Martha Hennessy, a granddaughter of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, was sentenced Friday (Nov. 13) to 10 months in prison for breaking into Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia two years ago to protest its stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Hennessy’s was the lightest sentence given for the break-in at the Navy base 40 miles south of Brunswick, Georgia, on April 4, 2018, in which Hennessy, 65, was joined by six other Catholic pacifists. Together they are known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, named after the Plowshares anti-war movement founded 40 years ago by Daniel and Philip Berrigan, both Jesuit priests, and six others.
· On behalf of Martha Hennessy (and the KBP7 defendants), Mary Yelenick delivered her character witness statement, truth to power, before Judge Wood and our governments prosecutors in our Federal Court yesterday. Her delivery and composure was as eloquent, true, clear, and as firm as humanely possible. The deepest gratitude for such inspriation as we all move toward nuclear weapon abolition nowStatement for Martha Hennessy @ KBP7 Sentencing, November 13, 2020, Brunswick, Georgia: Statement by Character Witness Mary T. YelenickGood afternoon, Your Honor.My name is Mary Yelenick. I am a member of the Bar, and practiced law for nearly 40 years — first as a judicial law clerk, and later as a law firm litigation partner. I am presently the NGO Main Representative at the United Nations for Pax Christi International, a global Catholic movement for peace and nonviolence. I am offering this sentencing statement on behalf of Martha Hennessy: a woman whom I respect greatly — and who I believe is an example of the kind of person we need more of, if we as a human race are to survive. Most of us are paralyzed by fear, or feel powerless to act, in the face of the very real threat of global extinction by nuclear weapons. The scope and specter of this cataclysm looming over the heads of each one of us assembled here today has rendered most of us mute.Yet there are, thank God, truth-tellers among us, who are not afraid to speak, and to act. Martha Hennessy is one of those brave, selfless, clear-eyed people. She understands, as Pope Francis continues to warn, and which Ronald Reagan emphasized in his 1984 State of the Union Address, that “a nuclear war can never be won.” Martha Hennessy knows that as long as we remain silent about that basic truth, we – all of us – risk extinction. As a farmer in Vermont, Martha Hennessy cares for the Earth, and for its inhabitants. She cherishes, fosters, and preserves, life. She recognizes the soil, and plant and animal life, as being integral to the health and well-being of the whole. She understands the inter-connectedness of all organisms, of all life. And she understands that our actions – both as individuals, and as nations – have consequences for all generations, and for all beings, on the planet.Martha Hennessy has consistently demonstrated – through her life, her actions, and her choices – her deep commitment to peace, and to life. She has sacrificed her own personal comfort to safeguard the futures of everyone – including all of us participating in this proceeding today.Her life is rooted in her strong faith, and in her biological and spiritual heritage. Martha grew up in the presence of her remarkable grandmother, Dorothy Day – a woman who has been nominated for sainthood in the Catholic Church. So you might say that recognizing, and speaking, unpopular truths is in Martha’s blood.Martha has devoted years of her life working, as her grandmother did, among the poor, the hungry, and the homeless – at the Catholic Worker house in New York City. But she not only attends to the needs of the poor, but also to the souls and consciences of the comfortable. Over the years, I have attended numerous public presentations by Martha – including to civic groups, large church congregations, and at the United Nations – in which Martha enlightened and challenged all of us on issues of peace and nonviolence – and reminded us of our obligations to each other.Martha is a deep thinker. I am sure that this Court has observed that Martha is exceedingly thoughtful, always pausing to collect her thoughts before speaking. She speaks respectfully, carefully, and in a quiet voice. She is patient. She tries, always, to listen to, and understand, others’ points of view. She models respect for others. Martha’s writings are filled with references to spiritual teachings about what we owe each other, and what is expected of us if we are not only to honor our Creator – but also the sanctity of creation itself. Martha’s goal, and her lifetime, demonstrable personal commitment, is to nurture, to protect, and to preserve that creation.Martha Hennessy’s lifetime fidelity to a life of peace and nonviolence has been manifested in many, many ways, over the years. Several years ago, I spent long days with Martha, and others, in a seven-day fast and vigil near the Isaiah wall across from the United Nations complex in New York – in the plaza that bears the injunction from the Book of Isaiah that we must “turn our swords into plowshares.” For a full week, Martha fasted; walked quietly in procession, holding up signs and pictures of the haunting faces of starving, emaciated children; spoke and listened carefully to passersby; and prayed publicly and peacefully for an end to the cruel slaughter of children in Yemen.Martha also traveled to the Korean peninsula a few years ago, as part of the effort to support the peaceful reunification of people in the South with their families and countrypeople in the North – a division that resulted, as has so much suffering in the world, from global power struggles in which our own country wields its nuclear arsenal as a threat.Martha derives her conviction from principles of the Christian faith, in which God sacrificed his own body, and shed his own blood.“Do this,” Jesus directed, “in memory of me.” And Martha did. In a deeply symbolic, sacramental action, blood was spilled at the Kings Bay nuclear-weapons naval facility in the hope that the sight of that blood would be a wake-up call, and a stark reminder, of the blood that once coursed through the veins of the hundreds of thousands of moms, dads, and children killed (and still being harmed through irradiation damage) by our nation’s nuclear weapons in Hiroshima, and in Nagasaki, and in the course of our nation’s nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands and elsewhere in the South Pacific. That spilling of blood is also a reminder of the certainty – far greater than any “risk of death” – that blood will gush from the bodies of billions more – human blood; animal blood; the life force of the earth itself – if nuclear weapons are not eliminated.And in keeping with her Christian faith, and her knowledge of the horrific consequences of nuclear weapons, Martha has not only spilled blood, but is now offering for others her very body, in sacrifice: exchanging her own freedom in an effort to save the lives of others.Two final thoughts, Your Honor: As an attorney with decades of experience practicing law, I recognize that adherence to “law” provides predictability and stability, in a society. But I also recognize that, over the course of our history, a number of things that we now recognize as vile, and deeply immoral – such as, in our nation’s history, the enslavement of human beings – were once deemed “legal.” So, too, nuclear weapons – which have incinerated newborn babies (and their young mothers, clutching them as they ran); vaporized elderly people as they stumbled in panic; and pulverized screaming schoolchildren into blackened, pulsating blobs of burned skin – are deemed “legal” in this country. But the global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – under which nuclear weapons will formally, on January 22 , be deemed illegal under international law – makes clear the condemnation by the world of the diabolical weapons of mass destruction that glide ominously through the waters of Kings Bay.None of us – in this courtroom, this county, this nation, this small, closely-connected planet – can escape the necessary consequences of what is happening in Brunswick. “Sentencing guidelines” cannot help us evade our own moral responsibility. Those guidelines could not have, and do not, contemplate this time of global pandemic – when consigning Martha Hennessy to prison presents a very real risk of being a death sentence. Does that stark parallel to the biblical narrative trouble our consciences? Martha Hennessy has accepted – and exercised – her own moral responsibility, trying to protect all of us from mass death. It is WE who have ignored, and abdicated that moral responsibility – still refusing to admit (including to the trusting Brunswick jury (who did ask the question, receiving no real answer) that yes, there DOES reside, in Brunswick, a nuclear arsenal capable of ending all life on earth.It is only a question of when – not whether – that nuclear arsenal will be used: intentionally, or by accident or mistake, or through cyber-sabotage, or theft.And when that happens:The final questions that dying children everywhere – not only here in Brunswick, but all across the planet – will be asking their parents – as they and their parents scream in agony, consumed by raging fire; or withering away from radiation; or inexorably reduced to skeletal remains from global starvation, with nuclear dust clouds blocking the sun’s rays – is “why didn’t somebody stop this, while we still had a chance to stop it?”And the response – the final agonized whispers of parents dying horrific deaths in Brunswick, Georgia, and all across the globe – the last human sounds before the extinction of all life on this small, fragile, beloved planet – will be: “Some people DID try to stop this. But we prosecuted them. And we locked them away.” M.T.Yelenick