take his dad away and have him deported back to Brazil. TJ had come to New Hampshire with his mom a year prior to reunite with his father, who was already living in Nashua. But now, the boy and his little brother were left fatherless.

Carvalho, his mom, and his brother were able to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAremain despite their immigration status, but without papers, he could not get a driver’s license or a part-time job when he reached his teenage years. “I couldn’t do those things,” he said. “My life was going to be very different from the friends I grew up with, friends I surrounded myself with, having sleepovers, playing video games, playing sports in school, life was just different.”

In 2012, when President Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, TJ was quick to apply. Under DACA, some immigrants who were brought to the country when they were children could get a reprieve from fear of deportation and have a legal right to work. That meant Carvalho could finally get a license and a job at a pizza parlor. Now 26 years old, the Nashua resident has been married for two years, has a daughter who turns one this week, and has a job with an automobile dealership. But he still can’t apply for citizenship.

That would change if immigration reform pending in Congress passes. “I’m not one in a million, I’m actually one of millions,” Carvalho told a group of 40 people Thursday evening at the Northwood Congregational Church. And there are lots of people with stories like his, he said, people who are raising families and contributing to their communities, but who are held back by the country’s immigration policies. Legislation to establish a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients is “a pathway to keeping families together,” he said.

But the pathway to citizenship is threatened in Congress, where the Senate parliamentarian recently ruled that immigration reform can’t be included in the pending budget bill. That’s one of the main motivations behind the Immigrant Solidarity Walk, which had 45 people holding a prayer vigil Thursday morning outside the ICE office in Manchester and two dozen walking from Epsom to Northwood in the afternoon. The group is on its way to the Strafford County House of Corrections, which serves as an immigrant detention center and where the three-day walk will OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

end on Saturday.

Sponsored by the Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP), New Hampshire’s largest faith-based grassroots organizing network, the Solidarity Walk is focused on sending a message to Congress. “Congress must listen to their constituents and acknowledge the millions of people who have contributed to the fabric of our society for decades,” said Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees and who also serves as GSOP’s Vice President. “Our elected officials have every reason to pass this legislation, and we will not stop pushing until Congress no longer ignores the millions of undocumented immigrants who call America home.”

GSOP invited all four members of the state’s Congressional delegation to join the walk or meet with walkers, but as of Tuesday, only Senator Jeanne Shaheen had responded. “The response we received from Senator Shaheen is that she’s not available. We are yet to hear from the rest of the delegation,” said Sarah Jane Knoy, the group’s executive director.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShaheen did send a letter, which State Senator David Watters read during the prayer vigil. “I am with you all in spirit,” the Senator wrote. “There is no doubt that our current immigration system is long overdue for a comprehensive and permanent fix, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.” Christian Seasholtz read a similar statement from U.S. Representative Chris Pappas. But for Castillo and the others, the letters left them dissatisfied. “We need more than letters,” Castillo said. “We need action, action, action,” chanted participants.

Later in the day, at the Northwood church, Castillo OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERArecalled her own family’s lengthy struggles with the immigration system and reflected on her disappointment at the lack of action thus far from a Democratic president and a Democratically controlled Congress. And like others in the course of the day, she decried the recent mistreatment of asylum aspirants at the southern border, where federal agents violently repelled Haitians seeking refuge in the United States. “Whether we get a kick in the butt with a boot or a kick in the butt with nice, fluffy socks, it’s still a kick in the butt,” she said.

But still, she maintained that the prospects for significant reform are the best they’ve been since Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986.

Grace Kindeke’s message was similar to those of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACastillo and Carvalho. Her mom, then a grad student, brought her to Manchester from the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was little. When her mom’s student visa expired, the family became undocumented, a fact Kindeke didn’t even realize until she was a senior in high school. There was no way to adjust her status, she found, until DACA was established.

“We call ourselves a nation of immigrants, but we know so often who is included in that definition of immigrants. Too often, black and brown immigrants are not included,” Kindeke charged. Instead of inclusion, she said, “we see the horrific practices of our immigration system, when we see the surveillance, when we see the violence, the degradation, the detention, the use of cages, and chains and whips in order to harass, to oppress, and to discourage people from coming here and finding safety.”

“Right now we are at a pivotal moment in time where we are finally at a place, at a point, where we can pass a pathway to citizenship.” Legislation pending in Congress would extend opportunity to DACA recipients, holders of Temporary Protective Status, and certain categories of immigrants deemed to be “essential workers.” That means it doesn’t cover all 11 million undocumented people, “but it does cover 7 million undocumented people, 7 million loved ones, 7 million children, parents, uncles, aunts , brothers, sisters, who are looking, seeking a bridge from where they are to where they can be, want to and should be,” said Kindeke, a program coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee. “Let’s get it done.”

What’s lacking is political will, Kindeke said. And that’s the purpose of the Solidarity Walk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking is part of many religious traditions, explained Asma Elhuni, who led chants and songs as the marchers headed east on Route 4 through Epsom and Northwood. Walking is “a sign that we are here, we are visible, and we stand for those who are oppressed,” she explained.

After the morning prayer vigil, led by the Rev. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHeidi Carrington Heath of the NH Council of Churches, the group circled the block around the Norris Cotton Federal Building seven times in a walking allusion to the Biblical story of the battle of Jericho. Instead of the building’s actual walls coming down, she explained, their prayers were intended to bring down the walls of injustice. After more prayers and songs, the group caravanned to the Epsom Public Library, where members of the Epsom Democrats had prepared lunch under a set of pop-up tents.

There, GSOP’s Chris Potter led a short workshop on the use of Twitter. In the midst of a short downpour, he explained how to use the social media tool to amplify messages about immigrant justice and reach members of Congress. “It’s a way we can put pressure on our public officials, to raise the salience of an issue, to put on some heat.”

Afterward, the group began its walk to the Northwood Congregational Church, six miles away.

Making a pitstop along the route, Marsha Feder of Hollis and Sheila Grace of Manchester heard from a restaurant worker who disagreed with the marchers’ views about immigrants. “We’re letting thousands of them in at the border and airplanes are taking them to the center of the country, according to Fox News,” the worker told them. It was a view that marked a sharp contrast with recent images of Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping Haitians and sending them back to Haiti.

“Having listened to what she thinks of immigration, I now know why I’m walking,” Grace said.

The Solidarity Walk resumes Friday with a march from Northwood to the Lee Traffic Circle and an evening program at the Durham Community Church. It concludes Saturday with a walk from Madbury to the Strafford County House of Corrections and a program hosted by the Maranatha United Church of Christ.

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Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21When Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan return to Washington this week, they’ll have a message from 27 New Hampshire groups: get rid of the filibuster if that’s what it takes to pass legislation strengthening the right to vote and limiting the influence of big money.

At issue is the For the People Act, a sweeping political reform package already passed by the House with support from New Hampshire Representatives Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster. Senators Shaheen and Hassan are already co-sponsors of the bill, but that’s not good enough for the Granite State For the People Act Coalition, which held a news conference Monday in Manchester’s mill district.Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21

The legislation would expand access to the ballot through mechanisms such as online registration, same-day registration, early voting, and easier access to absentee ballots. “No matter what your age, your zip code, or the color of your skin, you should have the freedom to vote and to have that vote matter,” said Liz Tentarelli of the League of Women Voters, who served as emcee.

Surrounded by about 50 activists by the statue of “Millie the Mill Girl,” Rep. Pappas alluded to Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21policies adopted recently in New Hampshire that made it easier for voters to get absentee ballots due to Covid-19, and observed, “It shouldn’t take a pandemic or a blizzard on town meeting day to realize that we should be making voting easier and not harder.”

The For the People Act would also end partisan gerrymandering and reduce the influence of big money in the electoral system among other reforms. With its companion bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, it would restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which have been undermined by the Supreme Court.

Speakers ticked off plenty of reasons why they believe the legislation is necessary and timely, starting with what Grace Kindeke of the American Friends Service Committee called, “an onslaught of efforts to create new vVoting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21oting and election administration laws and practices designed to reverse our democratic process, suppress the vote, and erode democracy itself.”

Unfortunately for the advocates, Senate rules allow a minority of members to block legislation.

Under what is called the “filibuster,” bills lacking support from at least sixty of the one hundred Senators can be kept from the Senate floor. With the chamber deadlocked 50-50 and ties overturned Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21only with the vote of the Vice President, a unified party caucus can stymie just about any legislation. With the Senate going back into session, it’s the potential of a filibuster by Republican Senators that’s holding up passage of the voting reform bill. The coalition believes Senators Shaheen and Hassan have more power than they’ve been exercising.

“We want to make sure our congressional delegation knows the people of New Hampshire stand behind them and encourage them to be the Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21champions that we know they can be on these issues,” said Zandra Rice-Hawkins of Granite State Progress.

Olivia Zink of Open Democracy Action was more specific. “What we need for them to do is put pressure on [Majority Leader] Schumer and members of their party and also members of the Republican party.” As for the filibuster, “It’s an undemocratic institution,” she said.

Our Senators are pretty good at working across the aisle,” observed Tentarelli.

John O’Neil, New Hampshire organizer for Common Cause, said his group appreciates the support of New Hampshire’s senators for the reform bills, but says now his group is asking them “to make a clear statement on fixing, reforming, or otherwise modifying the filibuster to get the bill passed.” It’s “the final step we’re up against,” he added.

Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21At stake is not just the rules for democratic governance, but specific policy matters. For Katie Lessard, a Bow High School student active on climate issues with 350NH, it’s political corruption tied to campaign finance that’s holding up action to reduce use of fossil fuels. Glenn Brackett, president of the NH AFL-CIO, said the filibuster is in the way of Voting Rights Press Conf 9-13-21the PRO Act, which he called “the most sweeping pro-worker legislation in decades.” Protection of women’s reproductive rights, too, are in the balance, according to Rice-Hawkins.

“I continue to urge my colleagues, Senator Hassan and Senator Shaheen, and others in the Senate, to pass these bills,” Rep. Pappas said.

Tentarelli is expecting Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia to propose an amended version of the bill. “Its name may change but not its intent,” she said.

“We need to ensure that we have a fair redistricting process ahead of the 2022 election,” says Olivia Zink. “We need to end the influence of money in politics. We need urgent action now.”

 

Ronelle Tsheila: “Attacks on voting rights aren’t slowing down.”