Wednesday, July 26, 2006

a week in Washington, day one

Last week, I left toasty Western New York to head to even hotter Washington, D.C. I had an appointment with a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, that I had to keep on Friday. I'd like to say that I was looking forward to the "Trial of the Century" or, at the very least, the "Trial of the Decade." Actually, no, that's not true. I'd been charged with "violation of a lawful order" on March 20, when I crossed a fence near a Pentagon parking lot. I was part of a group that was attempting to meet with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the third anniversary of George W. Bush's pre-emptive war against Iraq. We were bringing a handmade coffin and lots of questions. About fifty of us were arrested shortly after we crossed that fence.
Our only other alternative was to stand on the other side of the temporary barricades and express our opinions to one another. It was very obvious that no one in the Pentagon could either see us or hear us.
Hence, the court date. I was so confident that the trial would be over quickly that I had a return ticket home for later that evening.
I arrived on Tuesday, traveling by plane, bus, and metro. I enjoyed a relaxing and free (!) ride on the bus, which passed fields full of summer flowers, including black eyed susans, daisies, and sunflowers; cornfields; the dairy research facility... Outside of the metro station, a dropped lollipop sat melting in the hot sun. The heat felt like a wall. I had to keep going, however, so I got on the train, sitting near two young women who had loads of luggage and were conversing with one another in German.
When I got off the train, I met up with someone who told me about a demonstration that would take place early that evening in front of the White House. The issue was Israel's war on two fronts, with Hamas and with Hezbollah.
That evening, I went with the group from the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker house to the demonstration. We brought along Mary, who had been staying at the house and who was doing an internship with the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), Betty (sister of Catholic Worker Art Laffin), and four students from a Baltimore youth group. Mary told the students about TASSC and about how many of the torture survivors are young people, just like them. She said that they are students and that they engage in sports and other activities and, if you look at them, you wouldn't have a clue that they have been through such a terrible ordeal. But the torture is in their memories and in their nightmares and is hard to forget. That is one of the reasons for TASSC, to give support to people who often feel alone with their terrible memories and their nightmares. Another reason is to work for the abolition of torture throughout the world.
We arrived at the demonstration, which was already in progress. People were marching in circles and chanting. They carried signs and the flags of Palestine, Lebanon, and the United States. Messages on the signs included: "Jewish Voices for Peace," "Stop excusing Israeli attacks on civilians," "American $$$ fund Israeli tanks," and "Give diplomacy a chance."
When I started marching with Kathy, a Catholic Worker, in the circle on the street, I met up with Father Louis Vitale, who was released during the spring from jail after serving six months for crossing the fence at Fort Benning in November 2005. He said that, despite having been sentenced to serve his sentence in a federal prison, he spent his entire term in county jails. He is in Washington, D.C., to fast with the Code Pink group. They started a "Bring the Troops Home Fast" on the Fourth of July and intend to continue the fast until some time in September. Louis looked and sounded strong, though very thin.
I also met a man named Mohammed. He said that he was from Morocco, where people of several religions, mainly Muslim, Christian, and Jewish, live together in peace. He spoke passionately for peace and said, "We have one God." I expressed an interest in visiting Morocco some day and he said that I would enjoy visiting his country.
I also met a woman named Mona. She is an artist who lives in Washington, D.C. She is originally from Alexandria, in Egypt. She has a website at www.monaart.com. Her drawings and paintings are colorful and a delight to see so I suggest that you take a look at that website.
At the demonstration, I took photographs and wasn't sure whether I felt like a photojournalist or a tourist. Maybe a little bit of both.
It was one of the hottest protests that I had ever participated in. Later on, I found out that the temperature was 97 degrees, with a heat index of 104.
Back at the Catholic Worker house, one of the students, Ryan, serenaded us with singing and guitar music. Some of his songs were original compositions. Ryan is fourteen years old and has been playing the guitar since he was seven.

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