Twenty-two climate and anti-war campaigners were arrested in the small town of Bath, Maine on Saturday as they held a direct action calling for conversion of the United State’s major weapons manufacturing facilities into places where the urgently needed economic and renewable energy transition can be realized.
“We are calling on Bath Iron Works to shift its industrial power from the production of warships to sustainable energy systems that might stem climate disruption rather than contribute to it.”
—Dud Hendrick, Navy veteran and activist
The protest took place outside the General Dynamics-owned Bath Iron Works (BIW) where some of the U.S. Navy’s most advanced and lethal warships are built. The group blocked traffic near the shipyard as buses carried guests to a ceremonial “christening” of a new Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.
Holding signs that read, “Tell Congress: Fund Climate Solutions, Not Endless War” and “Bring Our War Dollars Home,” supporters of the action stood on sidewalks nearby as those who risked arrest were taken into custody by local police.
The protest in Bath was a much smaller direct action than what the world also witnessed on Saturday—when thousands of people from across Europe mobilized in Germany to shut down that nation’s coal industry, storming an open-pit and occupying railway tracks to a major power station—but the message was quite the same: a call for drastic and immediate action to end the world’s reliance on fossil fuels in order to build a more sustainable and peaceful world.
According to the group, nine of the 22 arrested declined bail, asked to be released on their own recognizance, but were denied the request. As of Saturday evening they were still being held at a nearby jail, pending a possible hearing court hearing on Monday. The names of those nine, the group said, were Jim Freeman, Sadie Fulton, Bruce Gagnon, Ken Jones, Natasha Mayers, George Ostensen, Dixie Searway, Mary Beth Sullivan, and Russell Wray. The 13 others who were charged and released on bail pending arraignment in August were: Ashley Bahlkow, Dan Ellis, Ridgeley Fuller, Sophia Fuller, Dud Hendrick, Cynthia Howard, Damon Howard, Connie Jenkins, Richard Lethem, Mark Roman, Lisa Savage, Robert Shetterly, and Will Thomas.
“We engaged in civil resistance to underscore our conversion demand. BIW should be helping to solve the climate crisis, not building weapons that make the problem worse,” said activist Mark Roman, one of those arrested.
The U.S. Navy destroyer which was being celebrated on Saturday, according to the Portland Press Herald, is 510 feet long and “can easily top 30 knots while simultaneously waging war with enemy ships, submarines, missiles and aircraft.” The newspaper reports that the warship’s “combat system uses powerful computers and a phased-array radar to track more than 100 targets” and is “also equipped with ballistic missile defense capability.”
For the protesters, it is not that the highly-skilled labor force at BIW should not have the high-quality jobs that building weapons for the U.S. military provides, but that the U.S. government spending what it does on war and destruction is misguided and wrong when the planet desperately needs a rapid transition to renewable energy and immediate respite from endless armed conflict.
Not only is the Pentagon’s war machine the largest single emitter of carbon pollution on Earth, the protesters note, but the U.S. wars that have been waged over recent decades have everything to do with a world too dependent on the dirty energy sources buried beneath the ground.
As part of an ongoing “Conversion” campaign in Maine—coordinated by a number of like-minded groups from around the state—the coalition held a press conference on Friday ahead of Saturday’s direct action to explain the basis of their vision and why they insist places like BIW need not be a source of the problem, but an essential part of the solution instead.
Dud Hendrick, a U.S. Navy veteran and one of those arrested, explained in a recent Common Dreams op-ed that those behind the behind the effort “are calling on Bath Iron Works to shift its industrial power from the production of warships to sustainable energy systems that might stem climate disruption rather than contribute to it.”
Having worked closely with the union workers at BIW for a long time, even as an outspoken critic of war and U.S. empire, local Bath resident Bruce Gagnon—also among those arrested Saturday—said at the press conference that many of the workers themselves “are quite open” to the demands to convert the shipyard to peaceful purposes. “We’d rather build something else,” Gagnon said, paraphrasing what many BIW workers have told him over recent years. “We’d rather build something we’re proud of. We don’t feel so great.”
Also speaking at the press conference was Dr. Jill Stein, who ran for president on the Green Party ticket in 2016. Stein characterized workers in the weapons industry as “victims of an economy that forces us into militarization.”
Putting the call for conversion into the context of the Green New Deal, Stein said the demand for a rapid transition should be seen as revolutionary. “It’s a revoution,” she said, “for our economy, for our climate, and it makes the wars for oil obsolete.”
Watch the full press conference: