Acting Up for Peace

by Gina Shaffer

“When… at what point will you say no to this war?  We have chosen to say with the gift of our liberty, if necessary our lives: the violence stops here, the death stops here, the suppression of the truth stops here, this war stops here.”

Faced with the prospect of a prison sentence for burning draft records in protest against the Vietnam War, Daniel Berrigan, a Catholic priest and pioneering figure in the peace movement, uttered the words above in a Maryland courtroom in 1968.

On Saturday night, nearly 40 years later, the same words spewed passionately from the lips of actor Martin Sheen, who portrayed Berrigan in a benefit performance of “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California.  Proceeds from the event will go to the Actors’ Gang, a Culver City-based theater company, and Office of the Americas, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization focused on promoting social justice and peace internationally.

Other prominent actors, including Tim Robbins, Beau Bridges, Keith Carradine, Mike Farrell, Camryn Manheim, and Sandra Oh joined Sheen in a staged reading of the play, which Berrigan wrote based on transcripts from the trial that followed the nationally renowned demonstration.   Berrigan, his brother, Philip, also a priest at the time, and seven other Catholics participated in the May 17, 1968 protest at a Selective Service office in Catonsville , Maryland.

With their plea to just “let people live,” as defendant John Hogan stated during the trial, the Catonsville activists questioned the morality of the Vietnam War.  They burned 378 draft cards with napalm to call attention to the deaths of American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians.

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