Daniel Berrigan, Presente


Some stood up once         and sat down.
Some walked a mile          and walked away.
Some stood up twice        then sat down.
I’ve had it, they said

Some walked two miles         then walked away.
It’s too much, they cried

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools
They were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked
They walked the earth
They walked the waters
They walked the air.

Why do you stand             they were asked, and
Why do you walk?

Because of the children, they said, and
Because of the heart, and
Because of the bread.
The cause
Is the heart’s beat
And the children born
And the risen bread.

-Daniel Berrigan

Father Daniel Berrigan died on April 30, the same day that my mother was born. Dan was born in 1921, my mother was born in 1920.

April 30th is also the day that I was indicted in 1971 by the federal government on the charge of “conspiracy,” conspiracy to destroy draft files (true) and kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up heating tunnels under Washington, DC (not true, as a Harrisburg, Pa. jury in 1972 agreed). Dan was included in the indictment as an unindicted co-conspirator.

I was serving an 18 month prison term for a nonviolent raid in September 1970 on a federal building in Rochester, N.Y. at the time of the Harrisburg indictment. About a month or so later I was transferred to the federal prison in Danbury, Ct., where Dan and his brother Phil were serving time for being part of an action in May, 1968 where homemade napalm was poured on 1-A (eligible to be drafted) files in Catonsville, Md. Phil had been indicted on April 30th also, and I was transferred from Ashland to Danbury so I could help prepare for trial, taking part in weekly meetings of the other defendants and some of the lawyers inside a Danbury prison meeting room.

I had interacted with Dan before my legal travails. I had visited him at Cornell University in the early part of 1970, and after he went underground later that year I was brought in to help pull off his public sermon in August at a Methodist church in Germantown, Pa.

The next time I saw him was in November of that year. I was on trial for the Rochester action with seven others, and we were able to bring him to testify as a character witness for one of my co-defendants who had been a student of Dan’s at Cornell. The front page headline in the local daily newspaper the next day, accurately reflecting the highlight of his testimony, was something like, “Sermon on the Mount Introduced by Priest at Draft Board Raid Trial.”

When I think of Dan and the months I spent with him in Danbury, I most remember interacting with him outside on the yard, him sitting on the grass next to his prison dorm, reading until people started coming by to talk. I don’t remember him ever turning me or anyone else away who wanted to get his thoughts on something, or just spend time together drawing strength from who he was and what he stood for.

My last major interaction with Dan took place after he had been released from prison in the spring of 1972. It was a very intense time. The air war in Indochina had been intensified; the United States was bombing North Vietnam heavily, setting thousands of mines in the harbors of its coastal cities, and there was open talk of the US bombing North Vietnamese dikes or even using nuclear weapons. And the Democratic Presidential candidate, George McGovern, a peace candidate, was very far down in the polls. What could be done to stop this war?

Dan had an idea. He invited a small group of us to his apartment in New York City to discuss the feasibility of a very long, open-ended, water-only fast.

This fast happened. 14 people began it in NYC in the summer of 1972 at NY Theological Seminary. Seven ended up staying on it for 40 days, when we decided to end it.

The next year I began drifting away, and then consciously leaving, the network of religiously-based activists, Dan included, which continued to take action at war and nuclear weapons sites for years to come. Dan was not a primary leader of that action network; his brother Phil was. Dan was much more the poet, the visionary, the writer, which he continued to do for many years. He wrote 50 books in total. But as late as 2006, at the age of 84, he was arrested for blocking the entrance to the Intrepid air force carrier naval museum in Manhattan.

I saw Dan infrequently over those years. The last time was in December of 2013 at a memorial service for Fr. Paul Mayer, a close personal friend of both Dan and myself. I remember him getting up from within the crowd of hundreds to walk to the front to speak. He was not steady on his feet as he moved to the front, and when he spoke it was difficult to hear his faint voice despite the sound system. But his presence and what we could hear moved all of us to give him a standing ovation as he finished and walked back to his seat.

Just a few months ago I made an effort to connect with Dan. I had begun doing research on a book I intend to write about the draft resistance and anti-war movement in the period from 1968-1973. The main focus of the book will be on the development of the “Catholic Left,” also known as the “ultra resistance,” begun by Dan, Phil and the others at Catonsville. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet with Dan.

Without question, Phil and Dan Berrigan were two people who took seriously the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, which included a willingness to put themselves at personal risk on behalf of the least of these. They were an inspiration to me and many other young people in the 60’s and early 70’s, and to many more for decades after then, two brothers who were eloquent witnesses from within the Catholic Church on behalf of truth, peace and justice.

They took action “because of the children, and because of the heart, and because of the bread, because the cause is the heart’s beat and the children born and the risen bread.”

Ted Glick’s primary work since 2004 has been as part of the climate movement. He is a co-founder of the group, Beyond Extreme Energy. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.