ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Every Friday afternoon Chuck Hosking chugs up the hill toward Sandia National Laboratories on his coaster bike with an 8-foot-tall banner strapped to his seat and handlebars. He sets up at one of the gates where employees leave Kirtland Air Force Base and unfurls a sign.
On this blustery afternoon it says, “Jesus said love your enemies – do we?”
Hosking is a trim 64 thanks to the bicycle being his only mode of transportation and his diet consisting only of food he finds in commercial garbage bins. He stands quietly and holds the sign for about an hour and a half while the employees leave the base and drive home from work.
He usually gets a honk here and there, sometimes accompanied by a smile and a wave and sometimes by a middle finger.
“Most days are very boring,” he says. “There’s a complete lack of interest.”
Hosking holds his vigil to protest the labs’ nuclear weapons work, hoping the brilliant scientific minds employed inside the gates might consider a different line of work or, better yet in Hosking’s view, that the contractor that runs the labs will decide to switch all that brain power over to solving the problems of global warming.
So it has gone for 30 years.
Has anything changed in all those decades?
“No,” Hosking cheerfully told me. “I realize it’s not having any significant results.”
It’s hard to imagine spending decades trying to accomplish something and not making a dent. I told Hosking he reminded me of a Greek fellow named Sisyphus who futilely pushed the rock up the hill day after day after day.
He laughed and reminded me that doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result is also one of the definitions of insanity.
Hosking moved to Albuquerque in 1983 with his wife, Mary Ann Fiske, who worked full time for peace and justice issues until she died five years ago. Aware of the national labs’ presence near their new home, Hosking thought it was his moral duty to wage a protest. He spent several weeks counting cars going in and out of the base gates in the mornings and afternoons to pick the best time to protest and measured speed limit signs to determine how big the letters should be on his signs.
He settled on afternoons from 3:30 to 5 and very big signs. He also decided that instead of preaching with statements, his signs should provoke thought with questions. Example: “Are you sure weapons of mass destruction build peace?”
Hosking kicked off his vigil on Ash Wednesday 1983 and vowed to go to the base every day for the 40 days of Lent. At the end of 40 days he kept going. For months. Then he started adding a morning shift as well and kept that up for nine months.
The vigil stopped for a few years when Hosking and Fiske moved to Africa but since 1994, Hosking has faithfully kept it up every Friday afternoon.
Early on, in 1985, a research physicist at the labs who had been grappling with what he viewed as the moral contradictions of his work for years approached Hosking and told him he was resigning. But Hosking told me that since that event he has sensed a waning interest in his Friday vigil.
“I don’t think I have much more chance of changing their minds than they have of changing mine.” he said.
What drew me to Hosking was not so much his cause but his indefatigable determination in the face of what appears to be futility.
To help me understand him better, Hosking told me about a formative time in his life.
At 14, he attended his first protest march, a fair housing protest in Chicago’s northern suburbs, and decided then and there that he needed to examine his life’s purpose. Hosking spent the next six years reading, thinking and praying (he had plans to become an Episcopal priest) and came to the conclusion he would live simply and work to advance peace and justice and to end global inequity.
He chose teaching as his career and decided early on to live on little and give away most of his income. These days, Hosking works as a note taker for disabled students at Central New Mexico Community College. He keeps track of what he spends and last year his total was $1,755 and most of that went toward utilities and property taxes on the house he owns in a downtown neighborhood.
The Friday vigil by now is as ingrained in his being as frugality and charity, so questions about whether he is having any effect seem beside the point.
“I’m just one of the workers out there in the trenches, you know, just holding a sign and making a statement in hopes that you scatter some seeds and some of them come to fruition,” he told me on the 30th anniversary of his vigil. “My feeling is as long as we can still think seriously about issues, there’s hope.”
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— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal