Protester Arrested at U.S. Capitol Asks: What About the First Amendment?

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“The times are ominous!”

— The late Phil Berrigan, Dissenter Emeritus, in his final public appearance, March 19, 2002. [1]

Washington, D.C. – A rally against the Iraqi War at the U.S. Capitol, on Tuesday, September 26, 2006, led to the arrests of 71 protesters by the police, according to a spokesperson for one of the organizers. The passionate demonstration was co-promoted by the “National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance” (NCNR) and the “Declaration of Peace” organizations. These conscience-driven advocacy groups, antiwar and/or religious based, endorse the laudable principle of nonviolent resistance to and noncooperation with “the U.S. government, the military, the corporate merchants of war, and all institutions that feed” the War, Mayhem and Death Machine of the Halliburton-challenged and Big-Oil-oriented Bush-Cheney Gang. The specific focus of the activists today was on pressuring the U.S. Congress to “develop a comprehensive and rapid peace plan” for ending the Iraqi conflict and for bringing the troops home. [2]

One of the protesters arrested was Max Obuszewski of Baltimore. He’s with the NCNR. He demanded to know from the police before being cuffed by them: “What about the First Amendment?” Obuszewski, with eleven other activists, was arrested on the west side of the Capitol for trying to deliver a symbolic coffin to the U.S. Congress. As they were carrying the coffin along the sidewalk, the activists were yelling out slogans like: “This is what democracy looks like!” “We demand an end to the occupation of Iraq!” “No more killing!” “No more war!””We are not afraid!” and “No more war in the name of 9/11!” Prior to the start of today’s event, Obuszewski told me: “We want to bring the war home to the Congress. Unless you cut off the funding, the war is going to continue. More money for the war means more dead U.S. soldiers and more dead Iraqis. We are taking this coffin to the Capitol because they [the Congress] are the people responsible for all the deaths.”

Today’s protest action began at Upper Senate Park, which is across Constitution Ave., and just north of the Capitol, at 10:30 AM, with speeches, prayers, chanting from a Buddhist group; the blowing of a shofar; ballad singing led by Ms. Luci Murphy; and an interfaith ceremony. It included the use, via Christian rituals, of “ashes, stones, flowers,” and the reading of a litany. It was supposed to be followed by a procession around the Capitol itself. However, when the protesters, about 250 of them, marched one block west on Constitution Ave to First St., NW, they were stopped by the U.S. Capitol police from crossing Constitution Ave. This is when the Obuszewski-led group defied the cops. Insisting on the their “First Amendment Rights,” they fast-trotted across Constitution avenue, coffin in tow, with the cops chasing along side them. Next, there were a couple of standoffs between the parties, until the Obuszewksi’s contingent was half way around the west side of the Capitol. It was there, that the activist group decided to cross an ad hoc police line. They were then arrested.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the 59 other arrests took place at or near the Hart and the Russell Office buildings, according to Timi Gerson of the “Declaration of Peace” group. She told me that some of the arrests took place “outside one of the buildings” and the others “in one of the lobbies.” The organizers, who put this event on today, are planning to come back to the Capitol tomorrow to reprise this demonstration. They also said that their initiative won’t end, until the “U.S. withdraws from Iraq.” [2]

Ellen Barfield of the NCNR, a US Army veteran, was one of the speakers at the event. She said: “We are here today to confront our dilatory Congress, who needs to get a spine. And, we hope to help them with that little problem.” Raed Jarrar, who is the director of the Iraq Project, Global Exchange, and a native of Iraq, told the crowd: “Iraqis are standing united for an end to this illegal war.” Some of the other speakers at the rally were: Gordon Clark of the NCNR; Rick Ufford-Chase, President of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship; Ken Butigan of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service; and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

The Bush-Cheney Gang legacy: As of today’s date, the Neocon-inspired Iraqi War has led to the deaths of 2,706 U.S. military personnel, with around 20,000 seriously wounded. [3] It has also cost taxpayers $318 billion, and rising. Iraqi civilian casualties have been estimated at over 100,000. An Arab country of 27 millions souls, Iraq had done the U.S. no harm. It also had no WMD, no ties to Al Qaeda and nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. Its ancient roots, according to the brilliant historian Will Durant, helped to seed the civilization of the peoples of the Christian West. Iraq now lays in ruin. Its air fouled with toxic depleted uranium. Its people mostly desolate. Paul Wolfowitz, a raving Neocon, and then Deputy U.S. Secretary of Defense, was the “prime architect” of the conflict. He was aided by other Chickenhawks, like: William Kristol and Richard Perle. Wolfowitz now heads the World Bank, a sinecure, at a salary of $375,000 a year. Kristol and Perle, per the Hard Right line of Israel’s P.M., the ultra-hawkish Ehud Olmert, are now pushing for a U.S. led war against Iran. If there is a Hell, there should be a special place in it for Wolfowitz and for the repulsive Neocons. [4] The Iraqi War is also a stain on our Republic, as is this government’s policy permitting the torture of detainees. The conflict creates, daily, more enemies for America in the Islamic World. [5] At the same time, 18,000 people a year die in the U.S., three times as many who perished at the WTC, because they don’t have any health care. [6] And, global climate change threatens life on the planet. [7] Silence in the face of the rampant evildoings of the Bush-Cheney Gang is consent!

According to organizers, this direct action was inspired, partly, by the nonviolent resistance to WMD of three brave R.C. nuns, known as the “Plowshares Nuns.” They are Sisters Carol Gilbert, OP, Jackie Hudson OP and Ardeth Platte OP. The press release states: “On Oct. 6, 2002, they entered a missile site near Greeley, Colorado. They cut through two gates to enter the silo area. They hammered on the tracks used for the silo lids to open the silo itself. They also used their blood to make the sign of the cross on the tracks and on the silo. They concluded their witness with a liturgy. They were arrested and imprisoned. Jackie received 31 months, Carol 33 [months] and Ardeth 41 [months] for their nonviolent act of civil resistance to protest nuclear weapons.” [2]

Meanwhile, “The System” we live under in this country is fixed and rigged by the Wirepullers. It gives us an economy dominated by greedy Vulture Capitalists, who pay little or no taxes, own most of the wealth and deliberately pit individuals and groups against each other. [8] It is time for the American people to begin thinking for themselves and to see themselves as the real owners of the Republic, with authentic personal power, who in solidarity with others, can change things for the better. [9]Turn off Katie Couric, Bill O’Reilly, Jim Lehrer, Rush Limbaugh and Charley Rose, too!

In summation, the illegal, and totally unnecessary, war in Iraq was contrived. It has maliciously wasted innocent lives and continues to drain our treasury. It’s also a war of aggression, which violates principles of International Law established at Nuremberg, Germany (1947-49). Here’s what you can do: If you see, at a public forum, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD), and others of that ilk, who have consistently voted in the U.S. Congress to fund the Iraqi war; who green lighted the passage, in the middle of the night, of the draconian USA Patriot Act; and who have endorsed Israel’s horrific war crimes in Occupied Palestine and in Lebanon–boo them–loudly!

I say: Kudos to those gutsy individuals, who are willing to risk arrest and jail in combatting this insane and immoral Iraqi War. [10]

Notes:

[1]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyHabFrICz4 and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmbeTXVnckI

[2]. http://www.declarationofpeace.org and
http://www.iraqpledge.org
For more background on the growing Plowshares Movement, and its spiritual and historical foundations: See:
http://www.jonahhouse.org/

[3]. For an analysis of the Special Interests, who pushed for the Iraqi War, See, “The Sorrows of Empire,” by Chalmers Johnson.

[4]. http://batr.net/neoconwatch/

[5]. “Agencies Say War is Spreading Terrorism,” Richard A. Serrano, 09/25/06/, Baltimore Sun and http://baltimore.indymedia.org/newswire/
display/13104/index.php

[6]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQFG4Piwegs

[7]. http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Science/2006/
09/25/pf-1894958.html

[8]. http://www.economyincrisis.org/

[9]. Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

[10]. A video showing some of the arrests made on the west side of the U.S. Capitol, can be found here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGReqfxnGvQ

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