by Quincy Howard
I never imagined my vocation as a Dominican sister would entail being arrested by the Secret Service and spending a night in the Washington, D.C. Central jail. For the past four years, I have devoted my ministry to protecting and strengthening our democracy by focusing on federal policies that align more closely with Catholic social justice principles. But it was the dysfunctional, divided federal government—the foundational systems of policy-making—that emerged as the place to focus my energy.
But in the fall of 2021 I felt desperation creeping in. And so, in early October I found myself in front of the White House with five other faithful companions in a stare-down with a wall of armed Secret Service agents. That day I felt called to this act of public witness, proudly wearing the stark symbol of my Dominican habit. My attire was in part an appeal to the Catholic sensibilities that President Biden wears on his sleeve as well as a visible indicator that deeper, theological values are at stake. Maybe, just maybe, this action could move him to take the lead on transformational voting rights legislation that would repair some of the dysfunction I have witnessed.
Our group of over a dozen demonstrators—including executive directors, faith leaders and board members from justice organizations—had been whittled down after the Secret Service claimed jurisdiction over the arrests. Under their control, the penalties for our actions became less clear, including possible stiff charges. A night spent in jail was all but guaranteed, and not just any jail but the D.C. Central Cell Block, infamous in the district. But I knew bowing out was not an option for me…