September 1, 2016
By Jonah McAllister-Erickson
Frida Berrigan, the scion to activist legends Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister, and niece of Daniel Berrigan, grew up at Jonah House in Baltimore, a Christian community devoted to peacemaking and non-violent resistance to US militarism at home and abroad, and has followed in her family footsteps.
Frida was in high school during the first Gulf War and as a young adult she became increasingly active in planning demonstrations. In 2005, after a trip to Cuba, attempting to visit the notorious prison at Guantánamo Bay, she helped found Witness Against Torture. This group started with 25 people opposed to torture, indefinite detention, collective punishment, and the scapegoating and racism of the George W. Bush administration. Today, the organization has grown, with thousands of members who have continued protesting during the Obama administration. Witness Against Torture is best known for having hundreds of activists in orange jump suits and black hoods, shutting down a federal court, and the Supreme Court, while calling for justice for Guantánamo detainees.
Coming from a family of activists isn’t a guarantee that one will become an activist themselves. In a compelling autobiographical piece, “Uncle Pentagon: Growing Up in the Shadow of the American War State” originally published in Tom’s Dispatch, Frida writes about growing up in the shadow of U.S. militarism:
“The Pentagon loomed so large in my childhood that it could have been another member of my family….whatever the case our holidays were built around visits to the Pentagon’s massive grounds. That is where we went for Easter, Christmas, even summer vacation (to commemorate the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).”
Later in the same piece Frida writes:
“I am in my late teens standing at the top of the steps of the River Entrance along with my brother and another friend. We hold a banner that reads in part, “We Remember, We Remember.” I’m squinting into the early morning light and my hand is on my chest. And I do remember, even all these years later, that feeling of dread. I look at the picture and know that my younger self is barely breathing and my heart is racing beneath my hand—I am that afraid. I still feel that.”
Frida is also a columnist for Waging Non-violence a “source for original news and analysis” about struggles for peace around the globe and is the author of It Runs in the Family: on Being Raised by Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood, a book that expands upon her columns in Waging Non-violence and provides advice on how parents can raise thoughtful, compassionate, fearless young people, but also that admits that parenting is hard.
Jonah McAllister-Erickson is a TMC Board Member.