Megan Rice has a life-long history of activism. She recently made headlines again when she boldly demonstrated the difference between activists who are involved in a cause from those that are committed to it. Not a trendsetter, Rice has long believed in doing the right thing and she has repeatedly put her safety, and freedom, in jeopardy. This is just a part of her story.
In Nashville, Tennessee, the 84-year-old nun was sentenced to three years in prison for protesting a US nuclear weapons complex. Across the state line in Asheville, North Carolina, about ten veterans are standing on a street corner, waving American flags, chanting and blowing bicycle horns.
At first appearances, it may be that both the nun and veterans are working on the same issue, and maybe they are. But their actions reveal differing levels of commitment to their cause. Many observers point to the disparity of actions as being a good indicator of the underlying level of commitment.
“Holding signs and chanting shows a lukewarm level of commitment,” said one source. “A person content on waving signs basically says they do not believe their cause is inherently important.”
Megan Rice, the 84-year-old nun, and two other activists strongly indicated their level of commitment, as well as their strong belief in their cause, when they penetrated security at one of America’s most secure nuclear facilities.
In July 2012, the three cut through fences before getting to a $548 million bunker that stored nuclear weapons and support material. Hanging banners and stringing crime-scene tape, the three also painted messages such as “The fruit of justice is peace.” The protesters were able to spend almost three hours inside the highly secure area before they were caught and arrested.
When security finally did show up, the guards found the three activists singing. Offering to share a meal with the guards, the protesters also offered to share a Bible and white roses. In testimony at their trial, Rice said she was surprised the group was able to make it all the way to the interior of the secure zone. “That stunned me,” she said.
Some government officials, including several members of Congress, praised the activists for exposing the facility’s weaknesses. Prosecutors pursued felony charges that could have landed the trio in prison for up to 30 years.
Rice, along with Michael Walli, 63, and Gregory Boertje-Obed, 57, sliced through fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge on July 28, 2012. Members of the organization “Transform Now Plowshares,” the trio cited Biblical verses calling for world peace. They also quoted from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as justification for their actions.
One nuclear expert said the trio’s actions were “…the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex.”
Rice was born in an Irish-Catholic family in Manhattan. Her parents were active in the Catholic Worker movement. Dorothy Day was a good friend and frequent visitor in the Rice household.
Educated in Catholic schools, Rice joined the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus when she was 18. Trained as an elementary teacher, she first taught in Mount Vernon, New York. Later, she taught in Nigeria and Ghana from 1962 until 2004.
In the mid-1980s, she became active in the anti-war movement. Arrested more than three dozen times for her activism, Rise has served two six-month prison terms for trespassing. Rice has become so well-known for her activism, that the US Department of Energy commissioned a study of her to help in understanding her anti-nuclear views.
In May 2013, the three were convicted. During her testimony Rice said, “I regret I didn’t do this 70 years ago.”
Some will see the actions of Megan Rice and the others as heroic. They will probably be seen as foolish by activists who are content with standing on the street corner, waving signs and blowing horns.
By Jerry Nelson