Last night, I took part in my first peace protest. (I say first in hopes that more will follow.) About 300(?) of us gathered in National City Christian Church for a worship service of sorts, all organized by Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. There was lovely music by The Brothers Frantzich (reminded me of how much I love singing with my siblings!), and several wonderful speakers: Dianna Ortiz (check out her book), Elizabeth McAlister, Tony Campolo, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood. The worship service was quite moving in itself. There were representatives from at least 11 Christian denominations. I attended with my housemate Kristen, friend eric, Pastor Karen, and another member from Luther Place. What an interesting mix of people as I looked around the sanctuary!
Our last couple of speakers really tried to get us riled up to go march to the White House! I was not sure what to expect, but we all headed out, forming a huge mass that moved slowly (carefully watched by the police) down to the White House. We sang as we walked – Siyahamba, Down by the Riverside, We Shall Overcome, Peace Salaam Shalom. It was so interesting and moving to me that music was such an important part of this protest. We all gathered in Lafayette Park to share a breaking of bread and pray. In some ways, I was reminded of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Then, we marched – peacefully – right up to the gate in front of the White House. Many people carried signs, and the police had clearly been well-informed of this gathering as they all stood around, rather casually.
The next hour or so was like a game… some sort of strange dance. The people who were willing to be arrested stood in the front of the pack. We sang and waited. After several minutes, we were told that whomever did not want to be arrested should move off the sidewalk. I did what I was told. We waited some more. They asked us to move back again. We formed a large circle in front of the White House, with our friends willing to be arrested still up on the sidewalk. Then the cops taped off Pennyslvania Ave and asked us to move back into the park. We stood outside of the tape, singing. This was all very peaceable, mind you. I’m sure the police deal with this all of the time. They just sort of laughed at us, though I did catch one PoPo singing along during We Shall Overcome.
I stood in front of the White House with the yellow caution tape in my face, confused about why people can’t say what they want to and hold up signs in front of the White House. When they told us our right to stand on Pennsylvania Ave had been revoked, I was even more confused. How can they just take away our rights like that? We weren’t even being violent or a threat to anyone. I kept saying out loud, “I just don’t get it…” So much so, in fact, that Kristen had to tell me to shut up so she could listen. The more ridiculous I thought it all was, the more I wanted to cross the line and get arrested…and the more I wished the whole Bon House had come to cross the line with me. But I stood back, figuring it might be better this time for me to watch and learn. About 20 people were arrested, all very calmly, as we continued singing and cheering for them. One of the women that was arrested – Kathy Kelly – has been arrested some 70 times, and one of the men – Father Vitale – was well over 200. “They’re my heroes,” Kristen said, shaking her head in disbelief.
It was quite an introduction to a world I know little about. This is what I imagined when I thought of DC, though I’m not sure I understood the steps of the dance all too well. The night left me angry and hurting, confused about our rights and unsettled about the difficulty to attain peace within our own country, let alone peace abroad. I wanted to be careful not to be swayed too much by my own side. After all, asking for peace and not war is just one side of a huge and complex issue. There are many people who would argue the value and benefits of war, and while I may not totally agree, I believe that it’s still worth hearing what they have to say. Last night’s protest, as well as a few more today, chose these particular dates because it’s the end of Obama’s first 100 days, and we still want him to hear our nation’s cries. I’d like to hear his own cries, quite frankly. Leading this nation has got to be a mess. But as Tony Campolo reminded us in this Easter season, “It’s Friday… Sunday’s comin!”