Spending time with the Veterans for Peace in the season of peace
Nothing like having the opportunity to take the “sacrament of the handcuffs” in the pursuit of peace during advent –- the time when we symbolically await the birth of the “Prince of Peace.”
I got just such an opportunity last Thursday, Dec. 16h, at the national Veterans For Peace (VFP) “Stop the Wars Now” rally and civil resistance action. About 500 people showed up at Lafayette Park across from the main entrance at the White House (which is safely fenced in several hundred feet away and accessorized with rooftop snipers ). Speakers included Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the “Pentagon Papers,” which detailed the lies about the war in Vietnam our government was telling us 40 years ago. He is the forerunner to WikiLeaks (which has shown us how consistent our government is in lying to us) and he had a significant role in helping to bring the war in Vietnam to an end. (If you have not seen the documentary “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” which details his story, do so. I promise that it is well worth your time.)
At the end of the rally, before the silent, solemn procession to the White House fence, in honor of those killed in Iraq and Afghan wars of lies and deceptions, the VFP played taps and folded an American flag that had been left behind at a recent funeral for the veteran of one of those wars. Two attendees in full dress uniform held and folded the flag. I had the image of all of the people who stood along the roads and bridges when the bodies of the two local men, Benjamin Osborn and David Miller, were returned to the Capital District. I thought if all of those people were here now or spoke out against war these two fine young men might still be with us.
I was blessed enough to be held in custody with one of those in uniform; a wonderful young man who had to move from his hometown in Georgia because no one understood why as a veteran he was against these wars. Even his family did not understand. (He remains in my prayers.)
Our plan was to attach ourselves to the White House fence until President Obama came out and talked to us or until we were arrested and dragged away. I don't have to tell you how it ended.
Mr. Ellsberg was one of 139 people arrested at that action.
Also arrested was Chris Hedges, who recently spoke at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy. For two decades he was foreign correspondent for the New York Times and he writes a regular column for truthdig.com. He is also a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School.
Also taking the sacrament were Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley. McGovern is a former CIA analyst who served 27 years under seven presidents, and founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. To see a great clip (with fact checks) of him confronting Donald Rumsfeld about his lies to the American people about the war in Iraq click HERE.
Rowley is the former FBI agent who waged an unsuccessful and much criticized attempt to warn the FBI director as well as other administration officials about the dangers of launching the invasion of Iraq. She was one of Time Magazine's people of the year in December 2003. That year Time honored three “whistle bowers,” Cynthia Cooper of Worldcom, Sharon Watkins of Enron, and Rowley.
Needless to say I was in some great company and that includes the United States Park Police (USPP), the constabulary who have jurisdiction in Lafayette Park. They were both kind and gracious. I had a lovely chat with the officer that cuffed me and took me to the photo tent before putting me on the bus to take us to the Anacostia Station. He was glad we were standing up to end the wars, thanked me for being so nice and appreciated that all of us were so polite.
I had an equally delightful conversation with the officer at the station who filled out my appearance ticket. He is a detective who usually works drug enforcement and he filled me in on what he's been doing in the line of work. We talked about the resources that are being siphoned off of what he needs to keep methamphetamines out of our communities. Very nice man with an incredibly memorable and infectious smile.
There were only two “stinkers” in the bunch. One was the officer who greeted us when we were put into the garage of the station and told to sit on the floor, which was cold and dirty. Most of us were middle-age and older so it was very difficult for us to get up and down off of the floor with our hands cuffed behind our backs. There were legitimate concerns expressed and she was not of a mind to listen. You just wanted to say to her, “Ya volt!”
As I was leaving I said my customary, “God bless you,” and she told me that she is really a nice person, which I had no doubt that she was. She just didn't know how to work with a large group of peacemakers and still look like she was in control.
The other difficult officer was the person at the reception desk the next day as we returned to get our arraignment date of Jan. 4. His attitude and behavior were so uncalled for and inappropriate that a letter to my new congressman is in order.
I was charged with a violation, not a crime; it's like a traffic ticket but I have to show up in court. Lest anyone think this is all romance -– my charge of “failure to obey lawful order” is lumped in with “unleashed dog,” “sale of unpackaged food” and “fishing violation.” Tells you what our government thinks of standing up for honor, integrity and the sacredness of life. When I feigned indignation at the category of charges mine was lumped in with, one of the other officers (also very nice) joked that they could up the charges if I was unhappy with the one that I had.
Back home while explaining the charge, one of my Saratoga Peace Alliance colleagues, Jeffrey Halpern, noted that the crimes most often charged to people who are part of civil disobedience actions are the same one that vagrants or homeless people are charged with. Given Jesus' ministry to and standing with the poor and disenfranchised I thought this comment incredibly insightful and deep. I'm still reflecting on it.
My guess is that the U.S. government will drop the charges. They do not want (nor can they afford) the likes of Ellsberg, Rowley or McGovern testifying at a trial. They have their hands full with WikiLeaks already exposing the nakedness of the sovereignty. They don't need to add injury to idiocy.
National activist celebrities and USPP aside, the person I was most honored (and blessed) to be arrested with the Francis Crowe. “THE Francis Crowe?!” I said when I was introduced to her.
A Quaker legend, Francis Crowe is 92 years old (folks are thinking of selling T-shirts that say, “If Francis can do it I can do it). From the Northampton area of Massachusetts, she is a revered icon of peacemakers. I recall hearing her story more than 30 years ago. During the war on Vietnam, she and a couple of other women would dress like Vietnamese peasants and stand silently out in front of the entrance to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. Rain, shine or snow they stood in silent vigil. One of the bomber pilots who was heading off to that war took notice and while flying on one of his missions remembered them and realized he was bombing and killing real people and they looked like the people he had seen outside Westover. He could “see” the human beings he was killing. He stopped being a bomber.
Years later he was at some event and was telling some unknown person how he had come to stop making war.
The person he was talking to? Francis Crowe.