Castle Air Force Base

Dan Onorato


Castle AFB Peace Action began for me when Sam first told me of his idea to carry out a demonstration in front of the base that would culminate in Civil Disobedience (CD). I was forced to do some deep self-questioning. One of my closest friends was going to risk arrest and jail because of the depth of his conviction. What was I willing to do? I knew that I would be a part of the protest. But was I ready for jail and other possible consequences should they come as a result of my action? even though many young people my age have gone to jail for actions resulting from their deeply held principles, jail was still a scary idea to me. I could not go just because many others could go and have gone. I had my own set of circumstances to consider--the effect of jail or prison on me and my wife and our relationship; was I strong enough to not grow bitter, resentful, maybe hateful in jail? Would any consequences affect my teacher job? Was what I was currently doing more important than how I would possibly grow and what I would learn in jail? I thought often about the decision. By mid-October I had decided against doing C.D. I hadn’t answered any of my questions conclusively, rationally. I arrived at my decision by a deep-down feeling. Maybe it was fear. Partly I felt that I had to understand myself more, understand my possibly ego-centered motives for such an action, achieve a fuller understanding about such an action with my wife, grow more spiritually whole and strong. Perhaps these considerations were all rationalizations cloaking my fear. I’m not sure. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I decided not to risk arrest and jail.

I didn’t help much in the planning of the action until a couple of days before our leafleting and demonstration began. I was concerned that the media report on our action. I wanted as many people as possible to know what we were doing and why. Just to be at Castle without many people knowing about it seemed frustrating; people--lots of people--needed to know. So that they too, could act, in whatever way they saw fit. I phoned the news rooms at all the TV stations in the Bay area and none committed themselves; a news reporter on Channel 13 of Stockton, who expressed interest and did come. The newsroom man at the local Modesto Cable TV station, who though he couldn’t cover the event, asked a representative of our group to be on his show the following week to explain our work and the purpose of this particular action.

I was struck by what most of the TV news people I talked with seem to conceive of as newsworthy. They were concerned with the number of people involved and also whether or not there would be a confrontation with the police. The educational value for their viewers of a small group of people trying to do something in accord with their conscience seemed of less importance than the size of the group and the possible violent confrontation between dissenters and the law. When I emphasized that the action and civil disobedience would be non-violent, they asked no further questions. Perhaps one difficulty they had was that I couldn’t tell them the exact time the CD would take place on Monday. Sam and Fred Moore didn’t want to determine this too far in advance. They would act when they felt most ready. Only on Monday morning did Sam tell me roughly the time. Then I phoned the newsman from Channel 13 and told him, he came down and covered the event.

I was mainly concerned with getting coverage on TV because that would reach the most people. But I also phoned all the Modesto radio stations and sent a couple of them information on the three day demonstration. I was frustrated and saddened at the response of one station’s executive. After I told him the purpose and nature of our demonstration, he said, almost in a tone of disgust, "What makes you think there is any interest in something like that?"

I also phoned a reporter from the largest newspaper of the area, the Modesto Bee. I talked to him three times because I very much wanted this paper to report what we were doing. Though the reporter personally was sympathetic to the peace movement, for some reason, he didn’t come.

I feel differently now about equating an action’s effectiveness with whether or not it’s covered by the media. In re-evaluating my notion of effectiveness, I am coming to feel that what counts in any action is that a person do what he thinks is right, what he must in conscience do, do it in a way consistent with his ends, do it to the best of his ability, intelligence and courage and not look for results. If he does this he will grow. If others with kindred attitudes join him, they too will grow. If they work as a group, they will grow mutually together. Each will experience the fulfillment of sharing with others in a situation of varying degrees of risk--the kind of gut level situation in which we grow the most because we extend ourselves beyond our usual stretching point. This enlarging of oneself by facing and overcoming fears and the deepening oneness with others make us fuller, stronger, more prepared and more willing to take the next risk. Everytime we decide to take further risk, our control over our own lives grows more confident and firm. This kind of "effectiveness" does not start with or require large numbers. Society will be better as individuals risk and demand of themselves ever deepening growth.

A related though about effectiveness. I think that at least part of what lies beneath seeking to be effective is the desire to be able to mold results. In effect, a person seeks to control the future. This subtle impulse or drive to control the unknown is an extension of his ego, his drive for power, his need to have things his way. This tendency seems to be built into our ambivalent nature--what we would all agree was "natural." We all want to succeed at what we do. But its being natural doesn’t make it necessarily desirable. This inclination is one of the central insecurities we all experience. As an insecurity, a kind of weakness, it is something within we need to look at and try to overcome. I think the working out of the insecurity lies in the effort to be of more faith: when we believe in something we dedicate ourselves to it fully, and we surrender ourselves to what we believe is right action--we let go the will to control results. When we become more willing to let go and deepen our ability to surrender ourselves, our ego has a decreasing need for praise and satisfaction and is less bothered by censure and blame. On a psychological level, perhaps it is a matter of concentrating on or redirecting our focus. We try to act as consistently as we can rather than look for our desired results in our actions. The concentration then, is on the process, not the end result. Our physical, mental and spiritual energy focuses on the means we choose to achieve our end rather than on the success of our efforts. We do what we honestly can, in a way consistent with our goals, and then let the cards be turned over as they will. We don’t stop trying because we believe in what we are doing. We need to act as we do because we feel the necessity to respond to a mysterious call within--God, Self, conscience, whatever a person wishes to call it. In this way we continue to try to maintain and guard our integrity as persons. Thoreau’s famous claim about the effect of a man of integrity on his society rises forcefully:

I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name--
If ten HONEST men, in the State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were
actually to withdraw from this copartnership and be locked up in the county jail
therefore, it would be the abolition of slavery in America.

(From essay on Civil Duty and Disobedience)

Even when I pare away the dramatic hyperbole and declamatory tone, I face head on his encouraging, powerful truth: an individual, assuming responsibility for his own life, living in accord with his principles, a man of integrity, necessarily has an indelibly salutary impact on his society.

To underscore the effectiveness in individual growth is not to deny the value of and need for media coverage. But it does place the emphasis where I think it needs to be: each person must continually work on him or herself. To reach others effectively we must act with eternal vigilance in rooting out from ourselves our own tendencies to impatience, anger, frustration, self-will.

Everyone has his own struggle with self to enact and comes to realize the need and urgency of that demanding effort in his own time. The media can be instrumental in this process by enabling a person to become aware of a problem and some of its roots and by informing him of attempts to overcome the problem. In this way, it can move a person from awareness to action. The more the media covers non-violent actions, the more people will begin to understand non-violence and decide to try to live it.

In the actual demonstration I spent most of my time leafleting. The position of the roads in front of the base made leafleting fairly easy. A combination of stop lights and RR tracks either stopped the cars or slowed them down. Every time we saw the lights change, we would walk along the side of the street or between the two lanes of cars and ask the people inside if they wanted to read a leaflet. Often times I found myself standing between the two rows of oncoming cars handing leaflets to the passengers as they passed. A couple of times the local police told us to stay out of the street because we might cause an accident. We replied that we had no intention of blocking traffic and that we would be careful. We would go to the side of the street and later we would be back between the two lines of oncoming cars.

I had leafleted in our previous May demonstration, so I had a fair notion of what to expect. To the surprise of us all, our leafleting was responded to with much more openness and friendliness than we had experienced in May. Of course, there was fear and a certain amount of hostility shown us. As harmless as handing a leaflet to someone is, it threatens many people. I expected the fear and hostility, so I didn’t let myself get bothered by it. When a few times individual in cars yelled at me or called names or asked an antagonistic question(more a statement than a question), I would either not say anything in response and go on to the next car; or I would answer briefly, trying to maintain an attitude of respect, and then move on.

bar.gif (3918 bytes)

from Roots and Fruits, a publication of the Stanislaus Peace-Life Center and the Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee

forward.gif (1527 bytes) back to Connections' home page         forward.gif (1527 bytes) to Roots and Fruits Table of Contents