Sorry for the late posting on this historic event.
Three weeks ago, I was detained on a Metro bus with my dear friends Malachy, David Barrows, Midge Potts and D.C.-based Catholic Worker Art Laffin. We had been arrested for protesting in front of the White House and refusing to leave. We were protesting against the illegal and immoral war and occupation of a soveriegn nation which never posed a credible threat to our nation.
This action had been planned largely through conference calls hosted by United for Peace and Justice's (UFPJ) nonviolent direct action working group. The two groups who probably had the biggest hand in designing this momentous act of nonviolent resistance was The National Campaign of Nonviolent Resistance (formerly known as the Iraq Pledge of Resistance) and Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq (CALC-I).
Participation in the event turned out to be larger than many of us imagined. The first one arrested was Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war movement's first true superstar. Most news articles written about the event lead with Cindy's arrest and barely mention the other 373 of us.
Speaking in Lafayette Square briefly before the action were Gordon Clark of National Campaign of Nonviolent Resistance, Rabbi Arthur Waskow from Philadelphia and an Imam from New York City. The speakers had to stand on a wobbly milk crate. My friend from both NCNR and the D.C. Anti-War Network (DAWN), Pat Elder, and I struggled to support both the rabbi and imam. And as they took turns, the imam helped supprt the rabbi and then the rabbi assisted us in holding the imam steady. It was a physical -- expression of love and unity that buttressed the words in their brief but poignant speeches. I shed tears during this moment. I knew this was a powerful action, one that could lead to a wider movement of resistance and non-cooperation as we struggle to end this evil war and occupation of raw imperialism.
I marched with the group from The Ellipse to Lafayette Square, one group headed up 17th Street, while the other group of us headed up 15th. This gave a brief sense of encircling the White House. Wonderful photographs were taken of this procession, and it was a solemn event, bells were steadily rung, and buddhist monks tapped drums in unison. I saw my New York Friends, Jenna from 1,000 Coffins and Ai Mara with Not In Our Name. This was to be Ai Mara's first time being arrested. It was good to see Jenna who has played a big role in earlier marches and protest events. I also was able to briefly meet Rev. Simon Harak a Lebanese-American Jesuit, also from New York, face to face for the first time. He is a very thoughtful and dedicated practitioner of nonviolence, and someone I see eye to eye with on how we would like to see the movement progress. The Rev. and I had exchanged e-mail and had a phone conversation before, but it was nice to put a face to that voice.
What was most powerful about the event was that we all decided that our opposition to the war was great enough to submit to arrest and detention, although extremely brief. Before stepping into the arrest zone, I met up with my small affinity group who had decided to make the connection of this war to our own government's use of torture in Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay. We donned Orange jumpsuits and black hoods. I was a bit fearful of doing this, I wondered if my compatriots in NCNR would see this as "too radical" or "too angry and unforgiving." Would they dismiss this as more DAWN extremism? But I felt it had to be done, that the people should be reminded of all the pain and shame involved with our nation's evil practices of imperialism and dehumanization of other peoples. But my fear was unnecessary, we were not criticized, and while we were waiting to be taken into custody and processed, others came up to us and thanked us, over and over again.
At one point, we stood on the base of the White House fence, many said we provided a "good witness" to our nation's human rights abuses and provided a very sobering effect to the action. While we stood on the fence's base, a man jumped the fence and was immediately and very violently tackled by 8 or 9 secret service agents. Then were were told by the Park Police to step off the base. We reluctantly did, but after a couple minutes the four of us decided that we would resume our perch and tell them we were not going to make the same leap. We were then roughly snatched off the base and violently stumbled on to the cement. We laid there huddled together for a few seconds, and the crowd become very quiet. We then sat together and decided to be among the very last taken away by the police. We also decided, along with another group mostly from upstate New York that we would not cooperate with getting on the bus and would go limp. We were in this together, and it was an empowering feeling.
It was also empowering to see religious leaders and the extremely brilliant teacher and gifted orator Dr. Cornel West arrested with us. We were held until around 4:30 a.m., and overall were treated well by the Park Police. Many people talked about organizing similar actions intheir home states. Done Mueller was there from Alaska. Others were from California and Arizona. Mubarak Awad, a palestian man and founder of Nonviolence International was with us. A couple decades ago he was exiled by the Israeli government. It was exciting, it really felt like a true nonviolent resistance movement was being born.
So, I wait and wonder what will happen next in this movement? It is being written about in newspapers, online magazines, personal blogs. The word is spreading, it's mroe than just Cindy Sheehan getting arrested in front of the White House. It was in many ways a popular nonviolent action. Can we fill up the jails and disrupt the judicial system? Can we nonviolently shutdown recruiting stations, military bases, cities? What can we do to disrupt the business as usual standard of modern-day warmaking? I have faith that the masses are waking up to the lies which have been sold to them and questioning authority. They are sick of the killing and seeing young men and women coming home wounded and mentally scared for life.
I believe it is time to build the nonviolent resistance and noncooperation movement. We now have the momentum, let's keep it going!