Thursday, January 20, 2011

WAT Journals--Jan 20

Despite a limited dose of sleep last night—due to our overnight vigil, taken in shifts, at the DoJ last night--I hadn't heard about the article. Mary told me as we were preparing to process from our gathering circle at the Navy Memorial to the DoJ where we would be reunited with the last shift of overnight vigil-ers.

Carmen spoke the gist of it over the sound system as we stood once again before the Department of “Justice.” A report was issued in the New York Times that Attorney General Holder, glaringly absent from our invitation to break bread, will be re-instituting military tribunals for the prosecuting of Guantanamo detainees. It appears that “hearsay evidence” will be incorporated into the cases (since no solid evidence exists), meaning information derived by torture will be used. A devastating development on a number of levels.

The news sunk like a bitter lump in my stomach and my shoulders slumped. Warm tears welled. My grief was hidden beneath a black hood. I thought of how the grief of the detained men is hidden away from the American people and the world. I thought of the hidden grief of their wives, their children, their fathers and mothers and friends. I want to believe that we are better than this.

Today has been rough for me, emotionally. The absence of solid sleep and food has left me exposed to feelings I'd successfully held at bay up to this point. Much of what has been brewing in me was released as I sat in the middle of the floor of the auditorium. A meeting had just closed and Chantal took my hand and asked, “are you okay?” Though I first said I was, her follow up questions led me to tears and disclosure.

One of the things weighing heaviest on my heart registered as I was watching portions of Taxi to the Darkside (an intense and worthwhile documentary about Bagram and Guantanamo). There was a clip from a post 911 news interview with then vice president Dick Cheney. He was talking about the need to move into the shadows, to use harsher tactics, because of who we are dealing with...these are paraphrases that actually tame what he was saying. I can't remember at the moment or find the video (day ten of fasting, remember, and sleepy). Were we not listening or did we just not care? The thought that people watched this and accepted his words, that people watched this and didn't rise up from their seats in horror and challenge him and the administration was heart-breaking. Especially in the context of having just watched footage of interviews with soldiers about and images of torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The realization that I had never seen this interview with Cheney, that for most of my life I've essentially ignored the news, ignored my responsibility and complicity was devastating. Especially when accompanied by the impression that my negligence and apathy are fairly representative of the general population.

My grief infiltrates me on multiple levels and there have been other factors to my general sense of desolation today. But I am thankful for this community that I have such respect and affection for (though tonight I thought I'd go mad if I had to sit in one more circle for one more meeting!), I am thankful for my already sweet and still deepening friendships with Jerica and Chantal who sat on the floor of the auditorium with me as my facade of well-being crumbled. I am so thankful for Chantal's beautiful gift for playing guitar and singing that smoothed my wrinkled spirit. And I am thankful for the makeshift bed I am about to crawl into.

WAT Journals--Jan. 19

Risking arrest can be a comical process. Monday night about a dozen from our group stayed up late to clarify an action plan that had begun being formed in the large circle. After the clarifying group came up with a rough proposal another fragment continued the conversation as to what details would be included. Tuesday the conversation continued in the large group with further questions, suggestions, amendments. Then into the night the chosen few hashed out speaking points and alternatives in case things did not go according to plan (which they seldom do).

The gist of what we came up with is this. We would once more converge upon the premises of the DoJ. An announcement would be made over the sound system, explaining our presence, outlining the steps that have been taken to date; namely, our attempts at more conventional routes of communication -- letters, meetings, phone calls—that have been rebuffed. Then, an invitation is made to invite Attorney General Eric Holder or the highest official present for the day, to come outside and speak with us. We offered to break our fast (9 days and counting) and to break bread with him, offering him the opportunity to justify present policies and us to express our dismay at the injustices we have seen committed by U.S. representatives and supported and enforced by U.S. policy makers. At this announcement a loaf of bread was presented (cardboard Budweiser box covered by a lovely decorative rug) along with a bouquet of white roses. The roses were explained to be symbolic of the White Rose Society, a movement that arose within Nazi Germany famous for their pronouncement, “we will not be silent,” who would not be deterred from speaking out against the evils being committed by those in power even to the point of death (they were captured and beheaded).

While we waited for Mr. Holder or another representative from the DoJ to accept our invitation, a program began with alternating speakers that presented stories from Guantanamo; stories of the detainees, of the policies and practices of the military, of the types of torture, of the infamous beginnings that involved buying men with bounties with no evidence of wrong doing, extraordinary rendition, etc. After the first hour those willing to risk arrest removed their hoods, in effect, releasing themselves from representing Guantanamo detainees and reasserting their identity as American citizens come to make use of the alleged power we have as citizens of a democratic republic. Reiterating our attempts at more conventional approaches to communication, it was announced that we would block the entrance to the DoJ.

There were two instances during which those of us risking arrest “put our bodies on the line” so to speak. The first began as the first hour after our invitation to Eric Holder to break bread with us drew to a close. Carmen invited those of us dressed as detainees to remove our hoods and reveal our identity as “dismayed citizens” here to address the injustices being committed and sanctioned by the U.S. Government. We were then called upon to step forward. Previously when blocking the entrances to the DoJ we had turned to face the street, the public, with our backs to the building and the officers guarding it. This time we stepped forward, face to face with those opposing us, both symbolically (the employees and policy makers represented by the DoJ) and literally (the officers that barred our way). It felt strange to walk forward toward these resolute, stony faced men. My body resisted but my will and the presence of those beside me surpassed that inhibition. We kneeled and sang, “woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on freedom,” and the song and the voices of those around me and the hidden voices of the men we had come out for, buoyed my spirit and my resolve. We waited until our knees ached and our feet fell asleep, mindful of how minor this discomfort was as the program continued behind us and we heard story after story of the abusive, inhuman treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. I listened to the stories and wondered how much if any was being absorbed by the guards that stood before us and looked past us. I wondered how much if any was being absorbed by the employees who more than anything seemed perturbed by this interruption of their usual routines. I wondered what I would think of us if I was on the outside looking in at this odd assortment of men and women in orange jumpsuits, kneeling before the blocked doors of the Department of Justice.

After the predetermined time for our presence at this entrance drew to a close. We rose and processed to the car port where we once again assembled and kneeled, once again facing the officers on duty and the wrought iron gates of the DoJ that opened to a lovely courtyard beyond which towering offices loomed large. The program continued and I resumed alternating attentiveness to the words being spoken by the people in our group and to the unspoken messages of those not associated with us. Time and again employees and officers were invited to state their case, none came forward, nor did they speak from where they stood. I noticed that the prevailing response from employees (at this point, those not in cars were able to come and go through a rotating door to our left) most commonly responded to our presence either by averting their gaze or smirking. A sad example of how so many choose to respond to being confronted with the discomfort of a tragic truth in which we all are implicated. I don't know if those behind me or otherwise beyond view accepted fliers or listened to the speakers.

After sometime, an hour maybe—my sense of time was severely skewed so it's hard to say—we could hear sirens and see lights flashing, blue and red, as police cars and paddy wagons converged on the street behind us. A yellow crime scene tape was drawn around us and those from the support group quickly placed bottles of juice before us in anticipation of imminent arrest. More time passed and the tape was removed. More passed still and still we waited. The police cars and paddy wagon remained, the clusters of officers remained, we trespassing vigilers remained and it began to be evident that all parties involved were attempting to wait each other out. Our minds and bodies had spent the day in preparation and anticipation all the while knowing that we did not know what would transpire. As we continued to remain unshackled, we circled up and for the next 30 minutes had a kind of impromptu hootenanny, holding hands and swaying as we sang out peace songs and continued to block the the entrance. It was surreal. A soft-hued sunset came and went and darkness embraced us. Finally we began to process away, singing “Courage, Muslim brothers...” But our vigil did not end, it took it's third form. A small group remained for what will continue as an overnight presence, some staying continuously through the night to represent the torture technique of sleep deprivation, others taking a few hours at a time in shifts indicating the seriousness of our intentions. We are determined to be heard, to be a voice for the voiceless, to put an end to this madness.

Monday, January 17, 2011

WAT Journals--Jan. 16

We are at the “Peace Oasis” now and I have stolen someone else's pen to write this because I cannot find my own. The PO is a large lovely home in the woods that was built primarily as a retreat place to acquaint city children with natural spaces. It is offered to WAT for a day and night of rest, reflection, and planning. It's a beautiful place and I am looking forward to a walk amidst the trees this afternoon.

Yesterday was very full with many of us being away from the home base for a good twelve hours. Mass was how the day began at a church about a block away. Bishop Gumbleton presided. I loved the songs but found the homily lackluster, hence the sketching of tangential ideas—I hope to explore them more later—during that time.

From there we joined with other groups on a march to the White House in commemoration both of MLK weekend and of the 20th anniversary of the war on Iraq. At the WH there was a service of songs, speakers, and prayers. I had a part, calling out a liturgy with the group response “we will not comply.” It was an empowering experience for me, proclaiming this to and along with such a large gathering. This was followed by an arduous teach-in (4 ½ hours of speakers, interspersed with songs) that had many informative and and tremendously moving speeches. I took a lot of notes and will try to compile them in the not too distant future.

Back at St. Stephens. I was feeling good energy earlier but feel like I'm crashing now. Some folks are talking about going to a bar which sounds fun, but I'm afraid I lack the stamina...I want to write in a way that is exploring thoughts and ideas but am finding it difficult to focus. The following tangential pieces are based on the notes I took during and after mass:

> “Tax collector and sinners” – I don't think that we “peace activists” (for lack of a better term) have the ownership of this categorization that I often see assumed. I think it reveals Jesus' ministry to and relationship with a spectrum. He met with all and spoke to all with the same candor.
Lumping ourselves into the broad category of sinners is reasonable enough, but tax collectors? This representation is more appropriately pointed toward those we oppose, those we ridicule, those we dismiss as soulless oppressors of the people, just as Jesus' followers did with the tax collectors of their time.
The movement I feel in response to these readings is not toward congratulating myself for being among the crew Jesus called friend. The call I hear is toward transparency and an invitational spirit toward all—including authorities, including those with whom we disagree—even those who do evil.

> This afternoon we came across three horses. Without a second thought, I called to them, fed them, coaxed them to come near so that I could stroke and caress them. These animals had done nothing to win my affection. I knew nothing about them except that they were beautiful creatures.

> During Saturday morning's reflection I shared some thoughts about simultaneously holding feelings of hope and despair, of sorrow and joy—the fullness of that, the full humanness, the way it binds me to what diverse people are experiencing—that's a good feeling, though it is heavy.

>For some reason this line keeps coming to mind as something important to remember: “Jesus Christ did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped...” It's from Paul's letter to the Philippians.

> During the liturgy on Sunday morning a conversation developed around sin/forgiveness/redemption. It began when Joe, a self-proclaimed skeptic, asked why we would need a God who forgave sin or for Jesus to take on the role of redeemer. Are we not responsible for ourselves? Is that just a way to shirk personal responsibility? Many interesting responses were sparked. I started thinking about KY, as I often do. I remember the sharpening awareness of the weight of history and how the interconnectedness of life which is so beautiful is also treacherous. That is, that everything we say and do has both direct effect and a rippling influence; these build, creating habits, processes, systems, to the point that we don't even see or understand or remember anymore how it began. These things can't be undone. They can only be redeemed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

WAT Journals--Jan 14

Day four of the fast is nearly complete. The day was so full; it’s difficult to know where to begin. After our morning meeting we waited for a nurse who didn’t come and then left to vigil at the White House. That seems like such a long time ago. I don’t remember what I was thinking. Mostly, I was listening. More poems were read as well as our reasons for being there. This was followed by a march to the DOJ which we processed around and then vigiled in front of for about twenty minutes. From there we went to the Senate Hart building for a “ghost walk.” This involves several people in orange jumpsuits walking meditatively through the building, not interacting with those around them, specters of those whose lives are hidden from view. During and before this time others had been lobbying in their Senators offices, now we were “lobbying” in the halls, with a point person to drop off letters and share information with those who asked.

At the DOJ vigil I had held a placard with the image of a man in a pointed black hood and sackcloth being tortured by electric shock. It was a photo from a U.S. detention center. I thought about this man, about his captors; what would it take for each of them to be healed? It seems so impossible. Yet, I continued to make my small, shuffling, steps of hope. I also kept returning to what Carmen had said about Jesus and Moses during our morning reflection. Their key parallel, he believes, is that both argue with God on behalf of humanity. There’s something so penetrating and stunning about this idea to me. I’ve yet to fully process it. But I considered the rag tag tribes Moses was shepherding, and I considered the masses of mixed up humans on the earth presently. I considered how far astray all of us are from righteousness, from love—still more ready for sacrifice than mercy, and usually the sacrificing of another before ourselves. I wondered if Jesus feels a sickening sense of disappointment, of betrayal. Is he wounded repeatedly? No longer from physical beating but a broken heart? Is he dismayed by the behavior of those for whom he intervened?

The gospel reading this morning was the story of the friends who bring their paralytic companion to Jesus for healing. I am struck in this passage by the audacity of these friends. There is despair in the circumstances of their life—a friend crippled, a crowd that will not be moved, a Healer who is inaccessible, not to mention political and social upheaval. Hope is delivered to the scene by attitudes and actions that defy resignation to the situation. These friends display a willingness to confront an obdurate mass, to dismantle obstacles (in the form of a roof) that separates them from their goal, to release their friend to the unknown with hope and faith that the impossible will be made manifest. In this story I find cause for hope in what humans are capable of when compelled by compassion. I want to believe that our unconventional acts, our disruption of the status quo that envelopes the majority; our attempts at dismantling borders that block us from recognizing that we are also “them,” are acts of compassion that lead to healing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

WAT Journals -- JAN 13

I’m feeling very hungry this afternoon with lots of aches and pains. Woke up with a sore throat and absent voice this morning but I seem to be growing more audible as the day progresses.

During our vigil at the DOJ (Department of Justice) today I wasn’t sure that I would be able to continue standing. We had already been holding vigil outside the courthouse as the ACLU argued the case of Ali vs. Rumsfeld (on behalf of families of men who had been captured and tortured in Iraq). There I began feeling weak and distracted and very cold. I stepped out of line a moment to warm my hands and drink some juice. Returning to standing I centered myself by watching the trees that stood at attention in a line parallel to ours across the street. It felt as though they were gazing on the court proceedings, or us, or seeing past it all. As the day was windy, they were perpetually, gently, dancing. Afterward we had a short break to get warm and use the bathrooms at the Art Museum across the street before reconvening to don our jumpsuits and hoods and process to and around the DOJ. There, ten representatives of detainees kneeled, facing the building while those remaining, roughly forty, faced the street holding up a massive black banner with white lettering, “SHUT DOWN GUANTANMO.”

Two things sustained me during that second vigil. We were standing along the curb, facing a busy street, lining the block with our bodies. I was near to center and the sun seemed to be reaching its rays directly toward me. This was a comfort in that it helped to warm me, soaking into my black gloves and hood. It also created a mesmerizing optical effect. My hood became filled with fragments of rainbows—sometimes in circles, intricately laced, like snowflakes; sometimes in interwoven patterns that spread like veins. Though from the outside I appeared to be hooded by a macabre shroud, from within it was as though I was cloaked in prisms.

Even so, I was waning. I began to meditate on one of my favorite prayers: “Creator, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love…” Then Carmen’s voice came over the microphone to speak our case and introduce the reading of poems composed by Guantanamo detainees. Those poems lent me strength and perseverance.* My empty stomach was filled with the bittersweet words; my wandering mind was focused on the men who wrote them and on those for whom they wrote.

Writing this reminds me of yesterday when we were processing around the DOJ three times before standing vigil. As my body plodded, my mind leapt from one tangent to another. I drew close to center by praying repeated “Hail Mary’s.” This prayer led me to contemplate the prayer life of the detainees, who are predominantly Muslim. Though they are persecuted for their faith, they are unabashed in proclaiming it in word, action and writing. I, who try so hard to make controversial Christ palatable to all, am convicted by this. In the midst of abuse they find solace in Allah and are not so cynical as to cease to trust in their God. I, who question God’s love because of hardship only heard of, am convicted by this. Despite being treated with unspeakable malice and cruelty, those interviewed, while desiring justice, speak no ill will to their persecutors. I, who judge others for even imagined offenses, am convicted by this.

As Luke Nephew says in his powerful poem, “Man Under the Hood,” we do not attempt to make angels of these men, but to remember at least that they are men: deep and mysterious, feeling and thinking, intricately nuanced as we all are. Don’t forget them. Don’t drape a curtain over their cage. Don’t validate the injustice that our nation is ignoring. Don’t allow yourself to become so accustomed to bad news that you find it acceptable.

This morning in prayer we read one of my favorite verses: “Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.” It put me in mind of a quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:

"An individual dies when they cease to be surprised. I am surprised every morning when I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil I don't accommodate, I don't accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere. I am still so surprised! That is why I am against it. We must learn to be surprised."

Let us look with wonder and reverence on our brothers and sisters and on this earth. Let us be so amazed whenever they are treated as less than magnificent. Let that amazement compel us to move, to speak, to love with all our being.

* There is only one copy of this book here that I know of, and it is in high demand. If I am able to get a hold of both it and a computer, I will transcribe the powerful poems that were read. In my next post I also hope to transcribe notes from speakers we heard on a panel at American University, including Andy Worthington, author of Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo (a book and documentary film) and representatives from the UN and from Center for Constitutional Rights.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WAT Journals--Jan. 11

WAT Journals: Jan. 11

A little past midnight now so the fast has begun…a series of meetings and I am feeling clarified and confident. Also developing affection and respect already for several folks…I feel good. whole. loved. alive.


The first time I saw the White House was from behind a veil. I was standing front and center in formation with roughly 120 others in orange jumpsuits and black hoods representing the 173 men still being indefinitely detained at Guantanamo Bay. I learned, during the press conference transpiring in front of the White House, that only three of those 173 men have convictions against them. Three. And of the remaining, approximately 90 have been cleared by U.S. task forces as not presenting any danger nor having any cause for incarceration. Yet, they remain. Some have been there from the very beginning, nine years.
With our hoods on we could still see, though dimly. Even so, there were people from the community to guide us, “tree to your left—loose tiles ahead—there’s a downward step there—“ I thought about the men we represented whose hoods truly shrouded them in darkness; who were taken by strangers who did not guide them but systematically abused them physically and emotionally and psychologically. One of the things I heard that stung the most was that many of these men said that when they first learned they were in U.S. custody they were glad. They believed that in U.S. hands they would be treated with dignity. Then they were taken to Abu Ghraib. Then to Guantanamo.

At the end of the day we were not arrested. We did stand in front of the Departments of Justice, shivering in our boots as lovely large flakes of snow fell on and around us, standing solidly together nonetheless. We read the names of those still detained and spoke in unison, “We remember you.” This is a particularly poignant ritual to me as I imagine it is a devastating feeling to be forgotten in your suffering. How agonizing it must be to know that you are innocent, to know that your captors know you are innocent and yet you remain hidden from view, no just end in sight.

…This morning I woke up early after a scant night of sleep to be present for morning prayer. We ended with the Our Father (speaking it instead as “Our Creator” which I found quite lovely). Since last year’s fast two lines from that prayer have become increasingly poignant for me. I will share one here:

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

When I say those words it is with great humility and an accompanying prayer beseeching mercy. I am achingly aware that we have not forgiven those who’ve trespassed against us and deserve no such forgiveness. We have, instead, heaped trespass upon trespass. We have stolen lives, hidden humans away to be tortured and tormented in secret and then, instead of begging forgiveness, we have tried to justify our actions. This is a hard truth.

Monday, January 10, 2011

DC--Day One

The following is an excerpt from the diaries of Amy Nee:

A terrific snowstorm tried to stop us, but thanks to John & Chantal's driving prowess we made it to Christina's parents in Geneva, Ohio. The heavy snow was beautiful but treacherous. I kept wishing I could be home with that snow and build a snowman and sled...

...We are at Dorothy Day House now, in or just outside of DC. I'm a little disoriented. We just had our first "check-in" of sorts with the NY crew who rolled in about an hour after us. I'm glad to be here but feeling very out of place and wondering what I am doing here--how to respond to this environment--how it even came to be that I am in a place and situation like this.

During the long, cramped drive (five of us in a Honda Civic plus two weeks worth of baggage, and we are not small!), I reflected briefly on some of my life stages; moments of awareness of my weakness, moments of empowerment. I thought about living on New England Ave in Florida and avoiding acknowledging my acquaintances sitting on the balcony as I walked below--aware and ashamed of my impulse to ignore those around me because I did not know what to say or how to act. I remember one night in KY when I decided to go visit the community where my roommate Maureen's dad lived. I was filled with anxiety. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and confronted myself in an utterly cliche but effective way. "You are lovely," I told this reflection, "and I like who you are and who you are becoming; why are you still afraid of people?" What is it that I am afraid of?

This inhibition and anxiety and self-doubt cannot be left unchecked. That is a large part of why I am here, to continue along the road of recovery. Also, because of compassion bound together with a believing/unbelieving hope. A terrible injustice is occuring to a large group of men and we just might be able to do something about it. So how could I not try? How could I not join with those who are trying? What does love require?

My dear sister Hannah, familiar with aspects of me that no one here knows, has promised prayer, "like a blanket." I will wrap that blanket around me, when I wake and when I sleep.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. -Joshua 1:9