Nick Mottern, National Veterans for Peace Board Member, Farouk Abedrabbo, President of Islamic Center of Scranton to his left with Gabrillia Murphy to his right, a former Iraq war veteran forming a Veterans For Peace Chapter in Scranton. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Gary Ingraham]

At a Scranton courthouse rally for Palestine shortly after the massive Israeli government attack on Gaza in October 2023, it was suggested by a Veterans For Peace (VFP) speaker that the better place to protest was several blocks away at the Army Ammunition Plant, where its operator General Dynamics had been stepping up production of 155mm shells for Ukraine and where business was good, with Israel now begging for more ammunition to pulverize Gaza.

The Scrantonians, led by the Northeast Social Democrats of America, began a weekly vigil at the 155mm artillery shell manufacturing plant each Sunday as workers ended their shift at 1:00 p.m.

Jack Gilroy, an organizer for VFP and several other groups, and Nick Mottern, a member of the VFP national board, had organized a rally at the Scranton plant on July 22, 2023, to oppose the sending of 155mm shells and other weapons to Ukraine, and with the sending of 155mm shells to Israel, they decided to organize a weekday event blocking the main gate of the plant.

In consultation with the Scranton organizers, Gilroy and Mottern shifted the date of the action to Sunday, December 3, 2023, as the Scranton organizers thought that Sunday would draw greater numbers since most Scranton workers had Sunday off except for the ammunition crew that was now working seven days a week. The Biden administration had stepped up production of 155mm shells at Scranton and other smaller plants, projecting a total production rate of 80,000 shells a month by late 2024 and 100,000 shells a month by the end of 2025.

Lori Watson, Scranton Peace and Justice leader shares up to date murder count of the people of Gaza. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Gary Ingraham]

The Scranton Islamic community, like Muslim communities around the nation, has justifiable fears about protesting.  

A Mosque leader asked Gilroy to come to the mosque to discuss the fear factor. Before visiting the mosque, Gilroy advised Scranton Police Chief Tom Carroll that the December 3 action at the plant would be non-violent. Chief Carroll said he had been wanting to tell the Muslim community that he was there for their safety. “Would you allow me to go along and speak,” he asked Gilroy. 

The congregation of more than 200 was told that two or three of the December 3 protesters planned to risk arrest and that for safety reasons they should consider being at the plant as witnesses and that they had every right to be there and to speak out and carry signs.

Carroll confirmed their right to be outside the facility and advised them not to enter the factory premises since that would be considered a federal crime, Carroll told the congregation that he wanted them to report any hate statements or any indication of threats to them personally or as a community.  “I want to ensure your safety,” he repeatedly told the congregation.

Mike Ferner, National Veterans for Peace Executive Director and Jack Gilroy VFP Events Organizer block main gate to General Dynamics 155mm factory in Scranton, Pa. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Gary Ingraham]

On Sunday morning Karlijn van Houwelingen a reporter from DPG Media, one of the largest media companies in Europe drove to Scranton to meet with Veterans For Peace members, Islamic Center members, and a student from the University of Scranton who organized on campus for the Sunday afternoon rally. Van Houwelingen had been assigned to do a story about the 155mm factory and had read about our July action. She spent an hour before the December 3 protest interviewing a dozen resisters in an upstairs coffee house on Biden Street.

Karlijn Vani Houweiligen of DPG Media interviews Jack Gilroy of VFP before Gilroy helped block the main gate to Scranton’s 155mm shell factory. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Gary Ingraham]

Gabriella Murphy, an Army veteran of two tours in Iraq who converted to Islam after leaving the military, functioned as MC and cantor for the event singing out chants in support of the people of Palestine. A drizzle was falling as the event got under way with temperatures in the upper 30s, the chanting serving to ward off the damp chill as well as raise rally spirits. Resisters in white-face death masks and tenderly holding faux infants in shrouds did a solemn funeral procession at the main gate to what some are calling “the Slaughterhouse.”

[Source: Photo Courtesy of Gary Ingraham]

Mottern read a statement saying that the protesters were blocking the driveway to enforce the Leahy law because the U.S. President and Congress were unwilling to do so.  The Leahy law, passed by Congress in 1997, prohibits the shipment of weapons to military or police units of other nations that are committing gross violations of human rights.  The law, passed in 1997 mandates that “no assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

[Source: Photo Courtesy of Gary Ingraham]

Veterans For Peace Director Mike Ferner, from Toledo, Ohio, and Gilroy, from Endwell, New York, lay down in front of the main gate ten minutes before the usual Sunday shift was changed, protected by pieces of cardboard against the wet asphalt driveway into the plant.

Imam Mohrasvid Umar chanted prayers from the Quran. 

The rain did not deter chants and speeches, and the gates did not open. Knowing of our event from the wide publicity weeks before the action, General Dynamics apparently decided to shut down the manufacture of the 155mm shells until our action was over. The reaction of the organizers was “At least we stopped production for a day.”

WVIA, the Scranton NPR affiliate, reported 200 people marched in the rain and cold. More important than the large crowd that braved rain and cold was the media coverage that was national and international. Tens of thousands, perhaps even millions, were told the story of the attempt to block munitions from the Scranton 155mm slaughterhouse. 

Veterans For Peace believes the Scranton action, including invoking the Leahy law, will inspire similar actions at the hundreds of arms makers around the United States and the world. Organize now!

Veterans For Peace is also exploring legal paths to holding weapons makers complicit in the genocide being committed against the Palestinian people.

Our question to the resisters outside of the General Dynamics 155mm slaughterhouse in Scranton was: Is the murdering of more than 20,000 people of Gaza, many of whom are children and women, a violation of human rights?

We need not tell you the loud response.

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  1. I fully support protesting Israel and weapons manufacturers. But blocking roads so poor workers cannot leave the factory when their shift ends, and blocking the next shift of workers from arriving on time, only punishes the poor workers who have nothing to do with the US/Israel decision to destroy Palestinians. Most workers in US factories are subjected to unfair “points” attendance systems, and being late to work hurts them. I say this with respect to the protestors- I absolutely want them to protest. But blocking roads is a surefire way to hurt workers. And workers are literally struggling to survive. If the point of the protest is to slow down or stop weapons’ manufacturing, they’re not doing it with this strategy.

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