Berrigan's spirit lives on at anti-war protest

His family rallies against looming conflict in Iraq

January 20, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Antiwar leader Philip Berrigan died of cancer last month, but his presence was keenly felt yesterday on a second day of weekend protests against possible war with Iraq.

His picture was affixed to the parkas of several dozen Baltimore marchers. His widow, Elizabeth McAlister, addressed the several hundred demonstrators. And his 21-year-old daughter, Kate, was arrested after jumping a barrier in an act of civil disobedience that has become something of a family tradition.

"It would give him a lot of hope to see people come out in weather [that is] not comfortable," McAlister said. "We wish we didn't have to do it, but we need to be here. The spirit is incredible."

Yesterday's crowd was thinner than Saturday's, with perhaps a thousand marchers compared with tens of thousands the day before. But the tactics seemed more confrontational, including a "die-in" on H Street and the planned fence scaling.

Kate Berrigan was one of 16 people arrested by U.S. Park Police for leaping metal barriers around Lafayette Park north of the White House. Dozens of Park Police officers on horses, bicycles and foot formed a line to keep the crowd at bay.

Two hours later, after a festive mood had returned, protesters again defied police, this time by moving onto H Street and lying down. Washington police made no arrests but pushed, dragged and carried marchers to the curb.

An ambulance took one demonstrator to a hospital, the Associated Press reported; no one in the crowd appeared to be seriously hurt. The marchers, who had gathered in support of an "Iraq Pledge of Resistance," dispersed peacefully.

`The family for it'

Kate Berrigan came to town intending to be arrested. A student at Oberlin College in Ohio, she had been arrested 11 times previously. Last summer she had court dates in Georgia and Ohio stemming from protest-related arrests.

"I kind of have the family for it," she said jokingly as she walked to Lafayette Park, bundled up under a bright orange coat and tasseled winter hat.

On a more serious note, she said the threat of war called for direct action. "The United States is not cooperating with the rest of the world very well," she said. "We feel it's important we show we're not going to cooperate with that."

This was to be her first arrest since her father's death at age 79. "I think a lot of folks feel like they're doing it for Dad. He's here with us."

Her mother decided she would not wind up in handcuffs. McAlister has been arrested twice since Christmas - outside the White House and Pentagon - and did not want a third arrest.

"It just gets too messy," she said.

Frida Berrigan, Kate's 28-year-old sister, also opted not to be arrested this time. She had to serve as a driver for marchers from Jonah House, the Baltimore communal living facility for war resisters founded by her parents. Two others in their group, Susan Crane and Gary Ashbeck, were arrested.

But Frida shares the family aversion to war. A researcher at the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York, she calculates an Iraqi war would cost $12,000 a second - $3,000 more than New York public schools spend per pupil in a year.

Rough start

Near the start of yesterday's protest, marchers - many carrying signs referring to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is being observed today - were hoping to assemble in Lafayette Park. But they were stopped at a park entrance a little after noon by police who said only 25 marchers would be allowed in at a time.

March organizers called that unacceptable and huddled to plot their next move. Just then, a roar emerged from down the street as a second protest group joined the throng outside the park.

Without warning, Kate Berrigan and several others jumped the barriers. She was pushed back by a police officer but made it on her second try, landing upside down.

An officer dragged her onto the icy ground, where she smiled and flashed a thumbs up to friends and family. She was flipped her onto her stomach and handcuffed. Two officers grabbed her arms and dragged her away.

Meanwhile, the crowd began pressing against the barriers. "Get off the fence!" yelled an officer.

"Our park! Whose park? Our park!" chanted marchers.

Gradually, a sense of calm returned.

Later, Sgt. Scott Fear of the Park Police said the 16 marchers would be charged with crossing police lines, a misdemeanor.

McAlister was proud of her daughter but worried, too. "They really knocked her around," she said.

Frida said: "It's hard for Mom to watch Katie get arrested, hard for me." She called her sister "tenacious and well-focused - and fearless."

It seemed the protest might glide to a happy end. People sang and chanted slogans shouted over a bullhorn. There were conga lines.

Blocked street

Just after 2 p.m. came the second burst of civil disobedience - the move to take over H Street, by then reopened to traffic.

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