Thirteen activists arrested on U.S. Capitol steps before State of the Union speech

Photo by Bill Ofenloch

Photo by Bill Ofenloch


from National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance

On the afternoon of January 12, 2016, with President Obama’s last State of the Union address scheduled that evening, members and associates of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to express their vision for a just society.

A delegation asked a Capitol Police representative if their petition and a list of alleged U.S. war crimes could be delivered to the office of the Vice-President. The representative denied the request, but indicated he would grant a permit to demonstrate in an area away from the Capitol steps. He was informed that the demonstration was completed, and now the group wanted the petition to be delivered. Because the activists were being denied their First Amendment rights, they gathered on the lower steps holding a banner which read “STOP THE WAR MACHINE – EXPORT PEACE” and sang “WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED.” Thirteen of them were then arrested and charged with “incommoding and obstructing.”

Arrested were: Carol Gay (from New Jersey), Martin Gugino (from Buffalo, New York), Joy First and Phil Runkel (both from Wisconsin), Malachy Kilbride (from Maryland), Linda LeTendre (from Saratoga Springs, New York), Joan Nicholson (from Pennsylvania), Max Obuszewski (from Baltimore), Janice Sevre-Duszynska (from Kentucky), Trudy Silver and Alice Sutter (both from New York City), Brian Terrell (from Iowa) and Eve Tetaz (from Washington, D.C.).

They are to be arraigned in D.C. Superior Court at 11 a.m. on February 3, and the activists look forward to their day in court. They will argue their constitutional right to petition the government and remind the court that the Capitol belongs to the people.

Photo by Bill Ofenloch

Photo by Bill Ofenloch

NCNR members had written the petition to President Obama, urging him to deliver a Real State of the Union. They believed that Obama and other presidents traditionally fail to address all of the problems faced by the United States when delivering this annual message, and if the president doesn’t address the need for drastic policy changes, then wars, poverty, the climate crisis, racism and systemic violence will continue.

The group hoped to have their petition delivered to Joe Biden’s office about six hours before the President’s speech. They thought that possibly, if Biden’s office had the petition and delivered it to the president’s office, then Obama might forego a speech with empty platitudes, and that his conscience could possibly be pricked and he would eloquently outline all of the problems facing this nation and its people. Then he could have asked our elected officials to deal with the problems.

From the NCNR message to the president: “A real State of the Union would be a frank speech which would condemn our country’s addiction to economic inequality, racial injustice, warmongering and the destruction of our planet. After being honest about our failures, you would then urge our elected officials to go in a new direction, based on a democratic ideal for we the people, and not for we the wealthy. Tell them to listen to the people, and not the corporations. You could inform them that you will utilize diplomacy and other peaceful means. You could tell them to listen to the scientific community and not the fossil fuel industry.”

Before going to the Capitol, the group went to the U.S. Supreme Court Building across the street. The U.S. Supreme Court Police would not allow two killer drone replicas to be placed on the sidewalk directly in front of the courthouse. NCNR wrote, “This was symptomatic of what is happening around the country. As surveillance of U.S. citizens broadens, First Amendment rights are eroding. So instead, about 50 peace and justice activists gathered for a rally on the sidewalk some 100 feet away from the courthouse. Several speakers addressed a myriad of ills plaguing our society– the unending wars, the bloated Pentagon budget, mass incarceration, torture at the prison in Guantanamo, Islamophobia, killer drone strikes, and government support of the despotic Saudi Arabian monarchy which decapitates more people than ISIS.”

Other groups across the country planned solidarity actions on January 12, including at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and Beale Air Force Base in California. Five anti-drone activists were arrested outside the Beale base. In addition, solidarity actions were planned at the CIA headquarters in Virginia on January 9 and at Volk Field in Wisconsin on January 26.

Members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance have been speaking out against the illegal actions of the United States government since 2003. They have organized numerous actions across the country involving nonviolent civil resistance in order to speak out publicly against government policies. For example, on September 22, 2015, fifteen activists were arrested at the White House while trying to deliver a letter urging President Barack Obama to listen to Pope Francis and end income inequality and militarism and to take action to mitigate the effects of climate chaos.