Grady Family Tradition Stands Firm in Non-Violent Activism
The red of blood blends with the red of the stripes in the American flag.
The sound of the steel of a Trident submarine clashes with the sound of hammers as they smash into its indomitable shell.
Clare Grady looks back on the day she poured four ounces of her own blood in the entrance of Ithaca’s army recruitment center on St. Patrick’s Day, 2003, and she offers an explanation: with actions like these, she hopes to express something deeper, something to dwell in the hearts and minds of others.
Her younger sister, Ellen Grady, took a household hammer to the USS Georgia, a Trident submarine assembled in Groton, Connecticut. alongside her brother, John Grady, and husband, Peter DeMott, to carry out her form of truth-telling. This was in 1982.
“Symbolic action says, ‘here’s the truth and the love in this act, and you take it where you want,’” Clare said. “We are not trying to dominate or use force on anyone to do what we think they should do – we are doing what we think we should do.”
Nonviolent activism stands at the core of the Grady family. John Peter Grady, a Catholic, first generation Irish-American, acted as the leader of what is now called the Camden 28. Grady, along with 27 other participants, attempted a raid of a draft board on August 22, 1971 in Camden, New Jersey.
By searching the office for important draft records and either removing or destroying them, the group symbolized their opposition to war. The majority of the 28 participants, including Grady, were members of the Catholic Worker Movement — a nonviolent, faith-based organization founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.
John later met his wife, Teresa, and together they had five children; Mary Anne, Clare, John, Ellen and Teresa. The five were all raised in an environment which embraced the traditions of the Catholic Workers.
“Both of [my parents] came from a very strong Catholic background which said our faith was something that we live out on a daily basis; it’s about love and it’s about justice and it’s about taking care of your neighbor,” Ellen said. “My mother was always saying, ‘if people just knew, we could change the world.”
The legacy of John and Teresa followed into the next generation through their peace work, and Ellen said the support of the family helped in each of their resistent endevors.
“At certain points in all of our lives, we’ve been active in resistance,” Ellen. “If you haven’t been able to be that person on the line, we know there’s that line of support there behind us. It’s either support of or being the person who is the most active.”
The family now focuses their support on the oldest sibling, Mary Anne, who is serving a six-month sentence for her involvement at the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base. The Hancock Air Base is a U.S. Air Force base which functions as a New York location for remote controlled drones. It has been a significant location of protests against drone wars and drone terrorism as a use to secure U.S. foreign interests. Her sentence began on Jan. 19, on grounds of breaking an order of protection she obtained in 2012.
The New York State court system classifies an order of protection as a precaution “issued by the court to limit the behavior of someone who harms or threatens to harm another person.” They are primarily seen in cases of domestic violence. Mary Anne recieved this OOP in 2012 as a result of civil disobedience for protesting drone action at Hancock Air Base. While photographing another protest in 2013 from where she understood as beyond the boundary of the base, Mary Anne was arrested for violating her OOP.
According to Ellen, Mary Anne is expected to be released on Mother’s Day, 2016.
Jim Murphy, a Vietnam War veteran and activist, recalls the unjust arrest of Mary Anne.
“She was sent to jail by a small town judge, unfairly, from crossing an undefined line that she didn’t want to step over,” Murphy said. “Nobody there thought she had violated this OOP except Afor this colonel who couldn’t pick her out in the courtroom.”
Mary Anne wrote in a public letter, released on Feb. 11, that the resistance “was to protest the ongoing 24-7 drone assassinations initiated by drone operators at Hancock as part of the Obama administration’s ‘kill chain.’” She added that since 2010, there have been 172 arrests and over 1,000 people have protested at the Hancock Air Base.
Fred Wilcox, a writer and peace activist who has known the Grady family for over 30 years, explains the power behind peaceful resistance demonstrations, such as Mary Anne’s.
“The fact that she’s in prison, simply because she stepped over a line in the road — that should frighten people,” he said. “She’s harmless to anybody; except those people who want to perpetuate war. In that way, Mary Anne is a very dangerous person because she’s a witness.”
A silenced voice is not an option for the Grady family, who dedicate their lives to physically living out their beliefs in non-violence. This lifestyle lies within an ideology which operates outside the norm today, where Clare admits actions like pouring blood on an American flag can easily be misconstrued as “creepy” or “wild”.
“It’s having a respect for the other human being; seeing the humanity with the other human being,” Ellen said as she describes what it’s like to live out her ideologies. She quotes her late husband Peter, sharing his sentiment about living in a world dictated by violence.
“As Peter used to say, ‘I’m striving to be non-violent; I’m not there yet — I have so much of this culture of violence inside me. I’m not going to ever pretend that it’s not there, but I’m striving to live with that consciousness,’” Ellen said as she recalls her husband’s words.
Clare’s action as part of the The St. Patrick’s Day 4 on March 17, 2003 happened after she travelled to Iraq in 2002 and talked to Iraqi civilians about what had been going on. She said her motivation was to voice her opposition against the looming potential of invasion, taking action after various attempts to lobby, organize and educate people on how to show their objection to U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“We were trying to resist what was happening — the genocide — in Iraq as a consequence of U.S. invasion, U.S. bombardment and the deconstruction of the civilian infrastructure,” she said. “All of that was targeted in Desert Storm, and all of those are war crimes of the highest degree. We (the U.S.) did that with full knowledge ahead of time — there are plenty of military documents which states reports to the CIA about waterboarding, diseases, the death of children, the elderly and the sick.”
After walking into the Ithaca Recruitment Center, Clare said she realized nowhere in the shining, promising entrance of the center was the blood which had been spilled over the anticipated war. She and three other members of the Catholic Worker Movement decided that this was an action which spoke to them, and would hopefully speak to others. They each went with four ounces of blood — 16 ounces altogether.
“It spoke to us as a way of truth-telling way,” she explained. “When you pour your blood — not in a creepy, wild way, and not in a hurtful way — but with a lot of reverence and a lot of respect and in a very prayerful way, that’s a symbol of the truth.”
For the Gradys, arrest or prison often comes as a result of their conviction. For many, prison is a system which stands as a defeating consequence of unacceptable actions — a system which might deter many people from the kind of actions the Grady family has a part in. But prison is not a system which discourages the Grady family from living out their beliefs.
“It is really helpful in my Catholic tradition and my spiritual journey to understand that it’s not about flesh and blood, this is about systems and power,” Clare said. “At some point it is helpful to have the veil come down. And sometimes it’s painful and sad and tragic and brutal, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s better to get to that truthful state than to be in denial.”
Wilcox, an activist who has experienced the more violent side of protesting, recalls a demonstration he took part in 1971 in Washington D.C., where participants intended to close the city down to show opposition toward the Vietnam War. He recalls the violence promoted by the police such as ramming people with cars, and using tear gas against protesters. Wilcox was left on the street with a shattered kneecap.
“It’s quite rewarding,” he said. “It’s frightening — the police can be quite frightening. Once you do it enough, and go with people you trust, it’s not as frightening as people might think. I think I’ve developed a certain calmness when I do this because I know it’s right.”
Murphy shared a similar sentiment in finding hope within the violence of systems, despite fighting against causes where results were not always seen immediately, if at all.
“Hope comes from knowing that even if you don’t have a lot of concrete success is that you know the world might be better if you do it,” he said. “The Gradys don’t compromise their values — if I were to describe the Gradys in one word, it would be integrity. I wish I was big enough to be them.”
Between overnight arrests and longer periods of incarceration from Connecticut to New York, Ellen has been in facilities ranging from those without heat or nutritious food to minimum security prisons which allow walks outside and glimpses of blue sky. Ellen said her longest prison sentence occurred over a six month stretch, following her arrest at the 1982 Trident demonstration.
“Human beings suffer, that’s one of the conditions we experience in this world,” Ellen said.
“[Prison] is not comfortable, and it’s not a fun place to be — but it’s not the worst place either. I think you get to experience what a lot of the world is experiencing on a regular basis. It helps me as a white privileged human being to realize the privilege that I have and experience what a lot of people go through all the time.”
The family now begins to help transition their mother, Teresa, into hospice care. However, the justice system continues to stand in the way as Mary Anne struggles to gain a compassionate release to visit her mother. The family remains hopeful that the system will allow her this time. Ellen remembers a similar situation when her husband was in prison in the ‘80s, following another Trident demonstration in Groton.
“When Peter was in prison, his brother died while he was there,” she said. “It was a really painful process to try and get him out, and they never let him out — that’s what people experience every day. We get a smattering of it, and we learn a little empathy, but also, as Mary Anne says, we are still alive.”
Prison, Ellen said, isn’t a marker for the end of a journey. Instead, it’s an experience which offers her something more — a form of reflection.
“Part of the violence of the system is thinking that you have to do everything,” Clare said. “Be everything. Or else it’ll all go to hell. It is a paradox that we are all required to do what we can, but ultimately it isn’t resting on each one of us. Each time I take a step, it’s not because I want to do everything — I don’t even understand everything. I’m slowly learning more and more as I go.”
“There’s something about the joy that comes from being liberated from the fear of it all,” Ellen said. “For us to be silent doesn’t have power anymore. And there’s something about that which counts for a lot — and then you go to jail with a little joy.” She adds jokingly, “And you learn some really good card games.”
Alyvia Covert is a senior Journalism major ready to give peace a chance. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.