by Art Laffin
On May 29, 2018, hundreds of people were arrested in cities across the country in nonviolent protests calling for an end to economic inequality, militarism and racial injustice organized by the new Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). In Missouri, dozens of people held a sit-in protest at the state Capitol building, calling for a minimum wage of 15 dollars an hour. In Nashville, Tennessee, 20 people were arrested as they protested against gun violence and militarism ahead of a visit by President Trump. And in Washington, D.C., 39 people, including Mike Walli, myself and Dominican Sisters’ Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, now living at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, were arrested for a nonviolent a civil resistance witness outside the office of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. Ky). Other faith leaders and activists who were arrested included, Rev. Nelson Johnson, Joyce Johnson, Rev. Liz Theoharis (co-chair with Rev. William Barber II of the PPC), Rev. William Lamar IV, Rev. Chuck Booker, Shane Claiborne, Jean Stokan, Bob Cooke, Mary Liepold, Paki Wieland and members of the group “About Face—Veterans Against the War” (see:https://aboutfaceveterans.org/)
The focus for this PPC action, on the day after Memorial Day, was: “The War Economy: Militarism and the Proliferation of Gun Violence.” This theme was chosen to present an alternative narrative to the traditional Memorial Day commemoration. Please see these stories from News 2 Share and Common Dreams about the actions. During the PPC previous two actions on May 14 and May 21, which took place on First Street, outside the U.S. Capitol and inside the U.S. Capitol rotunda, a total of over 200 people have been arrested.
This was a very moving and hope-filled day in many respects. For sister’s Ardeth and Carol, Mike and myself, the day began at the Pentagon for our 7-8 AM weekly Dorothy Day Catholic Worker-sponsored peace vigil. Following this vigil, we spent some time at a Soup Kitchen, located at the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church Methodist and coordinated by several of our friends from “Our Daily Bread Breakfast Ministry.” These were both powerful experiences: at the Pentagon–holding up the nonviolent mandate of the Gospel in resistance to the sins of war and militarism; and at the Soup Kitchen–experiencing the plight of poor and homeless people, victims of a warmaking empire.
We then attended an action planning meeting at St, Mark’s Episcopal church, followed by a spirited rally on the East Capitol grounds. At the conclusion of the rally, longtime veteran civil rights leaders and peacemakers, Rev. Johnson and his wife Joyce, Rev. Theoharis and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from About Face, led about 150 people in a procession to the Russell Senate Building. Once inside, we went to the office of Sen. McConnell. A folded-up American flag, in remembrance of the U.S. war dead and the countless victims of U.S warmaking and violence worldwide, was presented to an aide of Sen. McConnell by Rev. Nelson, Rev. Theoharis and About Face veterans. Carnations to memorialize all the victims of war and violence were then placed by individuals into a flower vase and left inside the Senator’s office. Rev. Theoharis and Rev. Nelson then offered short reflections about the purpose of our witness and what transpired inside the senator’s office. During this time horrifying facts about U.S. warmaking and gun-violence were read and decried.
Meanwhile, U.S. Capitol Police began to mobilize and within a short time ordered people to disperse or face arrest. Just before the arrests began, I recited the following quote from Dr. King: “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism.” I then paraphrased another King quote: in the Nuclear Age the choice before us is either “nonviolence or nonexistence.” After I offered this statement I then took a knee and was soon arrested. The sign I held throughout this witness said: “Love Your Neighbor Means: Don’t Bomb, Occupy and Kill Them! Abolish War and Convert the War Economy to a Peace Economy! Beat All Swords Into Plowshares! Abolish All Guns and Weapons—From Assault Weapons and Killer Drones to Nuclear Weapons!”
As the police moved in to arrest people the group began singing a solemn stirring refrain, “We Remember,” in remembrance of all the victims of war, gun-violence, racial violence and poverty. Capitol Police proceeded to take those arrested outside the Senate building across the street to an area adjoining Upper Senate Park, where tables were set up to process us. Surprisingly, police never handcuffed anyone throughout this process—a first for me for a Capitol arrest! Also another “noteworthy” thing happened during this time. The police officer in charge ordered us all to stop singing as we were waiting to be processed. He said that even though we were already under arrest we were protesting again and if we persisted we would be given an additional charge. We complied with this order. After a brief time I was then moved to offer a prayer, which I felt was an appropriate response given the circumstances.
We were all charged with “Crowding, Obstructing, or Incommoding” and then given a citation release. The citation states that people have within 15 days to report to the Capitol Police Headquarters to post and forfeit $50 or request a court date to be arraigned.
For more info about the PPC and how you can be involved please see the info below.
Let us continue to do All we can to create the Beloved Community! We keep our eyes on the prize and hope on!
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is bringing together people across the country who are organizing to build a broad and deep national moral movement—led by the poor, impacted, clergy and moral agents and reflecting the great moral teachings—to unite our country from the bottom up. Beginning in May, the Campaign will launch with 40 days of moral action, from May 13th until June 23rd, in 39 states and Washington D.C.
POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN: A NATIONAL CALL FOR MORAL RENEWAL – FORTY DAYS OF ACTION (May 13-Jun 23) – These 40 days are a season of nonviolent moral fusion direct action to transform the nation’s political, economic, and moral structures.
Week 1 (May 13-19) – SOMEBODY’S HURTING OUR PEOPLE: Children, Women, and People with Disabilities in Poverty
Week 2 (May 20-26): Linking Systemic Racism and Poverty
Week 3 (May 27-Jun 2): The War Economy
Week 4 (Jun 3-9): The Right to Health and a Healthy Planet
Week 5 (Jun 10-16): Everybody’s Got the Right to Live
Week 6 (Jun 17-22): A New and Unsettling Force
Week 7 (Jun 23): Global Day of Solidarity, Mass Rally in Washington DC
For more info about this effort and these themes, go to https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/index.php/events/ or contact DMV Poor People’s Campaign (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For D.C. Events go to: https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/dcevents/
Photo by Leeann Cafferata