On the night of September 24, 1968, 14 anti-war activists snuck into the downtown offices housing several of Milwaukee’s editorial boards, stole Selective Service records, and brought them outside. As drafts burned in a bonfire, activists sang songs and recited scriptures as they waited to be arrested. Most of the 14 were Roman Catholics. Five were priests. One member of the 14, Jim Forest, who continued to struggle with violence throughout his life, died last month. He will be honored with an event in Milwaukee.
Nicknamed the Milwaukee 14, they followed the nonviolent approach to social action exemplified by Martin Luther King and John Lewis. They did not break into the Selective Service office in the Brumder Building (now called the Germania Building, 135 W. Wells St.), but politely borrowed a key from the housekeeper. They weren’t terrorists who struck and fled, but they voluntarily took on all the legal consequences of their raid on the board offices. They were sentenced to two years in prison.
Planning for their action began at Casa Maria, the home of Catholic workers in Milwaukee, a movement highlighting the radical social implications of the teachings of Jesus generally ignored by Christianity. The motivation for Milwaukee 14 was the ongoing Vietnam War, largely fought by an army of working class and minority conscripts. During their trial, the 14 were cheered on by anti-war activists in UW-Milwaukee but denounced by the city council. the Milwaukee Diary called their action “inexcusable hooliganism.”
After serving his sentence, Jim Forest authored several books, including a biography of Catholic Workers founder Dorothy Day. He converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in the 1980s and founded the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, an international group seeking to apply the deepest principles of their faith to resolve divisions and conflicts between individuals and between societies and nations.
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Forest has spoken many times in Milwaukee over the past quarter century at Marquette University and Saints Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church.
“At a time when we have become so distracted by the culture wars but very thoughtless about the real wars and the complacency and arrogance that drives us to accept them, it is refreshing to look at the example of someone who, firmly but gently, has always radiated a commitment to peace,” says Father Elijah Mueller, pastor of Saints Cyril & Methodious. “Peace in society, peace in the heart, and real tangible peace between nations. also lost the feeling that these principles are worth going to prison.
He adds that Forest’s quest for peace came not from “mere ideas but from a beautiful personal sense of a God who empowers each person to fearlessly and victoriously overcome violence through divine peace.”
A memorial service for Forest will be held at 4:30 p.m., Feb. 19 at Saints Cyril & Methodious, 2515 S. 30th St. Church doors open at 4 a.m. “People can informally share thoughts and memories before the service,” Mueller said. .