Members of National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance Arrested
On Steps of U.S. Capitol for Pleading for An End to War Funding
by Janice Sevre-Duszynska ARCWP
“One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be impossible to turn the US around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change things for the better.” Daniel Berrigan
Early morning July 12th, Thoreau’s 200th birthday, Max Obuszewski and I drove from Baltimore to the Greenbelt Metro Station. We were wearing bloody t-shirts as part of NCNR’s “Rivers of Blood II” action. Our NCNR community had written a petition to end the wars the U.S. has been conducting, cut off funding and instead put the money into much-needed social programs. The petition would be delivered to four leading members of Congress. This year was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at the Riverside Church in Manhattan.
On the train three people heading to D.C. for a business meeting asked us about our shirts and we told them our purpose for going to Capitol Hill. Max asked if they knew how many wars the U.S. was engaged in today. One thought two, the other three. They were surprised when he told them we were at war in seven countries. One man said he had heard on NPR that 19% of the discretionary federal budget goes to the military. We assured him it was more than 50%. As we were leaving, one businessman wondered if our group would be able to get into the Congressional offices.
We met with Joy First, Malachy Kilbride, Phil Runkel and Alice Sutter at Union Station. Along with other supporters we walked toward the Senate and House office buildings. It was already quite hot. I put on my stole as we entered the Russell Office Building and delivered our petition to Senator Mitch McConnell’s office in Room 317. We were told that it would be given to the person who works on military spending and we received her contact information.
In the Hart Senate Office Building we visited the office of Senator Chuck Schumer. His assistant, Faiq S. Raza, whose parents are from Pakistan, listened to our pleas to stop the killing and military weapons spending. He told us that constituents can have an effect on Sen. Schumer.
We then made our way to the Cannon House Office Building to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office where we delivered our petition. Legislative aides, however, were at a meeting. We asked for and were given the contact information for the aide who handles military spending.
Next we went to Rep. Paul Ryan’s office in the Longworth House Office Building. His door was locked and a sign posted which read: “Only people with a scheduled meeting are allowed to enter.” We knocked but there was no answer. So we slipped the petition under the door along with a flyer that Joy had prepared condemning U.S. military operatives. We handed it out all through Capitol Hill.
Wearing our bloody tee shirts, we walked toward the Capitol steps, across from the Supreme Court, carrying our banner which read, “Stop the War Machine: Export Peace. Once on the steps we unfurled a red sash to symbolize the river of blood flowing out of the Capitol. The banner and sash were confiscated by the police. Surrounded by Capitol Police Officers, we began taking turns reading the petition but were constantly interrupted by an officer warning us that we were facing arrest. Each time the police officer spoke, I would tell him that we were not doing anything illegal. We were speaking for the people. All we wanted to do was read our petition.
After the fourth warning, Max was removed, then Alice, a retired nurse from New York, then Phil, an archivist from Wisconsin of Dorothy Day’s papers, then Joy First, a grandmother activist also from Wisconsin, and then Malachy, a Quaker from Maryland. While they were being held in custody, I remained on the Capitol steps. I told the police I was going to finish reading the petition. Although they crowded around me, I did finish
reading the document.
Then they took me into the shade where the others were sitting and wondering what had happened to me. I was surprised as were the others. We were allowed to keep our possessions. We were not handcuffed or frisked. Nor was there a police van waiting to take us away to a police station. Instead, in the sweltering heat, we were given cold water. There was no fingerprinting but our photos were taken. Then tables and chairs were brought out of a police van and the police took our information before giving us a release document. We were to report on July 13th to the U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters to request a court date.
It was discovered that the commander on site during the arrest was the mysterious writer of an email sent to First claiming he had been arrested before. The plan will be to subpoena him to appear in court during the trial.
However, on July 25, Mark Goldstone, the pre-eminent First Amendment attorney in Washington, D.C, notified the group that charges were dismissed for First, Kilbride, Runkel and Sutter, a day before their arraignment. Max and I are scheduled to be arraigned on August 2. It is presumed that charges will be dismissed for us as well.
The Capitol Steps Six are savoring this victory for freedom of speech. However, they are already conspiring to do another action to honor Dr. King’s Riverside Church speech.