October 2nd has been declared by the United Nations as “International Day of Nonviolence” in honor of the life and witness of Mohandas Gandhi, the leader of the nonviolent movement that ended British colonial rule in India. For a second consecutive year, AlliantACTION sponsored a march and presence at Alliant Techsystems headquarters in Edina, MN on that date to honor Gandhi’s birthday.
The theme chosen this year to celebrate one of history’s greatest nonviolent activists was “Peace Conversion With No Loss of Jobs”.
AlliantACTION has held a weekly vigil in front of Alliant Techsystems (ATK) headquarters for more than ten years on every Wednesday morning. However, to honor Gandhi and to broaden the circle of protestors beyond the normal group of 20-50 activists, the group added to the weekly presence by gathering on Tuesday, October 3.
In a park near the Edina offices, the group began with a song and reciting a “Commitment to Nonviolence” pledge. A poem was read to the circle and a brief talk informed those gathered about “Why We Focus on Alliant Techsystems”. Besides objecting to “profiting from war and death” and that “ATK sells its weapons all over the world –in more than 60 countries”, specific mention was made to the “illegal and indiscriminate weapons” designed, manufactured, and sold by ATK. Cluster bombs, anti-personnel landmines, and depleted uranium weapons were included in the list.
Almost 100 people marched down Lincoln Drive to arrive at Alliant’s headquarters driveway. There the group again circled to sing, hear quotes from Gandhi, and hear about the history and struggles about “peace conversion” – the “beating of swords into plowshares” where the crowd was encouraged to think of what peaceful and helpful products and services could be performed and sold by companies rather than seeking profits through making weapons. As the group said, “Happy Birthday, Gandhi”, members of the action brought forth dolls, books, a blanket, stuffed animals, toys, and even a huge stuffed “Elmo” Sesame Street character – placing them in a large over-flowing basket. Each person made a statement about their desire for this company to convert from making bombs and bullets and instead make toys, books, wind turbines, or other life-affirming products. As one member placed a stuffed dog in the basket, he said, “Dogs give love unconditionally – that’s what children need –unconditional love, not cluster bombs.” The event organizers announced that all the toys and books collected were to be delivered to the Incarnation House shelter in south Minneapolis later that morning.
After the basket of toys was filled, several members of the group announced their intention to give the balloons they were carrying to ATK security personnel and Edina police officers who had placed themselves across the driveway to prevent the activists from attempting to enter the building. The balloons were offered to them “to give to your kids or grandkids in celebration of Gandhi’s birthday”. They read a brief letter addressed to Alliant personnel stating that they were carrying a notebook entitled “Employee Liabilities of Weapon Manufacturers Under International Law” to give to them as well as asking the company to agree to “peace conversion with no loss of jobs”.
Both the ATK security and the Edina police refused to accept either the offered balloons or the International Law documents before placing the 14 members of the group that ventured up the driveway under arrest for criminal trespass, a petty misdemeanor in Edina. Among those arrested were Tom Bottolene, John and Jeanne Hynes, SuAnn Martinson, Roger Cuthburtson, Don Irish, Sister Betty McKenzie, Greg and Rita Corcoran.
A bright, rainbow-colored kite flew over the gathering with the inscription “PU / DU” in reference to the disgust over the sale of depleted uranium (DU) weapons made by the corporation. Members of the circle clapped and thanked those who had been arrested for their nonviolent convictions and then posed for a photo in front of the corporate logo sign by the driveway entrance. One of the closing songs sung by the group before disbanding was set to the tune of “Home on the Range” and written by one of the weekly vigil circle members. It began,
“Oh, Alliant Tech please,
We ask you to cease,
Making products that cause
Death and pain.
May you ever increase
In products of peace
For folks that will
Keep this world sane…”
Steve Clemens lives in Minneapolis and is a member of the Community of St. Martin. He also serves on the Board of Pax Christi, Twin Cities Area, a Catholic peace group and is a member of AlliantACTION.