Tammy Ryan Talks “Molly’s Hammer”

September 1, 2016
By Rianna Lee

In a society that expects women to give up their work for their family, Molly Rush did the unthinkable – she left her family behind to pursue peace and justice for humanity. In doing so, she and seven anti-nuclear activists – known as the Plowshares Eight – started an international movement of peace that still thrives today. Now, Tammy Ryan’s play “Molly’s Hammer” – based on Liane Ellison Norman’s book Hammer of Justice – is coming to Pittsburgh to tell the story about her life-changing decision to leave everything she loves behind in the name of peace and justice.

Before September 1980, Molly was just an ordinary wife and mother of six. At the time, she was the director of the Thomas Merton Center, which she co-founded eight years prior. In the late summer of 1980, the Plowshares Eight were born. Eight pacifist activists, including Molly, Fr. Daniel Berrigan and his brother, Philip, and several others, appalled by the careless losses of life following the Vietnam War and the rising threat of nuclear destruction. Molly suggested the name, after a verse in the Book of Isaiah which reads, “…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares…”

On September 9th, 1980, the group made their first plowshares out of swords – albeit 20th century swords on an exponentially higher level of potential destruction than actual swords. Tammy says, “We are psychically numb… we can’t comprehend the danger and power of these weapons, and think we can’t make a difference. Molly chose to hope that we can take action, because if someone did not, she thought we would blow ourselves up by the turn of the century.” So on that autumn day, they entered the General Electric nuclear plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, hammered on two nuclear warhead cones, and poured their own blood on warhead documents. Like all Plowshares Movements that would follow, there was no harm to any individual and all eight members stayed on the scene until police arrived, taking full responsibility for their actions.

The group did some time in prison for their actions, and after ten years of appeals, they were re-sentenced. But Tammy highlights the unfairness of the sentences, “As citizens, we have a right to break the law to protect the greater good. And these weapons were viewed by the Plowshares Eight as a threat to society – and to Molly especially, her family,” says Ryan. Still, prison could not stop the anti-war protests from spreading like wildfire. The Plowshares Eight turned into the Plowshares Movement, an international anti-nuclear weapons and mostly Christian pacifist movement. It is unknown just how many protests have taken place around the world under this movement  since the beginning in 1980, but it is likely somewhere in the hundreds. The protests usually involve the literal destruction of military weapons or property, and/or more symbolic actions like the pouring of blood to symbolize the blood spilled during war.

Inspired by Molly’s dedication to peace and justice, Tammy Ryan penned the play entitled “Molly’s Hammer”, which premiered worldwide at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis on March 9-27, 2016. The play focuses specifically on Molly’s relationship with her husband and her decision to leave everything behind to protect not only her family, but the greater good of society. Tammy, who comes from a large Irish-Catholic family in Queens, NY, writes her plays about global social issues through the lens of family, so it’s easy to see how this aspect of Molly’s life and her work comes alive in Tammy’s play. She says, “Molly and her husband Bill ran on two separate paths – Molly was passionate about peace and justice work and Bill was passionate about baseball. So the play follows how their paths eventually converge. Bill tried to protect her and stop her from doing it, but in the end, he comes to realize why it is so important that she does it.”

On the 36th anniversary of the protest, a reading of “Molly’s Hammer” will be held at Eddiy Theater at Chatham University to benefit the Thomas Merton Center. The reading will be held on September 9th, 2016 at 7:30PM. Molly will be played by Kimberly Parker Green, Bill will be played by Jason McCune, and all other parts – including fellow Plowshares Eight member Dan Berrigan – will be played by Don DiGuilo. Tickets are $20 online or at the door, or $5 for those on a low-income.

Rianna Lee is a NewPeople intern at the Thomas Merton Center and a senior at Duquesne University. Her interests include feminism and women’s rights, LGBT rights, and economic justice.


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