First-hand: Raytheon Peacemakers

IssueSeptember - November 2003
Feature by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy

In 1991, during the first Gulf War, I joined an ad hoc demonstration to protest at president Bush's visit to the Andover, Massachusetts, Raytheon plant. Bush choppered in for a photo op of himself congratulating the workers for making the Patriot missile, while secular and religious activists did their best to rain on his bellicose parade.

This was my first demonstration at Raytheon, but hardly my first protest. I participated in long campaigns against the Trident submarine, made by General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut, and the MX missile, made, in large part, by GTE Corporation in Westborough, Massachusetts. I even had the wonderful experience, after hundreds of vigils, seven acts of civil disobedience, and six jail sentences, of seeing the MS contract cancelled and the GTE plant converted into an office supply warehouse.

But I did not return to Raytheon until 1997 when I helped organise the RaytheonPeacemakers. What prompted me was an article in the Boston Globe in which a Raytheon exec boasted that attacks on Iraq provided them with an economic boon. Their arrogance and connection to virtually the entire US arsenal, including Cruise,Hawk, and AMRAAM missiles, Paveway bombs, and depleted uranium Gattling guns, made Raytheon an ideal focus for a disarmament campaign.

Seven acts of disobedience

A group of activists from Worcester, Massachusetts, began a weekly vigil at Raytheon's main gate between 6 and 7am, when the workers drove by for the first shift. Later on, we joined forces with members of Merrimack Valley People for Peace to organise seven acts of civil disobedience. These escalated from merely crossing the property line with banners to more stark actions like pouring our own blood on the Raytheon sign.

On one occasion we draped a large banner over their sign to rename the plant “Raytheon: Merchant of Death”, while on the Tuesday before Easter, we blocked traffic with another banner reading”Make this a truly Holy Week, DISARM RAYTHEON!”. We even managed a little street theatre when we entered the property in suits, with badges, and clip-boards ready to perform a citizens' weapons inspection of the plant.

Defending ourselves

The Raytheon Peacemakers always represented themselves in court and used a necessity defence three times to articulate why civil disobedience is sometimes amoral and legal duty. The testimony of witnesses, like former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Tara Thornton of the Military Toxins Project, exposed Raytheon's violations of international law and common decency. During one trial,Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit said, “Raytheon is doing the same thing that Nazi Germany did, contributing to the killing of thousands of innocent people in Iraq. It should have been Raytheon on trial today.”

Many of the defendants shared first hand experience from Iraq and other war zones with the judges and juries. The Raytheon Peacemakers received extensive and fairly sympathetic media coverage, which often prompted discussion of Raytheon in letters to the editor. We even put together a three-day peace walk from the Concord, Massachusetts, manufacturer of depleted uranium shells to Raytheon's Andover plant.

Inspiring others to action

Our efforts inspired another group to organise a tax day march from the Internal Revenue Service headquarters to Raytheon, sarcastically urging taxpayers to cut out the middle-man since Raytheon receives so many federal dollars. Carrying huge pup-pets and colorful banners, this group marched to oppose “death and taxes”. Several participants “crossed the line” and served thirty days in prison.

At another time, Raytheon Peacemakers in Massachusetts organised a simultaneous protest with Raytheon Peacemakers in Tucson, Arizona, where Cruise missiles are assembled. Events like this lifted our spirits.

Staying the course

Unfortunately, a number of factors wore people down. The extremely early morning weekly vigil was very hard to maintain with seven of the regular participants driving an hour each way to get to Andover. The trials took an enormous amount of time. The court started slapping us with unforeseen sentences like a year of supervised probation including a 500-yard stay-away order from any Raytheon property and a hundred hours of humiliating “community service”.

Although we did manage to continue vigiling, albeit 500 yards down the road,the probation red tape did slow us down. For a while, only two local activists kept up the vigil.


But now, we are regrouping. The weekly vigil is growing and a new round of civil disobedience is being discussed, as well as creative actions which do not entail arrest, like the display of a hundred-foot banner reading “Raytheon kills children!”On 15 August, my wife and I are even joining an anti-Raytheon protest in Derry, Northern Ireland.

The key to sustaining a campaign is creativity and community. We need to stretch our imaginations, inspire others,and build supportive relationships. The horrible images of carnage from Iraq and Afghanistan are powerful reminders that the stakes are too high to let Raytheon,its workers, or US taxpayers, off the hook.

Topics: Activism, Arms trade