by Art Laffin
Since August 1987, members and friends of the Washington, D.C., Catholic Worker communities have held a prayer vigil for peace each week at the Pentagon. This vigil is now conducted each Monday from 7-8 a.m. After nearly 14 years, the Pentagon has now decreed that we who vigil need to apply for a permit to do so. Holding a sign or banner, passing out leaflets, and singing are now arrestable actions.
Up until two years ago, this vigil was held in front of the Pentagon South Entrance without police ever notifying vigilers that a permit was required to vigil. The Pentagon then shut down the South Entrance to build two new pedestrian ramps on the south side of the building. When the first ramp was completed we moved our vigil onto the ramp in front of an entrance leading into the building. We were ordered by police to leave this area or face arrest. We then moved our vigil down to the sidewalk next to the stairway going up to the ramp - the site where we have vigiled for the last two years.
For the first several months at this new site, Pentagon police informed us that we needed to fill out a permit application for our vigil. According to the permit application, all leaflets, banners and signs would have to be submitted in advance for approval to the Pentagon Building Management Office (BMO). If approved all permittees would have to wear identification badges furnished by the Pentagon and comply with a host of Pentagon regulations. The permit could be canceled at any time if the permitee's activities "violate any conditions of the permit." We have refused to comply with this permit application request for reasons of conscience. For over 1-1/2 years, we heard no further word from the Pentagon police about needing a permit. This changed, however, last April 16.
It is important to note that two protests preceding April 16, both of which the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker (DDCW) was involved in, seem to have had a bearing on this new Pentagon decree. The first was the April 2 Pentagon demonstration organized by the School of the Americas Watch, when blood was poured inside the Metro lobby entrance and red paint at the Tunnel entrance, resulting in arrests (see SOA update, page 1).
The second was the Good Friday Pentagon witness, which occurred during the Jonah House and DDCW-sponsored Holy Week Faith and Resistance Retreat. On April 13, Good Friday, six people poured their own blood on nine pillars of the Pentagon's River entrance and were arrested on property destruction charges and given a July 20 trial date. Despite a 25 year history of members of the Atlantic Life Community witnessing at the Pentagon on Good Friday, Pentagon security were not prepared for this action. Immediately following the blood pouring, a Pentagon SWAT team, clad in riot gear, ordered some 60 retreatants to leave the grounds or face arrest. This was the first time an order like this has been given since we have been going to the Pentagon. Two more people were arrested for not complying with this order, and also given the July 20 trial date. As the retreat group left the Pentagon, a high-ranking security officer told one of the retreatants that from now on, the regular Monday vigil group would have to submit an application requesting a permit for any future vigils.
When seven of us arrived for our vigil on Easter Monday, April 16, we almost immediately encountered over 20 Pentagon police. Kathy Boylan, Christy Pardew and I refused to leave, and were arrested and charged with "demonstrating without a permit," then released with a June 15 court date. Other vigilers proceeded to the Metro entrance, whereupon they were told by Metro security they had to be 15 feet away from the Metro entrance or face arrest. After a short time at this vigil site, Pentagon police came on the scene and ordered the vigilers to leave or face arrest. As the vigil was already due to end, the vigilers left this site and none were arrested.
We are not intimidated by the Pentagon's attempt to conceal their murderous enterprise by stifling our dissent and denying our freedom of speech and assembly. We will continue our vigil of proclaiming God's reign of nonviolence, justice and peace as a countersign to the Pentagon's reign of terror and death.
Since Easter Monday we have engaged in another "experiment in truth" for peace. Each of us who vigil are the sign, the leaflet. Most of us wear shirts with a visible peace message. Some of us stand in silent prayer and meditation. Some of us pray the rosary. Some of us stand close to the Pentagon steps, say good morning to the workers, and ask them to quit their jobs and work for peace. During our closing circle, when we read the scripture of the day and offer prayers of intercession, we have been warned by police not to hold hands or sing. On May 14, mid-way through our vigil Joe Morton held a banner for which he was arrested and given a July 20 court date. Also, at the end of this vigil, several of us were nearly arrested for singing the song "Vine and Fig Tree."
...We continue to pray for and work toward the day when the Pentagon will be converted into a hospital, a center for nonviolent conflict resolution training, and a bakery.
For more information, contact Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, 503 Rock Creek Church Road, Washington, DC 20010, (202)882-9649.