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Civil Resistance at the White House
Civil Resistance at the White House
By David Swanson
I got to the White House around noon and found hundreds of people gathered awaiting the arrival of marchers who planned to get themselves arrested protesting the war.
I ran into Mike Ferner of Veterans for Peace, who showed me the paperwork from his arrest early this morning at the Pentagon. He said he'd been one of 41 people arrested between 6:30 and nearly 7:30 a.m. at the Pentagon. Three Veterans for Peace members had joined others from the War Resisters League. They'd shut down an entrance and the Pentagon Metro stop. They were swiftly booked and released, charged with "disobeying a lawful order" and given court dates in federal district court in Alexandria in January.
For a while people milled around in the street and the park in front of the White House. Around 12:30 or so, members of Code Pink stretched a giant banner out along Pennslvania Avenue, reading "Mothers Say No to War." As they did so, the media swarmed and filmed every movement. Code Pink members sang a number of songs, including "The Day the Music Died," but with lyrics something like this:
Bye bye, Mr. President, bye
You didn't fix the levee
Now the water's too high
You started a war based on a lie
You don't care if poor people die…
We are Code Pink and we are proud
We are sisters and we are loud
We are many and we'll be more
And we'll end this bloody war
A SWAT team truck was parked on one side of the park. Large numbers of police were lined up in front of the White House fence. Guards inside the fence on the White House grounds carried large sticks, and one led a dog on a long leash.
When the group of civil resisters arrived, organized by United for Peace and Justice, they gathered in one side of the park to prepare. Representatives of military families and veterans groups, and of Clergy and Laity Concerned made brief remarks. Bill Mitchell spoke, who lost his son in Iraq. There was a brief reading from the Koran, some remarks in Hebrew by a Rabbi, and a Christian minister who said "When we go over there, remember that that's not the power. They have the violence, but we have the power. Who do they represent? We represent 60 percent of the country."
An organizer advised people to participate only if they were ready to risk arrest and trained in nonviolence. A woman in the crowd next to me asked another "Will you risk arrest?" "Yes." "Good, we'll be together."
Around 1 p.m. a delegation of leaders walked to the gate of the White House to request a meeting with Bush. Cindy Sheehan, Cornel West, and Rev. Sekou were among the leaders, with Sekou shouting at the media to get out of the way. A wall of TV cameras walking backwards slowed the walk and blocked it for a while from reaching the White House.
A crowd gathered, as the delegation made its fruitless request. There were thousands on hand at this point. The chant was "Liar! Liar! Say it a little louder!"
That and "Media, Step Back!"
The crowd also sang "Give Peace a Chance."
With the delegation at the gate for about 10 minutes, a loud chant of "The Whole World is Watching" caught on.
There was also "Ain't no power like the power of the people, and the power of the people is now!"
At about 1:10, the delegation of potential arrestees moved east along the fence of the White House to the area directly in front of the building. The crowd chanted "Stop the War!" Many more wanting to be arrested moved in behind – clearly there would be hundreds of arrests. Still, the media probably out-numbered the non-media.
At 1:14 Sekou started a chorus of "This Little Light of Mine."
At 1:15, everybody not holding a camera or a gun sat down on the sidewalk.
At 1:16, the police ordered the media to move off the sidewalk and into the street, and warned everyone else they would be arrested.
At 1:18, Code Pink marched in from the east, along the fence, and joined the protest.
By 1:20 there were hundreds of people, some sitting, some standing, most singing, all refusing to leave.
By 1:22 many of the corporate media cameras were gone, and the independent and small media seemed to dominate. But they and onlookers were pushed further out in the street, as the police brought in their horses. The chant from the street then became "Get those animals off those horses!"
By 1:26, the dominant chant was "Arrest Bush." This chant came back again and again over the next 30 minutes. Another was "No more of a class war!"
By 1:30 they moved the horses out and brought in the police vans. But they only had a few teeny little vans. There was no way they could hold everyone.
Chant: "A liar, a coward, say it a little louder!"
One guy with a megaphone shouted "Hey Bushie Boy, we know you’ve got a lot of oil 'cause your boys are leaving the engines running. Did you fight a war for this oil?"
At a quarter to 2 they brought in a Metro bus – faster by far than they'd gotten buses into New Orleans. As the arrests started, the crowd yelled: "The Whole World Is Watching!"
David Swanson is creator of MeetWithCindy.org, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of Democrats.com. He is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and serves on the Executive Council of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, TNG-CWA. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, Media Coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as Communications Coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson obtained a Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1997. His website is www.davidswanson.org
UPDATE AT 6:05 PM ET: Barbara Cummings just phoned me. She was arrested at the White House and says she is on the fourth bus in a line of six. There are about 50 people on each bus, she said, plus several small vans of people. She estimates 300 have been arrested. The police are making them wait in the buses and vans, with plastic handcuffs on. Barbara slipped hers off to use the phone, but hung up when a police officer saw her and headed her way. She predicted he'd put the cuffs on her and jerk them tight.
7 p.m. Note from Cindy Sheehan:
The rumors are true this time. I was arrested in front of the White House today. It was my first time ever being arrested.
We proceeded from Lafayette Park to the Guard House at the White House. I, my sister, and other Gold Star Families for Peace members and some Military Families requested to meet with the President again. We again wanted to know: What is the Noble Cause? Our request was, to our immense shock and surprise, denied. They wouldn't even deliver any letters or pictures of our killed loved ones to the White House.
We all know by now why George won't meet with parents of the soldiers he has killed who disagree with him. First of all, he hates it when people disagree with him. I am not so sure he hates it as much as he is in denial that it even happens. Secondly, he is a coward who arrogantly refuses to meet with the people who pay his salary. Maybe the next time one of us is asked by our bosses to have a performance review, or we are going to be written up for a workplace infraction, we should refuse to go and talk to our bosses citing the fact that the President doesn't have to. The third reason why he won't talk to us is that he knows there is no Noble Cause for the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq. It is a question that has no true answer.
After we were refused a meeting with the Disconnected One, we went over to right in front of our house…the White House (in front of the gate of course) and we sat down and refused to move until George came out and talked to us. We actually had a good time singing old church songs and old protest songs while we waited. I tied a picture of Casey on the White House fence and apparently, that is against the law, too.
After three warnings to get up and move off of the sidewalk in front of our house, we were arrested. It is so ironic to me that the person who resides in our White House swears to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. The person who is the (p)resident of the White House now has no concept of the Constitution. He was appointed by the Supreme Court for his first term, invaded and continues to occupy a sovereign country without a declaration of war from the Congress, and violated several treaties to actually invade, Iraq too. Not to mention the condoned torture that pervades the military prisons these days. These are all violations of the Constitution. The Patriot Act and denying us our rights to peaceably assemble are serious breaches of the Bill of Rights. George is so hypocritically concerned about Iraq developing a Constitution when he ignores and shreds our own Constitution.
Being arrested is not a big deal. Even though were arrested for "demonstrating without a permit" we were protesting something that is much more serious than sitting on a sidewalk: the tragic and needless deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Americans (both in Iraq and here in America) who would be alive if it weren't for the criminals who reside in and work in the White House.
Karl Rove (besides just being a very creepy man) outted a CIA agent and was responsible for endangering many of our covert agents worldwide. Dick Cheney's old company is reaping profits beyond anyone's wildest imaginations in their no-bid contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and New Orleans. John Negroponte's activities in South America are very shady and murderous. Rumsfeld and Gonzales are responsible for illegal and immoral authorization, encouragement and approval of torture. Not to mention, violating Geneva Conventions, torture endangers the lives of our service men and women in Iraq. Along with the above mentioned traitors, Condi lied through her teeth in the insane run-up to the invasion. The list of crimes this administration has commited is extensive, abhorrent, and unbelievable. What is so unbelievable is that WE were arrested for exercising our first amendment rights and these people are running free to enjoy their lives of crime and to wreak havoc on the world.
The fine for "demonstrating without a permit" is $75.00. I am certain that I won't pay it. My court date is November 16 th. Any lawyers out there want to help me challenge an unconstitutional law??
AP Now Reports Estimated 370 Arrested.