Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What happened at the Pentagon on St. Patrick's Day?

Myself and several other activists associated with the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance visited the Pentagon Tuesday morning taking with us copies of a letter that had been delivered a week earlier to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The letter asked for the U.S. government to pursue peace and just diplomacy over illegal and immoral wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as an immediate cessation of bombing portion of the nation of Pakistan. We also said that if we did not receive a response, we would pay him a visit.

Seven of us approached the doors of the Pentagon, about 30 yards from an entrance to the Metro station. We spoke with a guard monitoring those entering the building, as we did not carry officially-issued Pentagon badges. However, we are all citizens and taxpayers of the U.S., and wished to meet with at the very least someone from Gates' office. We were told to go into a security booth for those arriving at the Pentagon for business where we had to show two forms of ID. Inside this booth a senior Pentagon Police Officer quickly rushed in and started talking with us. He said he recognized three of our group (from previous actions at the Pentagon), and knew why we were there. He ordered us out of the booth where he would speak further with us on the sidewalk.

Once back outside on this sidewalk connecting the Metro to the doors of the Pentagon, he told us a meeting would not be granted but he would do his best to make sure the letter would get to Gates' office. We told him that the letter had already been delivered, and that we were taxpayers, that we paid all of the Defense Department employees' salaries, and we were determined to have a meeting with someone in the secretary's office. He again denied us entrance, and said no meeting would happen. We said that we had already mailed, faxed and petitioned our government to change its disastrous courses in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that we were now trying a more direct approach.

The officer became a little more agitated and warned us that the police would begin making arrests if we did not leave. We then began sitting down on the sidewalk, and continued communicating with this officer, and another one who was on the scene. Manijeh from New Jersey said that her right to petition her government for a redress of grievances was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. I said we would keep talking to anyone who would listen, but at the same time we were determined to have that meeting with someone in Gates' office. I also stated that we were remembering Capt. Brian Bunting, from Montgomery County, Maryland, who was killed by an IED in Afghanistan a couple days before, and that he was 10 years younger than me. "I do not want anymore young Americans to loose their lives for illegal and immoral wars based on lies," I uttered loud enough so a couple passersby could hear.

The only response we got at that point was the senior officer to first ask us to move to yet another part of the sidewalk, and when we refused he issued two more warnings that we were about to be arrested. He said we were blocking an entrance to the Pentagon, as dozens of Pentagon workers easily passed by us quickly as they entered the building. Several of us said we were not blocking anything. Both officers started calling for back up to assist with making arrests.

Within a minute, a few police arrived on motorcycles, while our young friends with Our Spring Break watched nearby. The police rushed us, rapidly snatched us up and slapped handcuffs on us. I assured them that we were all nonviolent, and that all of us were compliant. We also in turn asked for illegal wars and immoral occupations to be stopped as they lead us to waiting police cars.

Once we made it to the Pentagon holding cells, the police treated us with respect and I found them to be extremely polite. One officer admitted that he was against the occupation of Iraq. And as another of us was fingerprinted his large, long fingers were compared to the late great activist Peter DeMott's. "You have the same fingers as that farmer, DeMott?" A couple of us shared small recollections of Peter with the police. Peter died in a tragic accident recently, and one of his greatest anti-war actions occurred on March 17, 2003 -- exactly 6 years earlier, and two days before Shock and Awe. He and three other Catholic Workers poured their blood inside a military recruiting station in upstate New York. They shut the station down for several hours that day, and all of them did some time in jail for this powerful witness.

We were all charged with Failure to Obey a Lawful Order. Within two and a half hours, all seven of us were released with a court date of May 8th. That day we will appear in Alexandria Court in order to continue to speak out and resist.

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