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‘Ground Zero’ nuclear disarmament vigil Saturday at Bangor
Jackie Hudson doesn’t look like a woman who has done time in federal prison.
She wears a peace dove T-shirt and her grey hair short. Petite though she is, Hudson speaks in a strong, clear voice.
“We’re playing with death,” she says. “Not individual death, but deaths of millions.”
Hudson, 76, is a member of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, a Kitsap movement against nuclear proliferation. The group is planning a vigil and demonstration at the gates of Naval Base Kitsap — Bangor Saturday afternoon. It is one of three annual actions they hold.
The Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action is based out of a house on 3.8 acres along Clear Creek Road. Their protests coincide with commemorations of Mother’s Day and the anniversary of the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This Saturday, the group will protest nuclear weapons in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
Their protests, though in the name of peace, draw much attention from area law enforcement. The Washington State Patrol expects between 70 and 100 demonstrators to participate this Saturday, patrol spokeswoman Krista Hedstrom said. The department engages as many available troopers and Rapid Deployment Force members — who have additional training in crowd control — as possible during these events.
The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office provides backup, and has patrolled Ground Zero protests for more than 30 years.
“For the most part, it’s all been very peaceful,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said.
When some demonstrators step out of their designated area and into the roadway, blocking traffic to the base, they are placed in plastic flex cuffs, put in a transport van and taken to county jail. Those that step onto base property are apprehended by military police. Usually all are released later the same day.
Ground Zero has racked up more than 100 arrests over the years. Protesters come to demonstrations prepared for the consequences of their actions, member Sue Ablao explained. Those arrested are rarely required to make a court appearance, she added.
Hudson, who served two and a half years in prison for sabotage of a Colorado missile silo, sees stepping into the roadway not as a choice, but a necessity.
“What is there (on base) is so horrific that my personal life is dedicated to being the end of it,” she said. “If my being arrested can alert someone else that would be great. It’s doing something that I can not not do.”
Ablao, 68, and Hudson recite the history of nuclear weaponry, the naval base and its fleet of Trident submarines, which launch from the Hood Canal carrying untold atomic firepower, in much detail. The base is home to the largest active arsenal of nuclear weapons, though it’s a presence Hudson said the military will “neither confirm nor deny.”
In a county with many Navy families, group members say they receive a fair amount of support from the community. Peace signs are gestured at demonstrators by people entering the base during protests.
“We have more support than sometimes we even realize,” Hudson said.
The group has also been rallied against. Twice people have stood in protest of their vigils at the base gates. Hudson said much of the opposition comes from those who believe the rallies for nuclear disarmament put their jobs in danger.
Ground Zero members aren’t speaking out against military men and women, only the system they work for, Hudson said.
Ground Zero came together in the late 1970s. The group launched to “try to tell the world that nuclear weapons are not the way to bring peace — it just makes us the big bully on the block,” Ablao said.
They write letters, make phone calls and send e-mails to elected officials. Ground Zero’s three annual protests are a chance for members to make a more forceful statement, though they remain dedicated to nonviolence during their demonstrations.
Group members have been charged and convicted by the Kitsap County District Court in the past, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Andy Anderson.
The county Prosecutor’s Office reviews police reports from protesters’ arrests before determining whether to press charges, he said.
“There’s no specific scrutiny attached to it because it’s a protest. It’s based solely on reports,” Anderson said.
Hudson and Ablao anticipate a large turnout Saturday, including many from Tacoma where activists with the group Disarm Plowshares Now were recently tried and found guilty of illegally entering Bangor in November 2009.
Hudson and Ablao said they don’t fight for their cause to see immediate results. The results of their work, they suspect, won’t happen in their lifetime. And that’s OK.
“We do it for the righteousness of the cause,” Ablao said.