Martin Sheen Shares Stories of Dissent and Disobedience
Veteran actor and activist holds social justice dialogue with residents of Berkeley
By Ada Tso
The Daily Californian
Monday, December 5, 2005
Putting aside his day job as the fictional President Josiah Bartlet on "The West Wing," actor Martin Sheen
shared his protest experiences and political views Saturday evening at Newman Hall to a crowd of more than 100 local residents.
The event was the third in a series of public dialogues Sheen has held since 1998 with local priests interested
in peace activism.
"Our conversation tonight will be just that-a conversation. We're really not sure what we're going to say," Sheen said
at the beginning of the program.
Conversation focused on social justice and activism, making special note of the School of the Americas, a U.S. military
facility in Georgia that trains Latin American police and military personnel. Critics including politicians, activists and
the media say the School of the Americas, which was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001,
fosters the development of human rights violators and terrorists.
In 1998 and 2003, Sheen spoke with the late Father Bill O'Donnell in Berkeley and Oakland respectively. O'Donnell and Sheen
helped create The San Carlos Foundation in 1984. The foundation subsidizes minimal living expenses for doctors, nurses, lawyers,
engineers and teachers who volunteer worldwide, particularly in Central and South America. O'Donnell died in 2003.
This year, Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the Americas Watch, took the place of O'Donnell. The group's
goal is to convince governments to withdraw their soldiers from the school.
The atmosphere was casual, with Sheen and Bourgeois sitting on a couch onstage as they discussed topics ranging from past
protests to recent successes of the School of the Americas Watch.
"We aren't born to be protesters, and the experience is a real struggle, especially when dealing with family members,"
Bourgeois said. "It can be hard to for them to understand nonviolent civil misdemeanor, especially when we go to prison."
Sheen shared with the audience his first protest experience and social justice arrest in 1986, when he demonstrated against
President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative, a controversial missile-defense program. He helped block the elevator and
staircase leading to the program's office in a New York City building. Police demanded he and his fellow protesters disperse
or face arrest.
"I was on the verge of tears. I was going, 'Oh, Father, please no,' and that's when I suddenly had one of the most joyous
moments of my life, when I realized that I had to come into a part of myself," Sheen said.
Since then, Sheen has been arrested for civil disobedience more than 60 times.
After the intermission, the program became a free forum, when audience members asked Sheen and Bourgeois questions.
One woman asked if Sheen would join a group of people across the nation who will symbolically protest President Bush's
State of the Union address in January by shouting and making other loud noises.
"It sounds like a great initiative," Sheen said. "I have pots and pans. I guess I could bang them together and make some
noise. But I don't know, I almost want to hear what he has to say."
Sheen's attitude toward protest developed from deep-rooted personal convictions.
"When you protest, something deep happens within your being," Sheen said. "You get to that place where you know you will
do everything you possibly can that is nonviolent, that you will offer yourself. What happens then is some of the happiest
moments of my life."