I think I set a record for a speedy arrest. I arrived at Senator Coleman's office at 4:30 knowing they normally closed at 5. Since I told them I planned to stay, they called the cops to be ready for me right at 5. I was cuffed, put in the squad car and taken downtown, put in a holding cell for 15 minutes while they did the paperwork and I was released by 5:35 without even the option of staying overnight if I wanted to! I have to call in 10 days to get an arraignment date for the misdemeanor of “trespass”. So, my fast continues as well as my prayers. Thanks for your support. You can check out www.iraqpeaceteam.org for updates on the folks in Baghdad.
Paul Thorsen and Carol Masters from the Community of St. Martin joined me for a while then left just before the arrest. It is great to have others join one in solidarity. But why the solitary witness? Is it because I’m so “pure” that I don’t want my witness to be “contaminated” by the intrusions of others? I think there are times for us to join the mass movements, to lend our voice to the chorus, to help show others by our numbers that we are not alone. We need to remind ourselves as well that we are not alone.
But I also strive to make a witness that more fully communicates what I value and who I am. So often, in the large crowds, the mass rallies and marches, there are voices raised that make me cringe and call me to ask, why am I here? Voices which seek to denigrate the other. Voices that increase the spiral of violence and hatred. If we really wish to speak on behalf of the voiceless children in Iraq, that voice won’t be heard among the catcalls against the President or the attempts to out-shout counter-demonstrators.
I am inspired by the story of the solitary Quaker who day after day vigiled with his sign outside the White House during the Vietnam War. The President of the United States took time out of his busy schedule to ask the Secret Service to remove him so he couldn’t see him every day and thus be reminded that all was not well. My friend Janelle reminded me that AJ Muste would often go by himself to demonstrate at nuclear weapons installations. When asked what he was accomplishing with such a solitary witness, he said it was “to keep the world [the militarists] from changing him.”
I’d like to propose we consider instituting a regular “solitary witness” at Senator Coleman’s office during this war. If one does not feel comfortable or confident enough to do it alone, go with a friend. But do it in small numbers, do it on a regular basis, so the staff of that office are reminded daily that this war will not go on without our dissent. Strategically, to tie up our court system with daily petty misdemeanors will be a nuisance. Already the Governor is threatening to try to charge dissenters with the costs of their arrests. In a time of budget crunching, we need to remind our government that this war will be costly. If we are going to jeopardize the lives of the Iraqi people, there need to be some costs here at home as well. If day-after-day our courts are tied up with prosecuting us for trespass at the Senator’s office, we will be sending a loud and clear message that “business as usual” can’t continue as long as we are engaging in this illegal and unjust war.
For those who are unable to risk arrest at this time, it isn’t necessary to be arrested to make this witness. You, too, can go to the Senator’s office to pray for the victims and perpetrators of this war. For me, getting arrested wasn’t the goal; making a faithful witness was. I think whether or not I was arrested was less important than my presence there, praying for peace. If others are interested, I’d be happy to share some of my photos of people from Iraq to take with you. Just go to the office and tell the staff you’ve come to pray for the people of Iraq. There are 4 chairs in the outer office so if several come the same day, that’s OK. The office closes at 5 PM so if you don’t wish to risk arrest, you can leave at that time.
Can we make our voices heard by our silence? I think we can. I think silence and prayerful presence speaks volumes. For those whose schedules allows, consider going once a week or once a fortnight. Maybe others can go to Sabo’s or Dayton’s offices as well to remind them of our continued opposition to this war and encourage them to continue to vote and speak against it. Maybe there is a military recruitment office in your neighborhood or area. That is also a good place for public prayer.
Will you join me? Will you lift your voice (sometimes in silence) to end this war?