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.