Child of the revolution: daughter of anti-war activist Philip Berrigan in New Zealand


Kate Berrigan, daughter of the late Philip Berrigan, a renowned US anti-war activist and leader of the Ploughshares movement, is visiting New Zealand, and took time to answer some questions for Aotearoa Indymedia:

Your dad, Philip Berrigan, was a committed anti-war activist and spent years in prison for actions against successive US wars. In your view, what was his most successful action?

My parents and many others doing faith-based peace activism stress that success is not the requirement; faithfulness is. It's necessary for people of conscience to work for a more just and loving world even when they are persecuted for it by the government and the dominant culture.

That said, his most well-known action was certainly the Catonsville 9 draft card burning action in 1968; reaching many people by news coverage is one possible measure of success. He also met and heard from a number of people over the years who felt certain that had Catonsville or other actions like it not happened, their card would have come up in the draft and they would have likely died in Vietnam. For a primarily symbolic action such as Catonsville to have also directly saved lives is part of its lasting power.

The other thing I would say about his success is that amidst continued efforts by the U.S. to maintain its place as a global superpower and military empire, the international Plowshares movement, which he helped to found in 1980, continues to keep a dialogue open about the immorality, illegality under international law, and senselessness of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. It's likely that anti-war and anti-nuclear activism in the U.S. and around the world - including in New Zealand - has stalled and contained military buildup in important ways over the past 30+ years.

Your dad was a committed Catholic and an ordained priest, although his anti-war activism often prompted disapproval from the Church. What would he think of the rhetoric of the new pope?

Dad would be heartened by Pope Francis' steps away from the incredible hierarchicalism the Church has embraced for so long. His ministrations to the poor and insistence on living simply himself are a return to what Dad saw as some of the core messages of the New Testament. Francis also represents a greater openness of the Church to those who want to be part of it than his predecessors. Dad would say, though, that the Church still has a long way to go if it wants to support a just, equitable, nonviolent society. We can look at the experience of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the US - the steering body of nuns censored by the Vatican for speaking out against war and working with the poor.

What possibility is there that the Catholic Church will now embrace a more explicitly anti-imperialist/anti-war position?

I don't know. This would be Dad's hope, and it seems more possible with the leadership of a pope like Francis.

Just within the last few days, the people who broke into the FBI offices in 1971 revealing the COINTELPRO (FBI's counterintelligence programme against social justice activists) have come forward. They are endorsing Edward Snowden and his leaking of NSA documents. What has changed since the early 1970s in terms of government surveillance of activists?

I'm nowhere near an expert on this, but the first thing that comes to mind is the sheer volume and variety of data the government can now collect with the technology it has available. The challenge that poses is the necessary person power to sift through all the phone calls, emails, text documents, social media usage, etc of the people being surveilled. It's my understanding that the US government is also keeping tabs on a much wider array of people and organizations now. It seems as though especially since 9-11-2001 the US government has identified so many entities as 'enemy' that the net is now cast over everyone (including the personal cell phone of Angela Merkel!)... but what is the cost of maintaining that net and inventorying its contents?

What was it like growing up in a resistance community with parents who were deeply committed to social justice activism?

How much space do you have on your website?! It was a lot of things - primarily I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up in the way we did. My sister and brother and I were cared for and taught by people of tremendous conscience and many talents.
It was hard when our parents were in jail (though they were almost never both away at the same time) and hard to say goodbye to community members we'd grown to love when they moved for jobs or families or other communities. It was hard sometimes to not have nice clothes we saw on other kids at school. But we ate healthy food, we played outside, we went to demonstrations and trials in other cities and had friends from other parts of the country (and the world). We learned to value time more than objects and to try to leave things better than we found them.
My sister Frida has written quite a bit about both her experience growing up at Jonah House and her struggles to raise kids nonviolently now, in her column at
(and she has a book coming out). The whole Waging Nonviolence website is a great resource for social justice news and analysis.


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