|Stop the War Machine: Export Peace banner used by those arrested on the Capitol steps July 12, 2017. Photo: Art Laffin from The Nuclear Resister|
The government decides not to prosecute the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance Six, arrested on the U.S. Capitol steps for pleading for an end to war funding
It was a long and winding road for six citizen activists arrested on July 12, 2017 by the Capitol Police, but the case was finally concluded on August 24 when our “Stop the War Machine: Export Peace” banner and a red sash were finally released from police custody. On that oppressively hot July 12, the anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday, Joy First, from Wisconsin, Malachy Kilbride, a Quaker from Maryland, Max Obuszewski from Baltimore, Phil Runkel, an archivist of Dorothy Day’s papers at Marquette University, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, also from Baltimore, and Alice Sutter, a retired nurse from New York City, visited the offices of the Senate and House leadership from both parties.
A petition pleading for an end to war funding was taken to the office of Sen. Mitch McConnell and later to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office. One of Schumer’s aides, who was of Pakistani heritage, engaged the group in a lengthy discussion, especially over the question of the legality of drone strikes. From there, the petitioners went to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office, where a staff person accepted the petition. Our final stop was to the door of Rep. Paul Ryan’s office. On Ryan’s door, which was locked, there was a sign “Only people with a scheduled meeting were allowed to enter.” We knocked, but there was no answer. So a petition was then slipped under the door with a flyer condemning U.S. military operations.
We then proceeded to the steps of the U.S. Capitol, just across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court , and unfurled the banner and red sash, which represented the blood pouring out of the Capitol as our legislators consistently vote to fund the war machine. We were wearing bloody tee shirts to signify what happens to the victims of war funding. Surrounded by Capitol Police officers, we took turns reading the petition. We were given four warnings to cease or be arrested. The reading kept getting interrupted as one-by-one, we were taken into custody. Janice, a Roman Catholic woman priest, insisted to the police that she was going to finish reading the petition, and the police did not interfere.
|Alice, Janice and Joy at Paul Ryan's office in Washington DC|
We were not handcuffed, were given cold water and were allowed to keep all possessions without being frisked. There was no fingerprinting, but a photograph of each activist was taken. Then tables and chairs were brought out of a police van, and the officers gathered our personal information before giving the defendants a citation release document. We were charged with Crowding, Obstructing and Incommoding and ordered to report on to U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters to request a court date. Actually, we had fifteen days to report.
Based on many arrests by the U.S. Capitol Police, I had never experienced one without being handcuffed. I have no idea why someone in the Capitol Police hierarchy decided to follow this procedure. I was arrested on those same Capitol steps during President Obama’s last State of the Union address in January 2016. We spent 6 ½ hours in jail before being released.
On , four defendants did appear at the Capitol Police Headquarters, and were given an arraignment date of July 26 to appear in D.C. Superior Court. Janice and I went to the headquarters on July 16, and were given August 2 as our arraignment date. On July 25, Mark Goldstone, a renowned First Amendment attorney, was informed by the U.S. Attorney’s office that Alice, Joy, Malachy and Phil had their cases no-papered. On our arraignment date, Janice and Max went online and discovered that we were not listed on the Superior Court docket. So we presumed our cases were also not papered. Now we began the saga to get the banner and sash released by the Capitol Police. It took four visits to police headquarters, and the assistance of an Assistant Attorney General, before Janice could pick up the property.
Members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance [NCNR] petitioned the Congressional leadership on behalf of the voiceless, the poor, the middle class, the immigrants and people whose pleas are ignored. And this was done on the 50th anniversary year of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at the Riverside Church in Manhattan, entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”
It was important, as well, to read the petition on the Capitol steps as part of the Rivers of Blood II action. On September 20, 2007, the original Rivers of Blood action included a die-in by 31 peace activists in the crypt of the U.S. Capitol. So what has changed in ten years? Congress still consistently allocates tax dollars which go toward death and destruction in many parts of the world, most especially the Middle East.
On July 11, Joy received an email from “Andrew:” “I am wishing for more information on the call for action at the Capitol tomorrow.
I have been arrested previously for non violent [sic] demonstrations and want to seek more justice. What time are we expected to demonstrate and what specific location. Thank you.”
I had an opportunity to chat with the Capitol Police commander after the arrest and noticed his nameplate. He was the mysterious Andrew who sent the email.
Of course, it is unethical for a police officer to lie, but not illegal. We intended to subpoena “Andrew” to appear in court to testify during the trial. Was this the reason the charges were no-papered? Did the other arrests taking place in July inside the Senate and House of Representatives buildings over Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act overwhelm the court dockets?
Regardless of the reason our cases were dismissed, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance is gearing up for another action in the fall called Healthcare Not Warfare. We will make a demand for improved Medicare for All.
Let me know if you would like to join us. Again the action is planned to be commemorative of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s Riverside Church speech.Another anniversary to commemorate in 2017 is that of the ending of the Great War in 1917. Randolph Bourne, a writer who died in 1918 of the flu epidemic brought on by World War I, understood a predicament which we are still protesting today: “War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate co-operation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense.”
Have common sense, not larger herd sense, and join us in direct action calling for funding healthcare for all instead of the profiting from warfare by the few.
Max Obuszewski is with the Baltimore Nonviolence Center
“One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the US around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better" - Daniel Berrigan
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://