by Rosalie Riegle
Conviction was directed and produced by Brenda Truelson Fox, and runs 43 minutes. It's the riveting story of three radical non-violent activists who take the proliferation of nuclear arms in this country personally, and are willing to pay with their lives. Wisely contextualized with information about our nuclear stockpile, the film describes the motivations, action, and trial of three Plowshares Activists who symbolically and non-violent “beat swords into plowshares” by entering military sites and performing disarmament actions.
In October 2002, as the war with Iraq became more and more certain, three Dominican nuns-- Sisters Carol Gilbert, Jackie Hudson, and Ardeth Platte--broke into a nuclear missile silo site in Colorado, hammered and poured their own blood on a 110-ton concrete bunker enclosing the missile, and waited forty-five minutes to be arrested. They called their action “Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares” in order to expose the conquest of space the U.S. is planning with its new generation of nuclear weapons.
For these sisters, bringing attention to the atrocities of nuclear weapons was a sacred act; for the government it was something different. The religious right labeled them fanatics, the left called them saints, and the courts convicted them of sabotage.
In Conviction, director Brenda Fox masterfully contrasts diverse voices: the caretaker of the federal missile site, federal prosecutors, (former) fundamentalist minister Ted Haggard, Dr. Helen Caldicott, and the sisters themselves, particularly on the day of their sentencing. The film presents clearly the defendants’ argument that it is the federal government that is breaking the law by refusing to abide by its constitutionally supported treaties and that under the Nuremberg principles, individual citizens “have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring." Thus the activists contend that they are not engaging in civil disobedience but in citizen resistance to government illegality. Unfortunately, the federal judge ruled that the defendants couldn’t argue over 25 categories of law or even use certain words in front of the jury, and the nuns were convicted and served between 30 and 41 months in federal prison.
Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert live at Jonah House in Baltimore, the resistance community founded by Liz McAlister and the late Phil Berrigan; Jackie Hudson lives at the Ground Zero Resistance Community in Bremerton, Washington. All three nuns travel upon request, showing the film and engaging the audience in dialogue. Contact Jonah House or Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. There's a recent interview by Platte and Gilbert online, archived by Chicago Public Radio WBEZ. The documentary of the nuns' noble activism, Conviction, with its lively and informative editing, makes excellent viewing for both individuals and peace groups. This should encourage further research into our expanding nuclear arsenal.
Conviction is available for $25 from Zero to Sixty Productions or by mail to PO Box 1026, Boulder, CO 80306.
Rosalie Riegle, of Evanston, Illinois, is a retired professor of English, a writer, and a grandmother of seven.