Joy Goldstein: A life of protest

Joy Goldstein is in handcuffs on Saturday, May 10, at the Bangor Naval Base in Bremerton. She says she goes through a ritual with her “friends, the Kitsap County sheriffs” every time she is arrested. “We honor and respect each other,” she says.  - Leonard Eiger  photo
Joy Goldstein is in handcuffs on Saturday, May 10, at the Bangor Naval Base in Bremerton. She says she goes through a ritual with her “friends, the Kitsap County sheriffs” every time she is arrested. “We honor and respect each other,” she says.
— image credit: Leonard Eiger photo

Joy Goldstein and her son Michael celebrated Mother’s Day in an unconventional way this year — they went to the Bangor Naval Submarine Base in Bremerton to protest the presence of nuclear weapons there.

Goldstein was arrested for blocking the main highway entrance to the Naval base, holding up a banner that read, “Abolish Nuclear Weapons.” But this was not a first for the strong-willed Islander, who will turn 73 on Memorial Day. She’s not sure how many times she’s been arrested, but guesses it’s under 15.

The unassuming Islander, who drives a red compact car plastered with peace-pushing bumper stickers, has been involved in acts of social activism for decades — handing out leaflets, attending protests — but it wasn’t until 2000 that she worked up the nerve to break laws and start building her rap sheet.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Goldstein was attending an annual demonstration at Bangor put on by the activist group Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action but had not intended to put herself into the spotlight.

Blocking a public roadway is a punishable offense, and she’d seen her fellow protesters arrested for doing so before.

It turned out the group needed one more person to blockade the road and hold a giant banner with the group’s message opposing nuclear power.

“I thought, ‘I’m retired; I don’t have a husband; all my kids are out of the house; all my plants are outside plants, they’ll get rained on,’” Goldstein said. “I am out of excuses.”

She said she knew breaking the law for a cause she believed in was a life-changing event that she couldn’t “go back from.”

“I’ve always felt that there was room for improvement in this world and it was my job to take hold where I could, and make a difference where I could, aside from raising my kids and getting married and having a job,” Goldstein said.

“I’ve been dragging my feet ever since, but from the other side of the line,” she said.

Goldstein, gray-haired and hard of hearing but well-informed and opinionated, has a streak of activism and political awareness that dates back to her childhood.

She was still young when nuclear weapons were tested, perfected and used.

Her mother, a kindergarten teacher in the years before World War II, nearly lost her job for saying goodbye to her Japanese students and their families at the train station when they were sent to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“That exemplifies the way that she looked at the world, and I remember her telling my brother and me that it wasn’t the Japanese or the German people who were against us,” Goldstein said. “She helped us to make that distinction early on.”

Goldstein’s mother, and she as well, preferred to teach her children nonviolence.

“Just because somebody else thinks you should fight on the schoolyard doesn’t mean you should,” said Goldstein, who worked with developmentally disabled toddlers in Kitsap County for years.

And so, years later, when the United States used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, weapons that did not discriminate between combatants and civilians, Goldstein said she understood that something was really wrong.

“It’s the Japanese leaders we were fighting, not the Japanese people,” she said. “When you bomb a whole city like that you sure as hell are getting a lot of Japanese people in that, including Japanese mommies and babies.”

Goldstein said the creation, testing and use of nuclear weapons has been nearsighted.

Certain components of nuclear weapons have a half-life of 24 million years, she said.

And the American people, starting with infants, were affected by the earliest tests of nuclear weapons.

Atmospheric nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s caused fallout of radioactive Strontium-90, which then settled on grass in the United States. The cows ate the grass, the people drank the cow’s milk and ate beef, and babies drank their mothers’ milk, Goldstein said.

“Babies were getting doses of radiation. I had babies, and I took my babies into kiddy walkers and went to some demonstrations about that,” she said.

She also demonstrated against the Vietnam War, in her “high heels and good suit, because I didn’t want anybody to think I was a hippy, because it was important that they didn’t dismiss all the protesters demonstrating against the Vietnam War.”

The economic impact of a government concerned with its defense is far-reaching, she said. With the United States spending more on defense than any other sector of its budget and a record deficit, Goldstein said borrowing to build weapons is not a responsible decision.

“Nukes and non-nukes — we’re borrowing money from China to buy oil to fund the military,” she said.

Many of Goldstein’s charges come from Kitsap County, which has a giant arsenal of nuclear weapons.

She said if Kitsap seceded from the rest of the United States, it would be the third largest nuclear power in the world, after Russia and the United States, and “Great Britain, France and China combined would be fourth.”

While this amount of weaponry is excessive, she said, the economic rationale behind the nuclear production in the region is evident.

“It has a huge number of jobs — if that base closed tomorrow it would be a huge economic disaster for Kitsap County,” she said.

Goldstein’s civil disobedience is always nonviolent. The government doesn’t recognize “civil disobedience,” and the great-grandmother has been charged with disorderly conduct, conspiracy to commit civil disobedience and trespassing. She even has a federal charge under her belt.

She said she will continue to break the law protesting nuclear weapons. Although she’s never spent a night in jail, since charges against her have been dropped before going to trial, she believes she could end up in jail for six months or slapped with fines of $3,000 each time she breaks the law in the future. She thinks the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department and the Bangor Naval Base Police may get fed up with her “shenanigans” eventually, she said.

Goldstein had the privilege of attending Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., and was inspired by the message of equality he delivered as well as the 200,000 civil rights supporters who attended.

“Hundreds and hundreds of silver buses from all over the country were converging on Washington, and every force of law and order that they could get together was in Washington D.C.,” she said. “We shared our lunches; we sat around the reflecting pool with our feet in the water. Mostly it was just the people — black people, white people, kids poor people, ministers, Americans, that came and said just by being here this is important. Like Ghandi, but in my lifetime, I saw that nonviolence works.”

She said she’d like her fellow Islanders to join her in nonviolent action to thwart nuclear proliferation.

“I would like to see more Vashon Islanders being aware of the dangers to the earth and the evil of nuclear weapons and the dangers to the earth of nuclear power,” she said. “We have to give up believing that the ability to kill other people will save us. May we survive.”

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