at Congressional Offices
In September, the Bush administration began marketing the latest anti-terror nostrum, Iraq Attack! In the U.S., astounding claims headlined major print media and shouted from the airways. Half the American public was already skeptical of advance claims for such a hasty remedy, and some grew quickly resistant. Public opinion - voiced in a flood of opposition phone calls, emails, and letters - forced Congressional debate about the aggressive elixir. The depth of anti-war sentiment also unleashed a wave of "preemptive nonviolence" at the offices of Senators and Congressional Representatives from coast to coast in the days leading up to the October 10 votes in the House and Senate.
Sit-ins, speak-outs and round-the-clock vigils occupied the time and attention of official staff in more than a dozen states. On at least 15 occasions, anti-war activists - more than one hundred - were arrested when they peacefully refused to leave. Demands of the action groups varied, but centered on a commitment to vote no on the resolution or at least hear and acknowledge the depth of public opposition on the matter of waging aggressive war. Some who sat-in were simply removed to the street. Most were also cited or criminally charged.
In Washington, a police round-up and the arrest of more than 600 people disrupted the anti-war march that kicked-off late September protests at the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Demonstrators were arrested at the Capitol and White House on several other occasions.
Thousands nationwide have already signed internet and local pledges to nonviolently resist a war against Iraq (www.peacepledge.com, and others) and are preparing for coordinated civil disobedience actions in the event of escalated military action against Iraq. Coordinated days of nonviolent civil disobedience are planned for December 10, Human Rights Day, and mid-January in coordination with national anti-war mobilizations around Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Many have already been arrested by zealous police at peace marches and in direct actions at military outposts, war factories, and federal buildings.
Opposition to war on the streets of the United States reflects even greater opposition abroad. Around the world, more than a million have rallied in major cities and towns against U.S. plans to attack Iraq. In Great Britain, a comparable pledge to engage in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience in the event of British participation in the U.S. military crusade against Iraq has also garnered thousands of signatures.
The first report of arrests in congressional offices came from the heartland, where four people sat-in at the office of Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum on September 24. When she refused to commit to an anti-war stand, the four refused to leave and were arrested for trespass. McCollum later voted no on the resolution.
Sit-ins began the same day at the offices of Minnesota Senators Wellstone and Dayton, but both men told activists they could stay long as they wanted. They did, for several days, without arrest. Both Senators would later vote against the resolution. (A month later, Wellstone was tragically killed in a plane crash.)
Sit-ins occurred on both coasts on September 25. In Maine, psychiatrist Sara Stalman sought to speak with Senator Susan Collins, who she knew had often voiced concern for the needs of children.
"As a psychiatrist who has spent my professional life studying the effects of fear on childhood brain development," Stalman wrote, "I felt the acute need to appraise Senator Collins of the data I have collected over the years and of stories of adults whose lives have been ruined because of terror experienced as children. I went to Senator Collins' Bangor office calmly determined to speak with her by telephone about this crucial subject..."
Stalman was offered five minutes only. Feeling this was not enough time to discuss her concerns, she politely refused requests to leave. She was arrested about 8 p.m. and spent the night in jail. In the morning, Stalman refused bail conditions that would prohibit her from contacting the Senator. Instead, she pled no contest, paid a $150 fine, and again asked the Senator for a meeting. Senator Collins wouldn't hear it.
Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington both have offices in the Seattle Federal Building. Five constituents walked into Senator Cantwell's office on Tuesday morning, September 25 and asked her for a public statement of opposition to the war resolution. Several minutes later, Senator Murray's staff closed the office to another five people with the same agenda. They sat-in at the locked door, while supporters of both groups leafletted and vigiled outside the federal building for the rest of the day.
Senator Murray's staff came out once to meet with about 30 high school students who had made an appointment that afternoon to express their opposition to war to the Senator. Two more people joined the sit-in at Cantwell's office, and at 5:30 p.m. police arrested twelve people who would not abandon their sit-in. They were cited for failure to obey and released until arraignment November 7 in federal court.
In Chicago on the 25th, a group sat-in at the office of Senator Fitzgerald until police arrived and removed half a dozen, who were not charged.
The next day, Thursday, September 26, House Speaker Dennis Hastert's 14th District office in Batavia, Illinois, was the site of an anti-war rally attended by 150 people. A dozen demonstrators plus press entered the office, announcing they would stay until the Speaker announced he would delay the vote on the war resolution. When staff made clear they would not be contacting the Speaker, the group began to sing. Police were called, and half an hour later they forcibly evicted ten people. Two people left on their own.
While about 100 people rallied outside Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos' office in San Mateo, California on the 26th, nine representatives of Bay Area peace groups began a sit-in. They hoped to persuade the International Relations Committee member to reverse his leading support for the Bush war plan. Instead, Lantos held firm, and the nine were arrested, cited and released.
Sixteen people, most of them university students, spent the night of October 3 in jail, following their arrest in the Philadelphia office of Senator Rick Santorum. Their sit-in began that morning with demands that the senator acknowledge widespread opposition to the war resolution, host a town meeting to hear it first-hand, and pledge to vote no. Contacted in Washington, the Senator immediately rejected the demands, and said he'd have police arrest anyone who remained after 5 p.m. During the day, participants in the sit-in were interviewed by ABC, BBC and local press. At their arraignment, eight pled guilty and were fined $100 plus 24 hours community service. The other eight were convicted in late October and fined $200 plus community service.
Friday morning, October 4, the St. Louis "Instead of War" Coalition set up a "prolonged presence" inside House Minority Leader and Missouri Democrat Dick Gephardt's St. Louis office. Less than two days earlier, Gephardt had announced his support for the Bush war resolution, and 17 members of the coalition intended to wait for the Congressman to withdraw that support. Nine of the group were on hand when the office closed at 5 p.m. They ignored staff requests to leave, but eight agreed when asked by police. Retired Army Captain Catie Shinn, told police she'd be staying, and was arrested instead. She was charged with trespass and released from jail at 3 a.m.
On October 7, the first anniversary of the bombing of Afghanistan, the New York City Nonviolence Network organized early morning vigils outside the offices of Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. More than 60 people held signs urging "Vote No to War on Iraq" and leafletted passers-by. Fourteen people were arrested when they rejected orders to move away from the "private" sidewalk near Senator Clinton's building entrance to the "public area" at some distance away. Cited for trespass and disorderly conduct, they have a November 14 court date.
Three days later, as Senate debate neared the end, seven people gained entrance to Sen. Clinton's office to represent the strength of public support for an anti-war vote. Police were summoned, but office staff appeared averse to the negative publicity of a 5 p.m. arrest. Hours passed and police departed, their patience exhausted. About 10:30 that evening, after Senator Clinton had declared her support for the war resolution, the occupiers left her office.
Upstate in downtown Troy, New York, thirty anti-war activists rallied in front of Rep. Mike McNulty's office on October 7. Seven occupied the office and spoke with the Congressman by phone. He rejected their demand for his total opposition to any U.S. military attack on Iraq, and had them arrested. They were held for a few hours and charged with misdemeanor trespass and resisting arrest (most were carried out). All were fined October 29 after pleading guilty to a reduced trespass violation, and the resisting arrest charge was dropped.
In North Carolina on Monday the 7th, over 300 people protested outside the Chapel Hill office of Rep. David Price, who was still publicly undecided on the war resolution. Eight people occupied his office overnight, and were evicted Tuesday evening by police, who charged three with trespass. The three were later released on a promise to return to court November 18. Two days later, Price voted no.
The next day in Pease, New Hampshire, Seacoast Peace Response rallied about 20 people to the office of Senator Judd Gregg. They faxed him a demand to either publicly justify war on Iraq or speak on the Senate floor against any resolution authorizing an attack. From Washington, Gregg faxed an unsatisfactory reply. Five people were arrested at the end of the day when they refused to remove themselves and their protest from the Senator's office. Cited and released, they will be arraigned November 4 in Portsmouth District Court.
Fifty people visited the Kansas City office of Missouri Senator Kit Bond at noon on October 8. Messages to his office were running 3:1 against the war resolution, but his unquestioning support for it had not wavered. Ten chose to remain at the office until the Senator began listening to his constituents on the issue. At the end of the day, five were arrested for trespass and release until a December 17 court date.
On Thursday, October 10, over 200 men, women and children gathered at Congressman Wally Herger's district office in Chico, California, to talk to his staff about their grave concerns regarding Bush's war on Iraq. In a steady stream lasting for more than two hours, they filed in one-by-one to the office and respectfully requested the Congressman to reconsider his vote. Twenty-two people chose not to leave the office unless and until they could speak to him personally or by phone. He never called. Twenty-one people were arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges, handcuffed, and taken away; a juvenile was not arrested. All were later released pending arraignment on November 8.
In Houston, ten people paid a post-vote visit and held a protest sit-in at the office of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. On October 15, they presented a "Complaint for Citizen Arrest Warrant" charging the Texas Republican with violating the Constitution and misleading the public by voting in favor of unprovoked war. Federal police forcibly removed three of the group who refused to depart at 5:30 p.m. The three were cited for failure to obey federal authorities and released, and later paid a fine to conclude the action.
Sit-ins by war opponents at the home offices of several other Senators - including those of Kohl of Wisconsin, Wyden of Oregon and Edwards of North Carolina - and Representatives ended without arrests once a wavering lawmaker finally declared their support or opposition. Sen. Kohl's Madison and Milwaukee offices were both occupied for three days running before his yes vote was announced October 10.
Please contact the Nuclear Resister at 520-323-8697 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like contact information for any of the groups involved in these anti-war actions.