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Category Archives: The Sixties

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“It was an army into which no one had to be drafted, it was white and Negro, and of all ages…It was a fighting army, but no one should mistake that its most powerful weapon was love.”   Martin Luther King, Jr “Why We Can’t Wait,” 1963

Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 85 years old yesterday had he not been assassinated in 1968.  Yet he is alive in every one of us who were deeply affected by his voice, his hopeful message and courageous actions to defeat segregation and the oppression of African-Americans.  He changed my life forever, especially once I was able to experience living in the city where he carried on his long and effective bus boycott.

My first teaching assignment in 1963 as a Catholic nun was to a small diocesan school in Montgomery, Alabama.  I traveled there by train, educationally armed with knowledge about social justice, but naive about the lengths to which people with power and privilege would go to protect their interests.  In August, the March on Washington had opened my eyes further.  But the September bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four girls, in the city where I first experienced a segregated train station just two weeks earlier, shook my being.

I was teaching in an all white Catholic high school of 300 students – in a city in which less than one percent of the population was Catholic.  The black Catholic high school -St. Jude’s – had 150 students. What sense did this make?  Wouldn’t it be more economical, more just, more sane to have one Catholic school, combining student populations and resources?  I started an integrated baseball team, urging students from both schools to get to know one another, practice together, talk to resistant parents.  It was a simple effort, but threatening enough that I was transferred the next year, a different person.  I realized that I had grown up in the same racist, segregated system in Missouri, just without the “whites only” signs.  I had changed inside, come to love and understand both my white students and African American students, their fears and their courage.  I would tell their stories, become the voice of Martin and other revolutionary leaders for my students back in Missouri and throughout my teaching career.

In the same year that MLK wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and led the March on Washington, I changed from an ordinary nun into a revolutionary activist.  Martin’s words and actions, along with those of his friend Thich Nhat Hanh, whom he nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1966, slowly but surely led me to the 1969 action in DC against the war in Vietnam.  These next few years will be filled with so many 50th anniversaries of changes in our lives.  Hopefully we will continue the fight for justice, peace and unity, using the powerful weapon of love

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Photo at White House by Messay

Away on retreat on a different Gulf, I missed some of the news of revolution spreading throughout the Persian Gulf and northern Africa. My heart hurts for the people of Libya suffering such vicious violence against them by Qaddafi. He is saying “People who don’t love me don’t deserve to live” and “I rule over you or I will kill you,” promising to make his country a “living hell.” Yet the people rise up, protest, brave the mercenaries firing on unarmed civilians with automatic weapons. Most of the violence in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Libya seems to be coming from the people in power who are desperate to cling to their power and wealth. The level of courageous non-violent protest on the part of the people in areas of the world that have experienced little democracy is truly amazing. The uprisings in the Middle East seem to also be encouraging our own teachers, state workers and union members whose rights are threatened in the U.S. These protests are very encouraging to those of us who dedicated our lives to ending war, poverty and racism in the sixties and seventies.

Non-violent protest takes tremendous courage, resilience, perseverance, hope and love. Satyagraha, Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent action, is far more powerful than any violent regime. He said that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness more manly than punishment. Non-violence is not meant for saints but for common people. It is the conquest of physical might by spiritual strength. I pray that the people of Libya will be able to withstand the violence being carried out upon them by a desperate dictator. One our country has supported for the sake of its oil.

How encouraging, heart nourishing and inspiring are the people who are standing up for their rights, for a life of greater freedom. If they use the right means, the ends will take care of themselves, Gandhi says.

This is true for each one of us in this day. Is there violence or desperation in our hearts? Fear that we might lose what we have or not get something we want? Are we willing to harm someone who is expressing their needs to us or someone who no longer loves us as we wish? Perhaps we need to look first in our hearts for dictators to overthrow. Are our hearts are full of joy, peace and freedom? Are we ready to practice non-violence in speech and action today?

Today I had all morning and all afternoon to work on my book, focusing on Day Two and Day Three of our DC-9 trial. I’m bushed. It was a grueling experience in 1970 and practically wore me out again in the re-writing of it. Judge Pratt had taken a page from the lessons of the Conspiracy Eight trial in Chicago – shut them up, gag them if they try to interrupt with questions. Never let them cross-examine witnesses, even if they fire their lawyers.

I have been fighting a cold too for the last several days. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to use the hours available to me, a clear, phone-interruption free day! What a gift!

I also feel gratitude for the opportunity we had in 1970 to confront the court system, to speak out against war, injustice and corporate murder of innocent people. I can feel the feelings I felt then, over 40 years ago. I suppose that is why I keep writing, to bring alive the scenes, the defiance we exhibited, the fire in our hearts to struggle together for justice and peace.

Now I can rest, rest my cold, rest the work energy, rest the feelings and trust the great spirits of today’s young people to carry on the fight for justice, peace and real rest for all people.

Viva Tunisia!

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream, Obama’s dream is my dream. I couldn’t say it better.
Happy Birthday, Martin.


Where are the other three of the nine, including the two women?

My waking thoughts were about Charlie Meconis’s book With Clumsy Grace: The American Catholic Left 1961-1975. It must have been a doctoral dissertation with all the citations, charts and references to court documents. He interviewed 46 people for the book (including me and other friends), so there are quotes from Joe O’Rourke throughout, also Neil, Phil, Dan, Liz, etc. I read more at the Y yesterday afternoon, then kept it up in the late afternoon and evening at home. So, it was fresh in my mind. Also, I worked on the Chicago jail/court chapter yesterday morning, so most hours of the day were given to my book – either writing or reading the Meconis version of events surrounding the subject of my book.

The Catholic Left was an amazing movement, and much credit for the energy, vision and organization goes to Phil Berrigan. But Meconis also brings out conflicts within the movement over religious motivation vs the humanitarian/political, between the women and men, between increasingly “violent” tactics and the philosophy of non-violence, paranoia and precaution against FBI infiltration.

Memory is so fluid. It seems affected by the present moment, by who I am now. I have elements of my past operating in my present: my nun self that likes schedule, routine, silence and my “wild woman” self that loves my sweet young husband, all my crazy friends and my criminal past. I discovered when I was writing about one important character in the book that I was writing more about the person I know today (compassionate, secure as a leader and teacher, open to exploring his own suffering) than what I really remember about him in 1969. Amazing that we have somehow maintained and worked through the difficulties of a 42 year old relationship!

I know that my particular story, my vision, my memories will contribute to the mosaic that is the tale of the Catholic Left, the broader anti-war movement and the women’s movement of the late sixties, early seventies.

This week I worked four mornings on my book…more editing of Ch 3, “The Journey to Loretto,” readying it to send to a friend at the Motherhouse who figures as a character in this period of my life. After the new Ch 1 (“The Action”), Ch 2 (“DC Women’s Detention”), my co-conspirator Catherine begins asking questions about my life in the convent, how I moved into political action. This segue device allows me to build the themes of religious and social awareness that give the plot meaning. I suppose using only three chapters of “backstory” is better than five. I know there is more work ahead to tighten up the plot, to keep it focused on the action, the “leadup” and consequences, while being true to the internal story of what is happening in my life as the events of the late sixties move me closer and closer to an irrevocable stand against the War in Vietnam.

Ch 4 now includes both the beginning of my civil rights involvement in 1963 and the nuns’ attack on the St. Louis police station in 1968, following the thematic story of my participation in the civil rights movement rather than the chronological one. How do I bring in all the events in Kansas City from 1964-67? Primarily as the other political threads of my development – working to stop poverty and war, in addition to racism? The story of my relationship with David Darst, a major catalyst to my own action in DC?

Novels get to move all over the place. Can I do that successfully in a memoir? Others have – Azar Nafisi for one. I also finished reading another Pulitzer prize winning novel – The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau – that hints at the ending but never gives it away, weaves and builds a story by telling it from the viewpoints of three main characters. She keeps to a basic chronology but also develops the theme by saving key pieces of information for the ending. Good fiction and non-fiction can skillfully weave a story without adhering to a strict chronological line. Next I’ll focus on the relationship with David, my admiration of him as teacher, my own development in “teaching with my life,” his action….leading to mine…..then I’ve sort of covered the main things necessary to moving forward with the rest of the book. It can be refined, edited, but I’m close to having a completely different approach that starts with the central action, develops theme and plays with a different approach to chronology.

It may or may not be the one that editors and publishers prefer, but I will have it to offer as an alternative to strict chronology, a version that focuses on “exciting” actions for our action-oriented audience.

Have you writers out there ever struggled with this question of theme and chronology? I suppose the Zen approach would be that every moment of our lives contains all of human history – past, present and future.

Photo by lambertwm

rutu.r

For the last six mornings, I have worked on my book. I have felt very productive. Sunday we had an “art camp” session with Pat creating new guitar pieces downstairs while I wrote upstairs in the office. We find it helpful to carve out special days when we support each other in our art. Then on Tuesday and Thursday, I missed my regular meditation group due to concern that I would become ill again from the freezing temperature in the room. I stayed home to meditate and do Qi Gong with Pat, which gave me two extra mornings to work. Morning is still my best, most productive writing time, but it has been quite a while since I have had six in a row to write.

My writing had been interrupted by illness but also by the quandary about how to continue the book if I take the suggestion of my teacher to begin with the DC-9 action. This would be my fifth version of Chapter One. I know that the reader needs a dramatic beginning to be drawn in, so I plunged right into the “action”:

Hearts beating fast, almost in unison it seemed, the nine of us circled in a group hug in front of the glass doors of the Dow Chemical lobbying office on 15th and L St. NW, Washington, DC. We were close enough that I could smell Art’s breakfast coffee on his breath and Bob’s cologne as we gave each other our last embrace and smile….

Part of what had me stumped was the dilemma of “explaining” what we were doing and why without the five chapters that had preceded this one in the first four drafts of my book. Would readers understand who we were, why a nun, ex-nun, draft resister and six priests would be destroying Dow property? Not only my personal background, my reasons for joining the convent, my gradual politicization process but also the background of the anti-war movement, changes in the Catholic Church, everything before this defining moment would become “back story.” Was it really the right place to begin? Or a sacrifice of meaning to drama?

I hope I have found a way during this week of hibernation, intense writing, reorganizing and pause in my blogging to flow from the DC Nine action to scenes that happened in earlier historical periods. I did this by answering questions posed by Catherine Melville in DC Women’s Detention Center about my convent experience and political development. I found myself able to experiment with letting go of the earliest two chapters on my childhood, education and religious upbringing (although the old versions will be gifts to my family). By Friday, I had finished a fairly major revision of the first four chapters with more “showing” than “telling,” more dialogue, more scenes. I will proceed with chapter five on Monday.

Although this reworking of the beginning of the book has been extremely time consuming and difficult, Pat reminds me of Robert Fripp‘s aphorism “We begin again constantly.” Perhaps this is a metaphor for life.

Has there been any “beginning again” in your life?

After helping to lead an amazing women’s meditation retreat this weekend, I turned my attention to my homework assignment for class at the Writer’s Center last night. I had the opportunity to submit a draft proposal of my book (for publishers) and sample chapters for my teacher and classmates to read and critique. Picking up where the last blog left off – at the choice for a new beginning for the book – I explored possibilities. Which story would grab the reader, whether a busy publisher or agent, or a person in the bookstore flipping through the first page of my book?

Instead of using the chapter “Journey to Loretto” as my beginning (in which I travel by train from Kansas City to Louisville, Kentucky, then by bus to the Loretto Motherhouse at age 17 to join the convent), I decided to jump ahead to the incident that stimulated my first batch of hate mail. The chapter begins with a phone call from a leader of the Black Liberators in St. Louis in 1968 asking me to find a way to free him from police headquarters before the cops killed him. I had to organize a protest of 50 nuns and the press to get the attention of the police chief. You’ll find out what happens when you read the book.

A gripping beginning. But it shortens the action of the whole story to just 17 months of my life! Is that enough? It is the most “action-packed” and public part of the story, covered in the press in Missouri, Washington, DC and eventually throughout the country and other parts of the world. But it might leave out some of you who are reading this blog!

Will I be able to weave in the “backstory” that explains “How a regular nun, high school teacher, committed to her vows and to religious life, became a revolutionary?” I will need to establish the “ordinariness” of my life, the progression of the radical changes in my thinking, awareness and behavior and also the changes that were happening in our society in the late sixties. I had established these changes in the original first five chapters of my book, so I also included some excerpts from those chapters for class critique.

Again, a waiting period until our next (delayed) class in two weeks!
What do I do while waiting? More WRITING, revising, cutting!

What are you doing this week? Any writing? Revising? Cutting of anything?

Merijin Hoek

“It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. Stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating art that matters. Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential…you have brilliance in you, your contribution is valuable, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must. I’m hoping you’ll stand up and choose to make a difference.” (Linchpin, Seth Godin).

Why am I, Joann Malone, ex-nun, ex high school teacher, so obsessed with this marketing/business guy Seth Godin? Blame Patrick, my husband, who is very serious about not only creating his music on a daily basis but also sharing it with the world. He’s a philosopher. He’s very into Seth, reads his blog everyday. Today’s blog is on Self-Delusion and Self-Loathing. Seth is a philosopher, too, in addition to being a world class businessman, writer, speaker and successful author.

The more I read of Linchpin, the more I realize that his message is very similar to the one I preached as a rebel, hippie nun in the sixties. I felt the same need to wake people up to the mess our government and social institutions were creating for human beings. Seth says that the system we grew up with is a mess. Back in 1968-69, I was saying similar things on college campuses and at draft card burning rallies – “Stop! Listen to what our government is saying and doing! Listen to the messages of our schools – conform, be afraid, fear people from other countries, fear Communism, fear anyone who thinks for themselves, kill them. Is that really the way you want to live? In fear? In mistrust of others? Believing whatever teachers, priests or military recruiters tell you? No! Think for yourself. Stand up! Resist! Stop the war.”

If you don’t do it, who will? If we don’t question our system’s spending, policies and actions, who will? If we don’t look at our own lives, decide what is really important to us and DO IT, who will? There are some things that only YOU can do, aren’t there? Love your child unconditionally. Breathe the air coming into your nostrils at this moment. Live your life. Be right where you are right now, as fully as possible. This doesn’t mean that we are disconnected from others, totally unique. Yet only I can live MY LIFE. I can’t wait for someone to tell me how to do it. That I still believe, although I pray every day for guidance from a Higher Power and check my brilliant ideas with friends and family who know and love me. But I never want to lose that fire in the belly I had as a rebel nun, urging young people to do what only they can do, live life fully NOW!

Do you feel alive right now? Doing what you are doing? Being the person you are being? Is it true that only YOU can do it?


August 20, 2010

Today I completed the third draft of my book The Power of Love! Hooray!

As I was compiling a bibliography, I breathed yet another prayer of gratitude to all the teachers and writers who have influenced me for so many years – Theilard de Chardin, Franz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Thich Nhat Hanh. Two leaders of the Sisters of Loretto whom I dearly loved are on the list – Sister Luke Tobin (Hope is an Open Door) and Sister Helen Saunders (More than a Renewal )- which contains an entire chapter about my participation in the anti-war action that is the subject of my book. I still have the copies of several “handbooks” I dragged all over the country hitch-hiking from trials to demonstrations to speaking engagements: Seymour Hersh’s Chemical and Biological Warfare, Domhoff’s Who Rules America , The Rich and Super-Rich by Ferdinand Lundberg and Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital.

Not to mention the minimum of three novels I need every week to keep me going.

Isn’t it the least I can do– to contribute one book in gratitude for all I’ve been given to read?