Pacific Life Community (1975 - )

The Lokashakti Encyclopedia of Nonviolence, Peace, & Social Justice

Members of the Pacific Life Community protest at a U.S. Navy base on the Kitsap Peninsula - Washington state

Their newspaper combined the wit of a comic strip and the moral clarity of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.” Its regular feature, “Dear Gandhi: Now What?” — letters and responses in the manner of “Dear Abby” — gave members of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, in Washington state, “a way of laughing at ourselves and our ridiculous efforts to learn simple things”:

Dear Gandhi,
As a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, I would like your advice on how to preach on Jesus’ teaching, “Love your enemies,” to the crew members of a Trident submarine.

Preacher at Sea

Dear Preacher at Sea,
Give each of them a conscientious objector discharge application; then fill one out yourself.


To a reader inquiring about his preference in a presidential election, “Gandhi” offered this advice:

If he were to run, I would vote for Winston Churchill. Winston is remembered well by the people of your country, and he has now given up cigars, war, and imperialism. Perhaps you can find a candidate there who has done the same.

The Ground Zero Center began as a project of the Pacific Life Community, “a small intentional community committed to resisting the coming of Trident [nuclear submarines] to the Pacific Northwest.” As with similar resistance groups across the country, it originated in a simple, courageous act—in this case, Robert Aldridge’s resignation from his job as a Lockheed missile designer in 1975 in protest against the building of nuclear weapons systems.

Two years later Jim and Shelley Douglass, creators of “Dear Gandhi,” and seven others purchased land next to a Trident base in Bangor, Washington, and committed themselves to a long-term presence on navy-dominated land near Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC), a nuclear weapons storage center. Fifteen miles across Puget Sound from Seattle, hidden from public view in a heavily wooded area, SWFPAC was circled by high-intensity and double security fences and “patrolled 24 hours a day by Marines armed with dumdum bullets and authorized to use ‘deadly force.’”

The Ground Zero community “wanted to experiment with Gandhi’s idea that the enemy has a piece of the truth, and with the religious teaching of love for the enemy. We wanted to walk the fine line between hating the sin and loving the sinner, recognizing that we, too, were complicit in violence and thus also sinners,” the Douglasses said. Their witness led to various projects, occasionally to jail, and to other people forming networks to resist the deployment of nuclear submarines and weapons.

About to be arrested outside a U.S. military baseWhat began in the Seattle area extended south and east along various routes that carried deadly weapons systems to the rest of the world by land and sea. In 1982, a Peace Blockade, for example, placed forty people in fifteen small boats and two 50-foot sailboats in the path of the USS Ohio, the first Trident submarine, as it entered the Bangor, Washington, naval base. Shortly afterward, the Agape Community grew up along train routes carrying hundreds of warheads and missile motors from the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, north and west to Utah and Washington, to be assembled in Bangor.

Over a fifteen-year period — and at present — members of the Pacific Life Community have endured arrest and jail for their persistent effort to halt the shipment of deadly weapons. A particularly dramatic incident in its history occurred in 1987, when Brian Willson, a Vietnam veteran from upstate New York, suffered harsh consequences for “making peace.” As he lay across the tracks at Concord, California, Naval Weapons Station, a 250,000 pound locomotive carrying arms going to Central America crashed into him. The naval train crew ran over him, rather than remove him from danger. Surviving and eventually walking again, with the help of new prosthetic legs, Willson wrote, ironically, that he enjoyed “more ‘standing’ as a peace wager” after the accident than before:

The experience of standing up to the death train and wondering what my survival means has left me with a metaphysical and spiritual consciousness beyond my capacity to put in words. I feel more liberated than ever to share the gift of life .... I am more committed than ever to wage unconditional peace with the empowering force of nonviolence.

On the East Coast, during the same period, the Atlantic Life Community, a similar network of spiritually based resistance communities, initiated nonviolent actions for disarmament at the Pentagon, the White House, and various nuclear weapons research centers. With Jonah House, Baltimore, as a focal point, the community now extends south to Florida and north to Maine, and includes artists, teachers, psychiatrists, carpenters, clergy, grandmothers, students.

Dr. Michael True, reprinted with permission, from People Power: 50 Peacemakers and their Communities. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2007.

Selected material by the Pacific Life Community
  • Berrigan, Philip, and Elizabeth McAlister. The Time’s Discipline: The Beatitudes and Nuclear Resistance. Baltimore: Fortkamp Publishing Co., 1989.
  • Douglass, James. “A Nonviolent Activist,” and Molly Rush, “A Grandmother and Activist,” in Peace-makers: Christian Voices from the New Abolitionist Movement. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983.
  • Douglass, Jim and Shelley. Dear Gandhi: Now What?: Letters from Ground Zero. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1988.
  • Swords Into Plowshares: Nonviolent Direct Action for Disarmament. Ed. Arthur J. Laffin and Anne Montgomery, New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
  • Wilcox, Fred A. Uncommon Martyrs: The Plowshares Movement and the Catholic Left. Reading, Mass.: Allison-Wesley, 1991.
Selected material about the Pacific Life Community
  • Wills, Carry. “Inside the Whale.” New York Times, April 1989.
  • Peacework: 20 Years of Nonviolent Social Change. Ed., Pat Farren, Baltimore: Fortkamp Publishing Co., 1991
  • Bios   ( 24 )
    Inspirational noteworthy figures in the history of nonviolence, peace, and social justice
  • Groups   ( 24 )
    Groups and organizations that have played significant roles in nonviolent movements
  • Concepts   ( 18 )
    Important concepts related to peace and nonviolence, especially in regards to nonviolent action
  • Movements   ( 26 )
    Movements and historical events where nonviolent action was used entirely or in large part
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