Nonviolent seminar prepares activists

Josh Linehan

Activists, poets, historians and educators gathered in St. Paul last weekend for a seminar on nonviolent protest and civil disobedience sponsored by the Minnesota Institute for Social Transformation.
After three days of readings, concerts and panel discussions, the seminar will culminate Monday morning with a protest at Alliant Techsystems in Hopkins.
Activists will attempt to block all entrances to the Alliant building Monday morning, protesting the company’s production of weapons and weapon-related systems.
Fifty-seven demonstrators protesting Alliant’s manufacture of land mines were arrested in May for trespassing. All charges were dropped, but seminar participants said they fully expected to be arrested again Monday morning.
“Hopefully, a lot of people will get arrested,” said activist Donna Howard-Hastings. “I’m not out there to get arrested; I’m there to block a doorway. But if I am arrested, that is a consequence of my belief.”
Alliant Techsystems no longer manufactures land mines, although it has yet to guarantee that it will not do so in the future. The company is one of the nation’s largest munitions producers.
Products manufactured at the plant include gunpowder, smart bombs, rocket-propulsion systems, tank ammunition and rocket-propulsion components for missiles. Seventy percent of the company’s sales are to the United States government and its contractors.
Protests of large munitions manufacturers are a long-standing Twin Cities tradition.
Marv Davidov, a featured seminar speaker, helped begin the Honeywell Project in Minneapolis in the 1960s, drawing national media attention for its protests of Honeywell. The company manufactured cluster bombs used in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
In 1991, the project changed its name to the Minnesota Institute for Social Transformation.
Davidov went on to become the organization’s director, planning biannual protests at Alliant Techsystems. The organization also holds a weekly Wednesday morning vigil in front of the plant.
Davidov said he was not frustrated by the lack of progress after 31 years of protesting arms production.
“There have been changes,” Davidov said. “It’s important to pay attention to moral, political and spiritual actions. Results will come.”
Davidov stressed personal activism as a small part of a larger picture, citing the Honeywell Project and its work toward ending the Vietnam Conflict.
“We helped to contribute to a worldwide effort, and we ended that war,” Davidov said. “That’s an enormous accomplishment on an international level, but it also helped our own community.”
Though demonstrators plan to block plant entrances and keep workers from their jobs, Davidov said he does not wish to see antagonism between protesters and Alliant’s 6,110 employees.
“We’re struggling for a peace conversion of the facility with no loss of jobs,” Davidov said. “Wouldn’t it be beautiful if these workers could make goods and services that made positive changes on lives instead of products that steal them?”
Davidov also announced plans during the seminar to resign as the organization’s director but said he would not stop his attempt to end the production of weapons of mass destruction.
“We are going to keep going,” Davidov said. “The people in Hopkins say it doesn’t matter what they throw at us, because we keep coming back. That’s a compliment.”
The last part of the conference will be dedicated to a nonviolence pledge for Monday’s protest and role-playing activities designed to simulate arrest situations.
Howard-Hastings, an activist with the Laurentian Shield Resources for Non-Violence, said facilitating nonviolent protest training helps demonstrators focus on larger issues.
“The object of the training is to get these people to commit to nonviolence in their hearts,” Howard-Hastings said. “We’re also going to stress the effectiveness of nonviolence. What we’re doing does work.”
Role-playing games with protesters assuming the roles of police, security and Alliant workers will teach demonstrators how to react to possible situations, Howard-Hastings said.
“A lot of people have been there before, but some of these people are new to direct action. We want them to choose their behavior now so they don’t have to in the morning,” she said.

Josh Linehan covers science and technology and welcomes comments at [email protected]