Six anti-war activists arrested on U.S. Capitol steps

Photo by Art Laffin

from the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance

In Washington, D.C. on July 12 – the 200th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s birth – six anti-war activists with the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) and several supporters visited both the Senate and House Office Buildings.  They first went to Room 317 in the Russell Office Building to deliver a petition to Sen. Mitch McConnell (scroll down to read petition).  A staffer graciously accepted the petition, and indicated that it would be delivered to someone in the office who works on military spending.

A trek was then made to the Hart Senate Office Building to deliver the petition to Sen. Chuck Schumer in Room 322. Upon request, Faiq S. Raza, a Legislative correspondent, met with the citizen activists.  He graciously heard from each one.  The pleas covered the issue of war funding, drone strikes, the authorization for military force, poverty and other concerns.  He provided information about the Senator’s positions on some of these issues.  For example, Schumer is concerned about the use of killer drone strikes without any rules of engagement. 

From there, the petitioners went to the Cannon House Office Building to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office, Room 235.  A staff person accepted the petition, but indicated that the legislative aides were in a meeting.  He provided contact information for the aide who handles military spending.  

Alice, Janice, Joy

The final visit was to the Longworth House Office Building to go to Rep. Paul Ryan’s office, Room 1233. They had been able to walk into the three other offices.  However, on Ryan’s door, which was locked, there a sign posted informing people that only those with a scheduled meeting may enter. The group knocked on the door, but there was no answer.  They then slipped a petition under the door along with a flyer condemning U.S. military operations.  

After the petition deliveries, the activists wearing bloody tee shirts went to the Capitol steps, across from the Supreme Court, with a banner reading “Stop the War Machine: Export Peace.”  They unfurled a red sash on the steps to symbolize the rivers of blood flowing out of the Capitol.  

They then began to read the petition. A Capitol police officer kept interrupting the reading so he could give a warning that the group was facing arrest.  After the fourth warning, Max Obuszewski from Maryland was the first taken off the steps, followed by Alice Sutter, from New York City, then Phil Runkel, from Wisconsin, then Joy First, also from Wisconsin, followed by Malachy Kilbride, from Maryland.  While the group was held in custody, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, from Maryland, remained on the Capitol steps.  She insisted on reading the entire petition, which the police allowed her to do.

When she was brought into the shade with the other arrestees, it became obvious that the Capitol police would use the gold standard of arrest procedures.  First, the activists were not handcuffed, were given cold water and were allowed to keep all possessions without being frisked.  There was no fingerprinting, but a photograph of each activist was taken. Then tables and chairs were brought out of a police van, and the officers gathered personal information before giving the defendants a release document. The citizen activists are to report on July 13 to U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters, 119 D Street NE to request a court date. 


Reflections on Rivers of Blood Action: 

We All Must Come Together to Stop War

by Joy First       

July 17, 2017

We are in some difficult times right now.  There are too many people living in poverty and too many suffering from racism.  We don’t have a system of health care or education that supports the citizens of this country.  We are polluting the earth and this could lead to the end of us all.  

We have a madman in the White House, but as S. Brian Willson posts to Facebook, “focusing on Trump is a distraction…. Trump is an avatar (or caricature), an undisguised buffoon serving as a mirror revealing for most to see the ugly decrepit nature of our US American culture.”  We live in a very broken society and it is going to take all of us coming together and looking realistically at what is going on to fix it.  The Democrats can’t fix it because they are part of the broken system and have done as much damage as the Republicans.

This is where I am coming from in my work in nonviolent civil resistance.  In the history of the United States, we have been at war 222 out of 239 years.  I was shocked when I learned that fact several years ago.  We need to understand what this means, and we need many more people involved in trying to stop our wars.

There are many people protesting the many crazy things that Trump is doing, but the war machine that has been a part of almost every US administration in history is being ignored.  We can’t claim any kind of moral leadership in the world when we murder innocent children, women, and men of other countries, and when we use our empirical forces to try to control the world.  We can’t provide basic needs like education, health care, food, and housing for our people when we spend the majority of our resources on war.  We can’t save the planet when we have a military that is the worst polluter in the history of the world.

Because of this, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) keeps its focus on the US wars of aggression.  NCNR has been acting in resistance to the crimes of our government with its illegal wars since 2003.  We are at war in seven different countries today and members of NCNR think it is critical to make the connection between war and all the other problems affecting our world today.

With that in mind NCNR planned the Rivers of Blood action – noting that Rivers of Blood flow through the US Capitol as our Congress continues to vote for funding for war. We did a Rivers of Blood action 10 years ago in the crypt of the Capitol and decided to do this second Rivers of Blood action outside on the steps of the Capitol where we hoped we would be seen by more people.

After months of planning, I again left my family in Wisconsin and returned to DC on July 11 for a July 12 action.  It is difficult to leave home and travel to DC several times a year, but I feel compelled to speak out against the crimes of my government.

The day before the action I received an email from someone named Andrew Bolinger.  He wrote that he wanted to join us in our action and he wanted information on what we would be doing.  The email was suspicious sounding.  There was a professional tone to the message, and it didn’t use the language of a peace activist, even though he claimed he had been arrested for nonviolent demonstrations.  He said he “wants to seek more justice.”  I responded that if he was interested he could meet us for the planning meeting, but didn’t give him any specific information.  Later Max noticed one of the officers during our arrest had a name tag with his name.  Bolinger lied to me in his email, and he will be subpoenaed when we go to court.

We started our day with a planning meeting at the Union Station Food Court at 10:00 am on July 12.  We were a small group and came together in making decisions for the day.  Before the action we had written a petition calling on Congress to end their funding of war and putting the money towards human needs.  During the meeting, we decided we would all go together to deliver our petition to the Congressional leadership.  The heat that day was oppressive with a heat index of 105 as we started out to the Senate office buildings.

Our first stop was the offices of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  We weren’t able to meet with staff, but the reception person took our petition and told us she would get it to the right place.

We next stopped at the office of Minority Leader Charles Schumer.  We told the receptionist why we were there and asked if we could talk to a legislative assistant.  We were invited into a conference room where we had a chance to speak to Faiq S. Raza, a legislative correspondant, who told us at the end of the conference that his parents were from Pakistan.

Members of our group spoke so eloquently about why we were there.

Alice began by saying, “Senator Schumer as our Senate leader must take a stand to stop the escalating horrific warfare that the current administration is waging on some of the poorest, most vulnerable people on the planet. We are devastating entire nations, causing cholera and starvation in Yemen, slaughter of the people of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, threatening war with North Korea. The Congress must not sit by. Senator Schumer has stood up to this administration on other important issues, but we need him to raise his voice to stop these wars, these bombings these drone attacks.”

Malachy talked about how the military policies of the US, since the war on terror was initiated, have been a complete failure.  Iraq and Libya have been turned into failed states.  The ongoing crisis with Syria and North Korea potentially are leading us into a third world war.  The US war budget is bankrupting us and impoverishing us in so many ways.

Max asked about the questionable use of the AUMF to attack Syria, and about the legality of drone strikes.  Raza said that Congress was abdicating its authority in not setting standards in drone warfare.  He also said that Congress needs to develop rules and regulations around drone strikes, and that constituent pressure could help move Schumer along in doing this.

After our twenty-five minute meeting we went to the other side of the hill and started at the office of Minority Leader of the House Nancy Pelosi.  The reception person told us that all the legislative assistants were in a meeting, but she took the petition to pass on to the appropriate person.

We then went to the office of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.  The door was locked.  They knew that members of NCNR were coming, and we can only guess that is why the door was locked.  It is very unusual for members of Congress to lock their office doors.  This is the second time that Ryan’s office knew we were coming and locked the door.  A knock on the door did not get any response and so we slipped the petition and a flyer we were distributing under the door. 

We were ready to make our way to the east steps of the US Capitol for our action.  As we walked towards our destination my stomach clenched as I saw the police officers waiting for us there.  Malachy and I quickly walked up about seven steps as members of our group had an initial conversation with the police.  Then the rest of the group joined us on the steps.  We stopped just short of a chain link fence that was spanning the width of the steps and held up a large banner reading “Stop the War Machine: Export Peace”.  We had an 18 foot sash of red fabric running down the stairs,symbolizing the rivers of blood flowing through the Capitol, and we were all wearing shirts painted with red splotches to symbolize the blood being spilled during US wars overseas. 

There were a number of tourists observing our action as Max began to read aloud the petition, and within a few seconds an officer with a bullhorn said that we were demonstrating without a permit and subject to arrest.  Max told him that when we were on these same steps 18 months earlier, they offered us a space on the grass to demonstrate, however, Max said, we were not there to demonstrate, but to petition our government for a redress of grievances.  This is a First Amendment right. 

After reading a paragraph, Max passed the petition to me and I began to read it loudly so those observing could hear.  After reading a paragraph, I passed it on to Malachy.

The officer with the bullhorn gave us two more warnings that we would be arrested if we did not stop.   Then a senior officer came up to each one of us individually and asked if we wanted to leave and told us that if we stayed we would be arrested.  We knew that we were exercising our First Amendment right to petition the government.  We knew our cause was just and necessary and so we each refused to stop, and we were arrested.

Rather than being handcuffed, as we usually are, we were led by the arm around to the side of the steps in the shade and told we could sit down.  We were all there for several minutes, except for Janice, and we were starting to be concerned about where she was. 

When Janice finally joined us, she told us that when the police tried to take her away, she told them that she wanted to finish reading the statement before they arrested her and so they let her finish reading the petition.  This gives us one reason to believe that this case will not be taken to court.  If Janice was doing something wrong in reading the petition, they should have taken her away immediately, but the fact that they gave Janice time and allowed her to read the full petition before they took her away shows that none of us were really doing anything wrong.

They didn’t frisk us or take our property away.  When they pulled a table out of a police van and set it up with chairs we knew they would process us right there and released.  We were given a summons to report to the US Capitol police station.  At that time we could pay a $50 fine or ask for a court date.  We, at NCNR, always ask for a court date.  We represent ourselves as pro se defendants when we go to court and so are able to say what needs to be said and it is entered into the court records.

Arrested were Max Obuszewski and Janice Sevre-Duszynska of Baltimore, Malachy Kilbride of Prince George’s County, Maryland, Alice Sutter from New York City, and Phil Runkle, and Joy First of Wisconsin.  

Though it was nice not to have been in handcuffs for an extended period of time and brought into the station, we had to spend another day at the police station.  Malachy and I went back to the station the next morning and after waiting for 20 minutes we were told that we had to leave and come back in 3 or 4 hours because they had just arrested 15 people for protesting the health care bill in Senator McConnell’s office.

We went back to the station late afternoon and were processed in about an hour.   We are being charged with crowding, obstructing, or incommoding and were given a July 26 court date for arraignment and an initial hearing.

It is clear that we cannot provide a quality standard of living, or even basic human needs, for all of our citizens when we spend the majority of our resources on war.  But for me personally, the most important reason I feel called to continue to act out in resistance to US wars is because of the human suffering of those living in the countries we attack.  With our current reliance on drone warfare we cause even more suffering to innocent people with thousands of children, women, and men being killed in our name.

Despite the illusion of democracy in this country, in reality there is a small group that makes decisions whether there is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House.  This group looks out for the 1% and wars are a way to put money into the pockets of that 1%.  Therefore, it is so important that rest of us come together and not only work for better health care, taking better care of the planet, help those living in poverty, but understand the connection between all these other issues and war.

Historically, nonviolent civil resistance has been the most effective way to bring about social change and social change is needed so desperately right now.  We can come together and make a better world, but we all need to be involved in bringing about this change.  Please join us.  If we don’t all make it together, none of us will make it.


Petition from the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance

July 12, 2017

To Representatives Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, and Senators Mitch McConnell and Charles Schumer

As members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance [NCNR], we are petitioning you on behalf of the voiceless, the poor, the middle class, the immigrants and people whose pleas are ignored.  Sadly, President Trump has embarked on a policy in favor of militarism, income inequality and climate chaos.  As part of his invidiousness, he has targeted immigrants and people of the Muslim faith.  We and so many others reject Trumpism, and we urge you as a legislator to also reject the president’s pernicious policies.  You could do this by passing laws which severely cut the military budget, provide a living wage for all, protect Mother Earth, and recognize that most immigrants are people fleeing human rights abuses.

Of most concern to NCNR is the U.S. empire.  There are an estimated 800 military bases around the world, and members of the U.S. military are currently involved in seven wars.  Special operations soldiers may be involved in other conflicts as well.  In February, President Trump requested an additional $54 billion for the military, while making drastic cuts to social programs.  We cannot accept this, as spending on militarism currently consumes some 50% of the discretionary federal budget.

As members of peace and justice organizations opposed to our government’s failed domestic and foreign policies, we are speaking out to challenge you to produce a budget which benefits the ninety-nine percent, most importantly the poor, rather than a wealthy and privileged elite.  At home, our economic system has been a bust for most everyone but the one percent.  Overseas, U.S. warmongering has had a devastating effect, most especially in the Middle East and Africa. For example, the government is using militarized unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) to kill people, mostly civilians, in at least seven countries. The use of armed drones is wrong on many levels: the illegality of assassinations, the violation of international law and the Constitutional protection of due process, the lack of Congressional approval and the disregard of sovereignty.  Instead of militarism, Congress should emphasize diplomacy and humanitarian aid. 

Disregard of the scientific research for the causes of climate chaos is leading to the destruction of the planet.   It can be argued that the Pentagon is the entity most responsible for ecocide.

Poverty is adversely affecting the quality of life for too many citizens.  The people are suffering from lack of food, health care, education, a living wage, adequate housing, and the list goes on.  It is unconscionable that we have children in the United States going to bed hungry.  Just a portion of the bloated Pentagon budget redirected towards human needs could alleviate this suffering and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.

Since the U.S. has refused to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, which is capable of annihilation of all life on the planet, our government is extremely hypocritical in urging North Korea to disarm.  And the president, it seems, may lead us into a Hot War with North Korea.  This would be a tragedy of unforeseen consequence.

Dangerous tensions and brinkmanship on the Korean peninsula could lead to armed conflict. North Korea continues its missile tests, and in response the Trump Administration has deployed the USS Michigan, a Trident submarine which is probably carrying nuclear weapons.

South Korea could be considered a US military outpost. For example, the US installed THAAD, “a missile defense system,” and some portion of the South Korea population has protested these war cries from the Trump Administration.  US intrusion into Korean affairs is but one example of the reach of the U.S. Empire. Beating this war drum is a sure-fire way of demanding more money for the US military budget.

On the 100th anniversary of the Great War, remember what Randolph Bourne told us: “War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate co-operation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense.”  Note that the Pentagon budget has never been audited.

The president’s first act of war was the invasion in Yemen by the navy Seals who left behind a $75 million dollar plane in this bungled operation.  The USS Zumwalt, which was commissioned in Baltimore in October 2016, cost more than $4 billion, way over budget.  Last year, the ship broke down in the Panama Canal.

When President Trump made his call for increasing the military budget, he did it on the USS Gerald Ford.  This battleship is not seaworthy, and due to cost over-runs has a price tag of more than $17 billion,

The 59 sea-launched cruise missiles that Trump unleashed on a Syrian airport cost about $30 million.  The airport was in use the following day. 

And on the Thursday before Easter, the U.S. military used MOAB, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever, in Afghanistan. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the use of MOAB was “an immense atrocity against the Afghan people.”

A new approach to leadership is required to address the problems and crises we all face.  We have the audacity to petition you to give serious consideration to the demands stated here.  This is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at the Riverside Church in Manhattan, entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” This was a prophetic speech.  King recognized the U.S. government was fighting an imperial war in Vietnam. He pointed out that this was “the symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.” The Washington powerbrokers did not listen to King.  He predicted our current disastrous situation:  “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” As Congressional leaders, you should heed the words of King and renounce militarism, racism, income inequality and climate chaos.  Failure to do so will cause so many of us to nonviolently resist an administration bent on continuing policies which will lead to more war, more inequality and ecocide.

In peace, 

Joy First, Malachy Kilbride, Max Obuszewski and Janice Sevre-Duszynska