71 war protesters seized

Baltimore's tradition of civil disobedience continues in capital

September 27, 2006|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON --The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors remained calm yesterday as a police officer put his hands in white plastic handcuffs and searched his pockets after he crossed a police line outside the U.S. Capitol.

Less than an hour later, the Rev. Roger Scott Powers was also led away in handcuffs from the interfaith demonstration against the war in Iraq in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building.

The two Presbyterian ministers from Baltimore were among 71 people who were detained yesterday as they protested the war in Iraq - and continued Baltimore's long tradition of civil disobedience against wars.

"I was just happy to be able to be a witness for peace," said Connors, 33, who wore a multicolored stole, clerical collar and blue armband. "It's one thing to talk about nonviolence, but to enact it ... nonviolence is a powerful thing."

Baltimore's legacy of nonviolent protest against violence began with the Berrigan brothers' burning of draft records during the Vietnam War and continued through the nuclear proliferation during the Cold War. It persists today as clergy in Baltimore and elsewhere answered a national call to pressure Congress to end the war in Iraq.

Not everyone can take such extreme measures to oppose war, but Roman Catholic moral theologian Joseph J. Fahey said the Jonah House form of protest made the stance more acceptable and mainstream. Jonah House was the West Baltimore pacifist community founded by Philip F. Berrigan.

"I think the Jonah House people showed that it is patriotic and love of your country to perform civil disobedience," said Fahey, who specializes in war and peace at Manhattan College in the Bronx and was a founding member of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace organization.

He described religion as a double-edged sword that has called people to war, sexism, racism and hatred. But "protest - that's religion at its best," Fahey said.

Yesterday's peace action was one of a weeklong series of events through the Declaration of Peace campaign, an initiative organized by a collection of secular and faith-based groups.

The arrests included Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Director Rick Ufford-Chase, who served for two years in the denomination's highest office, moderator of the 216th General Assembly. He sent a letter to Presbyterian congregations nationwide explaining his decision.

"If God opens the way for me to do so, I will risk arrest to make it clear that I believe the War in Iraq is a violation of my most fundamental beliefs as a Christian," he wrote. "Whether or not such a witness is effective, it is clear to me that I must do everything in my power and in keeping with my values as a follower of Jesus Christ to stop this war."

Elizabeth McAlister, a former nun who founded Jonah House with her husband, Philip F. Berrigan, held a banner and wore a chain of origami paper cranes around her neck yesterday.

"How can we listen to what's going on in our world and not say it's dead wrong?" she said. "`Thou shalt not kill' - they're all one-syllable."

"We need more," she said. "You don't do enough. I don't do enough."

Patrick G. Coy, director of the Center for Applied Conflict Management at Kent State University, said he was surprised that there has not been more nonviolent protest and civil disobedience linked to this war, given its length and the intensity of the opposition before it began.

Coy says the lack of a military draft, media management by the Bush administration, economic pressures on students and a broader cultural shift toward conservatism have all contributed to a smaller-than-expected outcry.

"They have dramatically increased from the second year forward, but it's not as broad-based as I would expect," he said.

Fahey agreed. "I'm disappointed that it's always been a small minority of clergy," he said. "I wish more academics were involved."

Connors, pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill, said he was called to bear witness because he believes that imposing democracy through violent means is a contradiction.

"In a democratic society, we trade up killing each other with weapons for a vote," he said. "Voting is a form of nonviolence. What's called for now is a witness - people who are willing to put their bodies where their words are."

Yesterday, about 250 people gathered in the Upper Senate Park for an interfaith service. A small group, including Connors, brought a coffin covered with pictures of wounded Iraqis to the U.S. Capitol, where the arrests took place.

Most of the group marched to the Russell Senate Office Building, where some protesters were arrested. Leaders, including Ufford-Chase, negotiated with U.S. Capitol Police, who later let them enter the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building.

Most of the activists stood in a circle to listen to readings and sing as Senate staff members gathered on walkways overlooking the atrium.

"This is what democracy looks like," said Gordon S. Clark, coordinator of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance. "Hopefully, this message will get back to those Senate offices."

Connors was released about 6 p.m. Each of the 71 people arrested was processed one at a time - handcuffs removed, searched, interviewed and given a wristband. He received a citation and a November court date.

The police were very courteous but did not allow them to make noise, he said. "We broke into song a few times and they quickly tamped down on that."


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