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Dancing for Peace at the Bomb Plant

by Irish Flambeau

In April, Reclaiming Witches from Georgia and Alabama participated in the peace demonstration outside the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The demonstration was organized by the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA). OREPA contends that our government is breaking international law regarding nuclear nonproliferation.

The day before the rally, Catwrenae, Parsley and Irish Flambeau from the Gaia Reclaiming community led circle dances for OREPA's class on nonviolent activism. We were joined by Rivkahdara, Caitlin, and Bill from Alabama. We were pleased to find that many of the participants remembered us and the dances we'd led the year before. We had already decided to repeat one of the dances as a recurring theme for this action, and were delighted when folks easily recalled the dance and said they'd been hoping we'd do that particular one.

The day of the rally, we built a labyrinth near the staging grounds of the demonstration. We used flour, which worked fine, but since the grass was a little long it was hard to see unless you were walking it. In the future we plan on trying yellow caution tape and staking it down. While we were building the labyrinth, two squad cars arrived and a female police officer got out and asked us what we were doing. She was very pleasant. I explained and offered to show her the bag of flour, but she waved me off. She and the officer in the other car then just sat near us and had a conversation. There was no tension at all. Later the director of OREPA came over and asked us if we were OK, since he had overheard a police radio broadcasting, "There's someone over in the field spreading white powder."

The rally consisted of informative speeches, live music, a children's art tent, and a storyteller. Lunch was provided by Food Not Bombs. A giant puppet show told the story of a money maker deciding to build a bomb plant, much to the consternation of the nature spirits. The bomb plant was built by skull-people overseen by a military woman on stilts, and protesters in the skit tried to convince the bomb people to stop. Death swooped in and overtook everyone, even the bomb makers. A grieving Goddess puppet then resurrected everyone and all the nature puppets (Bill was in charge of moving one of the Goddess' hands). The watching crowd erupted into a spontaneous dance that evolved into a spiral dance. It was tremendous!

The last event of the demonstration was the direct action. This year, because of 9-11, the bomb plant officials are enforcing a federal law against trespassing on the property. Previously they had only arrested folks under city statutes. Four people crossed the line and were arrested. One of those was Tim Mellen, an employee of OREPA. Tim explained to me that they were glad that the federal law would now be upheld, because they wanted to get into a federal court in order to have a jury trial and be heard. Up until now, their city charges just get thrown out by the judge.

What Is Oak Ridge?

Once one of the vital links in the sprawling U.S. nuclear weapons complex, Oak Ridge is today the last full-scale nuclear bomb plant in the U.S. Work there includes:

Upgrading nuclear warheads with newly manufactured parts, lengthening the warheads' shelf life from 30 years to 100 years. Ten warheads are put into an MX missile with a subassembly that changes the reaction to a thermonuclear one. Oak Ridge is the only place in the country responsible for this task. A single MX missile has the destructive capability of 100,000 Hiroshima bombs.
Turning existing weapons into "low yield" or "mini-nukes." The defense industry is trying to get around a Congressional ban on mini-nukes by repackaging existing weapons. Mini-nukes are intended to penetrate underground bunkers, and according to information distributed by OREPA, are "considered usable in cities with 'minimal collateral damage.'" The largest mini-nuke yield is equal to 5,000 tons of TNT with a one-mile-wide blast. A Hiroshima-size burst would equal a ground-blast circle of one and a half miles wide.
According to an article by CNN writer Richard Stenger, microbiologists at Oak Ridge have are experimenting with combinations of genetically-modified bacteria and microchips.

After the arrest of the four people willing to face federal charges, two large affinity groups sat down and blocked the road, intending to be arrested on city charges. The police declined to arrest them or the giant puppets who were also taking part in the blockade. The groups sat there for three hours in total peace. During that time, Gaia Reclaiming led a spiral dance in the street singing Beverly Frederick's song, "We Are Your People." We followed that with several Dances of Universal Peace. Police on Y-12 property looked on with binoculars. It became obvious to us that the police were not going to arrest the blockaders, so we left. We found out later that the affinity groups had marched down to a busier intersection, where they finally succeeded in being arrested. It's rather amusing that they had to work so hard to get arrested.

I personally wonder what other measures can be taken to get the word out about what is going on at the Y-12 bomb plant. My brother and his fiancée live a short drive away, in Knoxville. Neither of them was aware that bombs were present there at all, let alone being built. They said that according to what they have seen in the local media, the only thing going on in Oak Ridge is research and some demonstrators getting arrested. I shared facts with them about what is going on there, but they didn't seem very interested. It is very difficult to know how to engage the greater populace when close family members don't want to hear what's going on.

Won't you join us in Oak Ridge? The next demonstration is in August (which our usual group won't be attending since it coincides with Spiral Heart's camp), but we will be attending the April 2003 demonstration. You can get more information at and see complete pictures of this year's rally at

Irish Flambeau is a Peace Witch and leads Sacred Circle Dances at every opportunity.