Justice

Is There Bacon in Heaven?

October 27, 2020 by

Ardeth Platte
Ardeth Platte celebrating her eighty-second birthday. Courtesy of Coretta Marchant.

She was labeled a “terrorist” by the state of Maryland for fighting for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. The methods that earned her this label? Nonviolent protests, Plowshares actions, speaking engagements, and living in community. None of these actions spread “terror” in any hearts, and in my experience she wouldn’t hurt a fly. I’m not sure what label I would give her, but Ardeth Platte, OP, was certainly one of the gentlest people I have known. On a whim I looked up some antonyms for terrorist and found: heroine, humanitarian, champion, brave woman, Good Samaritan, guardian angel, knight in shining armor, role model, woman of courage. But none of these describe her fully, either. She was a combination of courage, daring, faith, and knowledge; she also had a down-to-earth simplicity, a joy and love of life. She was what I would call a spiritual mother, lavishing love and care on young people like me who were trying to figure out where we belonged in life. I will always treasure the conversations I had with her, even though I only met her two or three times. After Ardeth’s recent death I asked my sister, Coretta, who knew Ardeth far better than I did, to share some reflections on her life:

Ardeth Platte was born on Good Friday, April 10, 1936, and joined the Grand Rapids Dominicans (a branch of the Order of Preachers) at the age of eighteen. From early days she seemed to care about social justice and to feel compelled toward enacting change. She founded Saginaw’s former St. Joseph’s Educational Center, served as the coordinator of Saginaw’s Home for Peace and Justice for more than a decade, and was a Saginaw City council member from 1973 to 1985. In 1983 the Reagan administration began stationing nuclear weapons in Michigan. Ardeth and other Sisters, notably Carol Gilbert, OP, were already heavily involved in social justice campaigns, and this action brought a focus to their work. From that point they worked to make their state nuke-free: holding mock nuclear war crimes tribunals, organizing statewide retreats, demonstrating at military bases, and occupying the offices of federal lawmakers. For five years they lived beside two Strategic Air Command Bases in Michigan, and eventually succeeded (through protest) in shutting down the last air force base in Michigan, thus ridding the state of nuclear weapons. They were ready to take on the next target.

From the Midwest, Ardeth and Sister Carol moved to Jonah House, an intentional community and hub of the peace movement in Baltimore, close enough to the capital to have their presence and resistance noticed. It was during my year-long stay at Jonah House (a gap year after completing high school) that I got to know Ardeth. She was unwavering in her quest for justice, but in between protests in Washington and planning the next move, life in community was filled with down-to-earth living. The house was spotless. If the garden needed weeding, the tomatoes preserving, or the beds making up, she was there for the task, putting in longer days than I did, although she was three times my age. During yard work she often took the more strenuous job of weed-whacking, letting me operate the riding mower. She could work the better part of a day in the hot sun and crave only San Pellegrino for refreshment. Or she’d be organizing the food pantry, or meeting the homeless who came to the door, always taking time to listen to their stories. She was also gracious, anticipating the needs of vegans, omnivores, or whoever entered the house. And there were many! But she was never so dogmatic as to become a vegetarian herself (it was too much to expect others to cater to her). I remember how precious her father’s memory was to her, and how she remembered his birthday every year with a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hash browns.

During her years at Jonah House, Ardeth completed four Plowshares actions, each time aiming to expose how nuclear weapons threaten our world. The participants used household hammers and their own blood to represent “the messiness of war that we want to stop.”

In 2002 Ardeth took part in an action in Weld County, Colorado. She and two other nuns, Sisters Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson, dressed as weapons inspectors and entered a Minuteman III nuclear missile facility. The sisters walked through a field over underground silos harboring intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads that could obliterate most everything and everyone within a four mile circle. Ardeth and her companions cut through two fences, hung a peace banner, and poured a cross of blood on the hundred-ton lid of missile silo N-8. All the while and during their arrest, they prayed “O God, help us to be peacemakers in a hostile world.” For this action Ardeth was found guilty of depredation of government property and sabotage, and was sentenced to forty-one months in prison plus three years’ probation. It was during this prison term that Ardeth earned the label of “terrorist” in Maryland, and, thanks to Piper Kerman’s book, was the inspiration for a character on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”

But to me, she was more than this famous woman. In the twenty-some years I’ve known her, I don’t think she’s ever failed to send me a birthday card (always snail-mail, and always on time!), so when I had the opportunity to host her on her eighty-second birthday, I was thrilled. There was no doubt about the breakfast menu: bacon, eggs, and hash browns! At eighty-two, she was (if possible) even more focused on the abolition of nuclear weapons than she had been in the nineties; moving beyond risking prison time, she was taking an international approach. She and Carol had joined the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a coalition started in Australia in 2007. This international group hammered out a Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2017, earning ICAN the Nobel Peace Prize that year. Ardeth said, “I think when we end nuclear weapons. . . we start doing what is basically, humanly necessary for all of the country and for the world again.”

She didn’t live to see that day. Carol was excited on the morning of September 30 to tell Ardeth that Malaysia had become the forty-sixth nation to ratify the treaty. Malaysia’s decision meant that just four additional ratifications were needed for the landmark disarmament treaty to be brought into force. But Ardeth never woke up on September 30 to hear this good news; she had died in her sleep during the night, at age eighty-four.

I did not know that her eighty-second birthday would be the last time I’d see her. I also did not know, when I served bacon and eggs to my family on September 29, that it would be Ardeth’s last day alive. But I do know that she was no terrorist. As her sisters so rightly state, She was “highly respected nationally and internationally for her grasp of the complexity of the military-industrial complex, her articulation of the injustices perpetrated on people who are poor, and her perseverance in the pursuit of justice and peace,” yet “she remained a humble, gentle, and generous soul who was loved and admired by all who knew her.”

And she was even more than that. Despite her unwavering commitment to abolishing nuclear weapons, she was an outgoing, humble woman who lived out her faith and belief with no care for personal consequence. And to me, she was very simply a good friend. I hope there is bacon in heaven.

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About the author

Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren lives at Maple Ridge, where she cares for the elderly and works in the factory.

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