Civil Disobedience at the Capitol

Well, an exciting day with on the job as my supervisor, the director of the justice team for the Sisters of Mercy, was arrested doing civil disobedience in the Rotunda of the Capitol. It was all planned out in advance, for them to arrive there with a Congressional staff member and begin praying to express their concern for deficit-reduction proposals that will cause harm to persons who are poor through deep spending cuts. The Capitol guards were even alerted and ready for the action.

One of the Sisters on the leadership team, the other person on the justice team and myself went to a rally outside where there were all kinds of speakers. I got a call from Jean, my boss, and she turned on the microphone on her phone so I could hear them singing inside the Rotunda. We all then decided to go to the Rotunda ourselves to support them.

Well, that became quite the farce as after going through all the security screening we tried to get to the Rotunda but were told we could only go with a tour guide. We almost got one guard to let us past, but then his partner (a woman) stopped us and said we couldn’t go anywhere without a guide and we’d have to get in line for a tour. We did that, but that would require first watching a 13-minute orientation film; we couldn’t just skip that and go with another group. The rotunda at that point was closed to the public because of the action, so it was pointless then. We just went outside to wait for the arrested to be led away, but we never got to see that, either.

The story we later heard from one of observers was that there was a big debate between the House and Senate staffers about whether to arrest the group of 11 people. The House didn’t want them arrested; the Senate did (for obvious reasons, the plea was more in line with the Democrats than with the Republicans). They were finally arrested (which is what they wanted) but then the debate became how to bring them out of the Capitol — the House wanted them to be led out quietly, the Senate wanted a more public display. I don’t know who won that one.

We had a group of 7 people by the time we went into the Capitol; with some staff people from the Maryknoll Office of Global Concern joining us on our little adventure.

One of them had been arrested in the Rotunda in 1999 to protest International Monetary Fund policies that had contributed to high debt accumulated by impoverished nations. This was before 2011 security measures, and they just went in with a group of tourists and then stepped out and fell to their knees in prayer. That’s the universal signal for the police to get involved, I guess. The police were freaked out because it was within a year of an incident there where some security guards had been shot at there. The guards pleaded with the 4 female protesters to just go home, that they didn’t want to arrest them. But, of course, the women wanted to be arrested to get publicity for their cause. They were arrested and in the Capitol jail each of them had one arm chained to a wall. At one point they were transferred to another jail and left in a dark car in a dark parking garage for an hour.

Welcome to America, the land of the free?


About mariannedc

I just moved from Albany, NY, to the Washington, DC, area and many friends and former co-workers want to hear about my life here. So this seemed like a great way to do that.
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