Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Public Witness and Arrest

Tuesday, July 22nd, we gathered at the office of Congressman Rahm Emanuel's to testify to the death and destruction that the Iraq war has caused. Emanuel, a democrat, has consistently voted to support funding of the war in Iraq.

Our public witness (also called a nonviolent action or demonstration) was planned around the theme of delivering to Rep. Emanuel what he has ordered through his votes. Through those votes he has ordered death and destruction. We brought that death to his office as 9 CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams)trainees served as bodies which symbolized the deaths of Americans, Iraqis, soldiers, and civilians. We also littered Emanuel's office with symbols of the destruction of Iraq: rubble, broken toys, smashed telephones, broken pieces of cars, shredded school books, etc. The purpose of the action was to urge Emanuel to sign a pledge stating that he would no longer vote to support funding of the Iraq war. As a part of the Occupation Project, started by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, we planned to occupy Rahm Emmanuel's office until he agreed to sign the pledge. The alternative option was to sign the invoice for the delivery that he ordered. We wanted to make the consequences of Emanuel's voting record less abstract, so we attempted to show him the death and destruction that results from the war. We wanted to show Congressman Emanuel that there is an alternative to war, the way of peace, the affirmation of life.

Once the office staff gathered that we planned to stay until Rep. Emanuel signed the pledge (which we were told Emanuel doesn't do as a principle, except his oath to office), the police we called to remove us from the office. Once approximately 10 policeman arrived, they gave us a final chance to leave the building before we were arrested. We were subsequently handcuffed and escorted to a police wagon. We were then taken to the 17th district Chicago Police Station on Pulaski and Lawrence. We spent a relatively short time in jail, from about 5:30 to 8:30. We were charged with criminal trespassing, which is a misdemeanor. The women who were imprisoned spent much more time in jail, 13 hours, and were subject to some fairly dehumanizing treatment.

The reason we did the action was to testify to the myth of war, and to the truth of peace. You can't condemn violence perpetrated by the other and then overcome that violence through violence of your own, that is the myth of redemptive violence. As Derek Webb sings, "Peace by way of war is like telling someone murder is wrong and then showing them by way of execution." We wanted to testify to the reality of war, for soldiers in Iraq and for the people of Iraq. Although the message about the reality of war is incredibly important, we also wanted to lace our message with the alternative, the redemptive and transformative way of peace.

Soon I will write about the connection between Christianity and civil disobedience, how I see nonviolent resistance to the state and the systems that oppress people as an integral part of Christianity.