A Shift-Change Call to Conversion at Bath Iron Works

Peace Advocate November 2021

Anti-nuclear weapons protest at Bath Iron Works (l to r): Suzanne Hedrick, Maureen Kehoe Ostensen, Mark Roman and Lisa Savage, Mary Beth Sullivan, Cynthia Howard, and Mary Ellen Quinn. Photo: C.R. Spicer/MAPA
Anti-nuclear weapons protest at Bath Iron Works (l to r): Suzanne Hedrick, Maureen Kehoe Ostensen, Mark Roman and Lisa Savage, Mary Beth Sullivan, Cynthia Howard, and Mary Ellen Quinn. Photo: C.R. Spicer/MAPA

In the week of October 2-9, dozens of cities held actions coordinated to mark “Keep Space for Peace Week.” “They (the actions) were about the entire project to move the arms race into space,” according to Bruce Gagnon, a member of Veterans for Peace and Coordinator of Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. As part of the week’s activities, supporters from Mass Peace Action, Veterans for Peace, Pax Christi Maine, Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine, Smilin’ Trees Disarmament Farm and other organizations gathered Saturday, October 9, at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Maine to protest against two new destroyers under construction there. “Our stance is for the good of our soul and for the freedom of our Constitution,” said Cynthia Howard, a retired architect from Biddeford Pool, Maine, originally from Cambridge, MA.

At the BIW gate, the protestors met workers as they fanned out to 1,604 parking spaces spread across 16 parking lots. “The new Zumwalt Class nuclear capable Aegis Destroyer with a projected cost of over $3.3 Billion is a weapon of mass destruction,” read the flyer distributed to workers. Those who had arrived an hour before their shift were the first to peel out. One driver literally spun his wheels at demonstrators. “I’ve never seen that before, said Suzanne Hedrick, 90, holding the sign “War = Climate Chaos.” She recalled the Nuclear Freeze Campaign of 1982 and going on tour with a garage-sized, mock cruise missile. 

 “This land we call home,” explained the flier distributed to one and all, is  “called Turtle Island by the Native Peoples. We believe that by stopping the production of weapons of war, we will be able to find a path to healing all of the damage our militarism has inflicted upon Mother Earth. As you look up, realize that space belongs to all of creation. Protect space wilderness.”

“I support veterans and the BIW workers, but I don’t support making weapons of mass destruction” Samantha Le said. “I am a Vietnamese War refugee. I met many Vietnam War veterans at the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine.” Le continued: “BIW can easily pivot to making trains, windmills, geothermal equipment, but the moral will isn’t there in Jared Golden, Chellie Pingree, Susan Collins, and Angus King.”

 “It’s important to recognize the diversity of those active in the peace movement and the need for faith communities to have a visible presence” said Mary Ellen Quinn, Co-Coordinator of Pax Christi Maine. “The Christian tradition strongly supports the dignity of work. We do not oppose the workers at BIW but call for the conversion of production from nuclear-capable warships to green energy products.”

“Are we building a sustainable future yet?” asked Mary Beth Sullivan, raised in Cambridge, MA, a social worker in Portland, ME. Her colleagues campaign to house 100 homeless in 100 days. The US budget for the development and maintenance of nuclear weapons programs in the next 10 years is approximately $1 trillion, according to the International Peace Bureau (IPB). Conversion of those funds is enough to build 200 billion houses. “

“Many of the younger workers took leaflets,” organizer Maureen Kehoe-Ostensen told other protesters after the action.

“Thirty of us demonstrated last week,” said Jason Rawn, as General Dynamics BIW “Christened” the USS Carl M. Levin DDG12D, an Aegis guided missile destroyer. “That ship may play a part in the Ballistic Missile Defense system” said George Ostensen of Smilin’ Trees Disarmament Farm, whose sign read “Global Crucifixion of Christ Today.” 

“These warships rained hundreds of missiles on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other countries.” Its armaments include “Up to 96x RIM 66 SM-2, BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles, RIM-162 ESSM Quadpack or RUM-139 VL-ASROC missiles,” Ostensen added. “Some of the missiles can carry nuclear as well as conventional warheads, so they are considered a tactical nuclear weapons system.”

Protester at Bath Iron Works. Photo: C.R. Spicer/MAPA
Protester at Bath Iron Works. Photo: C.R. Spicer/MAPA

The interchangeability of the warheads was seized upon for reassurance by some workers. “We do not build nuclear weapons here. Do your research.” said a worker aiming at holders of a large yellow banner announcing the entry into force of the International Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty went into legal force January 22 for the 56 (and counting) ratifying countries. Chile ratified last week. Though none of the nuclear weapons states are yet party to the treaty, it has the effect of outlawing nuclear weapons internationally. The treaty bans the use, threatened use, possession, development, production, testing, deployment, or transfer of nuclear weapons under international law. 

“Weapons of mass destruction are made here,” said Jason, 47, costumed Darth Vader with a sign “AEGIS Interceptor Missiles can be used as Anti-Satellite Weapons.”

 “In 2008, the U.S. shot down one of its own satellites,” Gagnon said, referring to Operation Burnt Frost as a threat-to-use memo to countries like North Korea, China and Russia. “It shows a dual capability, the Aegis Destroyer can both blind the enemy and be part of the shield to intercept a nuclear second-strike.” When asked if shooting down another state’s satellite would count as a first-strike, he said, “I think so.” The threat to use nuclear weapons exists even in a “no first use” policy. Even if the U.S. were to join China and India in adopting such a policy, General Dynamics and their subsidiaries like BIW and Electric Boat in Groton, CT which just laid a new keel on a Columbia class ballistic submarine, are not in compliance with international laws

Refusing a leaflet, a worker said, “If you don’t like this country, leave it.” Friend, only lead us to ‘a world elsewhere’ and I’ll follow.

© C.R. Spicer

— C.R. Spicer is a stay-at-home dad, member of Massachusetts Peace Action, organizer with Witness Against Torture, Somerville Human Rights Commissioner and Pastoral Council Member of the Paulist Center of Boston. For more writing see crspicer.net