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Sister Ardeth Platte: Warrior for Peace

October 9, 2020

I first met Sr. Ardeth in the early 1980s in Lansing, when Fr. Dan Berrigan came to speak at an event put on by the group Covenant for Peace. Covenant for Peace organized a multi-year campaign to expose and resist the manufacturing of nuclear weapons systems at Williams International in Walled Lake, MI.

After listening to Berrigan speak that night, I was invited by some of the organizers to meet with Fr. Berrigan and a small group of other activists. Sr. Ardeth was one of those in the small gathering. 

(Sr. Ardeth is pictured here in the middle, with the big smile.)

People were having drinks and mingling. I also grabbed a drink and was being introduced to people. At one point I was introduced to Sr. Ardeth, who with a beer in her hand, said she was glad to meet me. I was a bit surprised that a Catholic Sister would be drinking a beer, but then again, I wasn’t raised Catholic and didn’t really know what to expect.

At that first encounter, I found Sr. Ardeth to be a warm and very deliberate with her words when she spoke. I remember feeling relaxed around her, like I could be myself, without having to worry about whether I might offend someone who had taken vows.

After that initial encounter, it would be another two years before I had seen Sr. Ardeth again. By then I had already spent a year in a Catholic Seminary, left and then was part of an intentional community called Koinonia. However, I did receive letters from Sr. Ardeth, while spending 48 days in jail after an action that 13 of us did at Williams International in December of 1984. I didn’t keep those letters, but I remember that her words were filled with encouragement and affirmation of my witness against the indiscriminate destructive power of nuclear weapons.

Beginning in early 1985, I participated in a group study/reflection process with other people of faith in Michigan, all of which were working to resist the nuclear arms race. Sr. Ardeth was part of that group, along with Sr. Carol, her best friend and partner in crime. When I say partner in crime, I literally mean that, since Sr. Ardeth and Sr. Carol were arrested together numerous times over the years, resisting weapons of death.

That same year (1985), Sr. Ardeth and Sr. Carol had organized an action at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan. The action took place on the anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima, which I have written about on the Grand Rapids People’s History site.

I did not take part in another action at Wurtsmith Air Force Base again until 1990, since the intentional community I was part of at the time had become a Sanctuary for Central American refugees fleeing US supported state terrorism.

During the action in 1990, people entered the Wurtsmith Air Force base in small groups, which we called affinity groups. I was with a few other people from Grand Rapids, and as we were waiting our turn to engage in Civil Disobedience, Sr. Ardeth suggested that our group should start closer to the entrance to the military base, since we were doing something very different from other affinity groups. We modeled our action after the Mothers of the Disappeared, with images of people (photo below) either killed by US militarism or people who were negatively impacted because the US puts a higher priority on militarism than they do on people. I had a picture of my brother Steve, who had been going to a day program for adults with disabilities, until the State of Michigan cut funding. 

I was arrested that day in 1990 and because I had been arrested before at Wurtsmith Air Force Base, I would likely do months in jail for resisting nuclear weapons. Like the rest of the people who had been arrested more than once at that military base, we all received a letter to appear in court for our hearing, more than a month after the action. I was in communication with Sr. Ardeth and asked her what she thought about me refusing to go to the hearing. Sr. Ardeth was not only in favor of the action, she encouraged me to send a letter to the judge, telling him why I would not be coming. I wrote the letter, and in that I said that since the judge did not acknowledge the validity of International Law as a legal argument for my actions, there was no point in coming, since his court was a mockery of the law.

A few weeks went by and I received another letter, with a new court date. I wrote the judge a second time, using similar arguments, with different wording. A week later federal agents showed up at my door to arrest me. Fortunately, I saw them coming and snuck out the back, while one of my housemates distracted the agents. 

For nearly three months I went underground, moving from place to place, always avoiding the federal agents. A friend of mine who did a show on the public access TV station, did an interview with me about the action at Wurtsmith Air Force Base and my reasons for going underground. Here is that video.

I had only seen Sr. Ardeth here and there over the years, sometimes at funerals for other amazing women, who, like Sr. Ardeth, were part of the Dominican Sisters. However, Sr. Ardeth continued her resistance to injustice, to militarism and to war. Years later she had joined the famous community in Baltimore, known as Jonah House, where she continued to value community and resistance.

So you see dear friends, Sr. Ardeth Platte had a tremendous influence on my own formation as an activist and war resister. Her quiet counsel over the years helped me to take a path that I never regretted. From our first meeting over a beer to her encouragement to take bold action, Sr. Ardeth was an inspiration, a kind, gentle person, and someone who took the words of Jesus to heart by being a warrior for peace. Thank you Sr. Ardeth, for welcoming me into your life!!! Rest in Peace.

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