Living with Dan Berrigan II
“All charges dismissed,” said the judge this past June 1st, when Dan Berrigan and his co-defendants appeared in a Manhattan court to respond to charges of disorderly conduct on Good Friday. The charges stemmed from Dan’s and others with him (a dozen in all) attempting to dissuade tourists from going on board the Intrepid, an aircraft carried moored in the Hudson River. The Intrepid is now a floating museum, called in somewhat grandiose fashion, the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum. But for peace activists, it exists as a symbol of war’s destructiveness. Dan gave us a lively account of the court’s proceedings when he returned in good spirits later that June 1st day to our Jesuit community on Thompson Street in Lower Manhattan.
What did the group of a dozen actually do to incur their disorderly conduct charges? Dan explained that he and those with him simply took turns reading out the names of Iraqi civilians who had been killed during the war in Iraq--not just adults, but women and children too. As each name was read, one of the group would put down on the ground of the Intrepid’s entry way a footprint-shaped piece of paper with the name. Dan commented on how respectful the tourists were in trying to avoid stepping on the “footprints.” It was Passover, and a number of the tourists were, he believed, Jewish. Dan said that the police themselves treated those charged, both at the Intrepid and in the courtroom, respectfully. Most were up in years, like Dan.
The day of the trial, the defendants had to wait until noon before their names were called. Dan’s was first. The judge read it out loud, and Dan, now 89, slowly made his way forward in the courtroom. “Are you the famous one?” the judge asked, meaning, are you the real Dan Berrigan? When Dan replied with “A reasonable facsimile“, the judge--to the surprise of all--said that he himself was a Berrigan supporter during the Vietnam War, to which he too had been totally opposed. The judge then proceeded to call out the names of the accused, dismissing the charges of each one by one.
At the end of the proceedings, a lieutenant “in full regalia,” as Dan put it, asked to be in a photo of Dan and the co-defendants. “One of the guards also wanted to be in the picture,” Dan observed, “but he couldn’t because he said it was against the rules.” The same was true of the judge and two lawyers in the court representing people in unrelated cases. So the remarkable life of Dan Berrigan continues, his anti-war fires still burning brightly. There is good reason to expect that on Good Friday, 2011, Dan–90 years old by then--will again stand with a group of non-violent peace activists near the entryway of the Intrepid, awaiting arrest on the same charges of disorderly conduct.
George Anderson, S.J.