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Our Arrest: Four Women's Antiwar Action in Chicago

Tuesday, February 20, at the Federal Building in downtown Chicago, we took part in the Occupation Project protest of Illinois Senator Durbin's vote on Bush's Supplemental Appropriations bill. This was surely one of my most pleasant arrests.

Rosalie Riegle

We are a poet, a doctor, a pregnant woman, and a grandmother. We are risking arrest today to publically protest Senator Durbin's refusal to vote NO on the president's $93 Billion dollar supplemental appropriations request to continue funding the immoral and unjust war in Iraq. If Senator Durbin is against this war, he must stop funding it. We will occupy the lobby of the federal building until removed because we strongly believe that this war must end and that our elected representatives have the power to follow last November's mandate to do so.

—Statement given to the press at the time of our arrest.

I was arrested, along with three fellow protesters, on Tuesday February 20 at the Federal Building in downtown Chicago. We took part in the Occupation Project to protest Illinois Senator Durbin's plan to vote yes on Bush's Supplemental Appropriations bill. This bill is NOT designed to "protect our troops,"as supporters say. There is more than enough money in the pipeline to feed and armor and transport them and give them the real protection they need by bringing them home. This bill funds future wars, especially lining the pockets of the war profiteers.

But on to the protest.

We were "The Well Behaved Women," a group of twenty from Chicago and Evanston and surrounding suburbs who were behaving as women should--protesting death-dealing government policies. We were part of a nationwide civil disobedience action coordinated by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the same folks who as Voices in the Wilderness did such good work against the Iraq sanctions before we invaded them again. The OP has tons of supporters, including Code Pink, whose Chicago members were very important to our action. (See either website for great photos and analysis.) I urge you to join this campaign.

Our protest was four-pronged--a meeting with Senator Durbin's staff, an outside supporting protest, a call-in to the Senator's office by others who supported our action, and the resistance action, where four of us were arrested--a poet, a medical doctor, a mother-to-be, and a grandmother--me. Twenty of us made an appointment with Durbin's office a month ago, hoping to meet with him as the Senate is in recess this week. Instead, he was campaigning in L.A. and as we met with his courteous staff, he was telling people he was voting for the supplemental "to support our troops." Even my arresting officer knows better--as we were walking to the elevator, he told me "All those big corporations are getting that money."

After we made the appointment, Durbin's office instituted a closed-door policy, which is clearly an abridgment of our First Amendment rights. We surmise that it's because four other Occupation Project protesters were arrested in his office two weeks ago. Only nine of us were allowed to meet with the staff and instead of going to the office, we were escorted by police to a separate meeting room on the third floor.

The rest of the women and other supporters picketed and leafleted outside the building during the meeting and the occupation action. Hundreds of others called the office voicing their objections to the Supplemental Bill. Or tried to call, for apparently the phones became jammed. The meeting itself was wonderful, with each women speaking to a separate reason for de-funding the war: funding VA benefits, reparations for Iraq, needed community services in our own country, etc. etc. Some speakers gave cogent numerical analysis of what the money is earmarked for, one woman read a beautiful poem, and one spoke movingly of her wartime experiences as a child in Germany. At the end of the meeting I thanked the staff for listening and told them we were going to join our sisters who were not allowed into the meeting.

Just before the police ushered us all out of the door, Katie Dahlaw who was not able to get into the meeting, joined Dr. Marjorie Fujara, Laura Bernstein, and me in the lobby. We knelt down and immediately began our protest. Laura would sing the name of an Iraqi and then an American soldier killed in the war; I would ring my meditation bowl resoundingly, and then we would all chant, "Not one more death! Not one more dollar!" The sound reverberated beautifully and people outside, including lots of media, could hear us.

After about 15 minutes, before the police gently arrested us, took us to their office, issued us a citation for "Refusing to Obey a Sign" and released us. We had expected that they'd take us to a city precinct and hold us overnight, so we had phone numbers written on our arms and food stuck in our pockets. But we weren't, thank goodness, and this was surely one of my most pleasant arrests.

Laura Bernstein is a writer and poet who is active in interfaith ministry. She teaches at Common Ground in Deerfield. Her recent book is "Healing the Jewish-Christian Rift: Growing Beyond Our Wounded History (co-authored with Ron Miller). Laurie is on the board of Hands of Peace, a group which brings Palestinian, Christian and Jewish Israeli teenagers together for dialogue and intercultural exchange.

Laura's statement:

This illegal, immoral, unnecessary war has been going on for almost 4 years now. I have picketed on street corners (before the war actually began),attended candlelight vigils, written letters to the editor decrying this debacle, sent emails and faxes, and made a thousand phone calls in an effort to bring anti-war candidates to Washington. Now we have a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, and the war rages on, with scarcely any change. The body count grows, and the tragedy deepens. I'm ready for nonviolent civil disobedience. If not now, when?

Katie Jean Dahlaw is a twenty-five year old expectant mother from Chicago. She's a dancer, wife, and believer in the nonviolent way of Jesus Christ. Katie Jean is a practicing member of Reba Place Fellowship, Mennonite intentional community in Evanston, IL.

Katie stated to the Court:

Katie Jean is participating in civil disobedience on February 20, 2007 because she is tired of the war. She does not want her unborn child to be born into a country that is so shamefully and aggressively using violence and power for its own selfish gain.

Marjorie Fujara MD is a pediatrician at Stroger Hospital and is a native of Chicago. Marjorie grew up on the Northwest side and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School and completed her residency at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Before accepting her current position, she was employed by Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and was on staff at Resurrection Medical Center. She lives with her family in Evanston.

Marjorie's statement to the Court read:

I am willing to risk arrest because I am passionate about my work and the families we serve. It became clear to me that the current situation facing the county is the result of more than poor financial management and political hiring. The cost of the war in Iraq could eliminate the $500 million Cook County deficit in 40 hours. As the number of uninsured and underinsured continue to grow daily, universal health care needs to be front and center on the country's agenda. That hope becomes less and less likely as the end of the war in Iraq drags on and on. I am here today to specifically address the issue of the Supplemental Spending Bill. The Bush Administration is asking for an additional 99.7 billion dollars on top of the 70 billion dollars already allotted in the 2007 budget. This money would not be available for the military to use for two years. It will not be used for soldiers fighting on the battlefield today. Nor will it be used to take care of soldiers that have become injured in the line of duty.

In my own statement, I said:

In risking arrest today, I am resisting with my body this horrific war that is ruining our country and alienating countries who were once our allies. The supposedly anti-war senators, including our own Senators Durbin and Obama, must stop funding it by refusing to pass the $93 billion supplemental appropriations bill. Instead, it appears they are playing a political game to win in 2008, sacrificing U.S. lives and honor to political ambition. In the name of the millions of citizens who want this madness to stop, I shout, "Stop funding the war!"

Our three-part action--education of the public, education of the Senator and his staff, and nonviolent resistance--on February 20th worked very well. Of course we were pooped from all the adrenalin pumping as we protested, but it was a wonderful and very hopeful day.

Chicago, however, is becoming a lock down. On February 27, nonviolent protesters from the American Friends Service Commission, 8th Day Center for Peace and Justice, and St. Aloysius High School were unable to even enter the doors of the federal building to deliver letters to Senators Durbin and Obama. Everyone should scream loudly about this further abridgment of our civil liberties. First the Senator's offices, then the entire building. Today will Federal Plaza itself be off limits to citizens?

Please join us, in all sorts of nonviolent ways, to convince the US Congress to stop the war!

Rosalie Riegle, 70, of Evanston is a retired professor of English, a writer, and a grandmother of seven.
Photos by Dan Pearson of the Catholic Worker.

Copyright © Rosalie Riegle 2007. Photos © Dan Pearson. All rights reserved.