Forty-Two Peacemakers Arrested in DC

by Matt Black

Peacemaking is not a fair weather activity.

Last year, at the first Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, I was one of the 222 who were arrested in front of the White House. We had moved through snow throughout the day and struggled in the bitter cold late in the evening until we were arrested.

This year, it was the rain.

And it rained and rained, so that we were well soaked by the time we began the larger outdoor rally. CPWI had expanded its partnership this year, forming the Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership. Following worship services from a variety of traditions all over the city, people of many faiths gathered to stand in the rain. Speakers from Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Christian traditions referred to the rain in their comments, affirming our common commitment to the ways of peace in spite of inclement weather and in spite of a culture that largely remains silent in these times of violence.

“This war is a betrayal. It is a betrayal of everything we hold sacred in this country.” said Celeste Zappala during the worship service I attended. She is the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq in 2004.

Then we walked through the rain and gathered, about 750 strong, in Upper Senate Park. We stood in the rain and passed around thousands of feet of rope. This “Rope of Hope” came in six-foot segments from faith communities all over the country, each bearing banners and flags with messages of peace. We stood in the rain and shared bread with each other, brought by Jewish partners in the event.

Multi-faith delegations met with high-level staffers of both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The religious leaders expressed grave concern that there must be both a clear exit strategy from Iraq and a regional, multi-lateral effort at development and diplomacy to bring about genuine security.

My support role in the event kept me from joining others immediately after the rally, and so I came late to witness the civil disobedience in the Hart building, where Senate offices are located. About halfway through the arrest process, I entered to see a large crowd of police, standing around a small circle of protesters seated on the floor in the center of the atrium. But it felt more like walking into church. A small group of supporters had formed an impromptu choir, and slowly and beautifully harmonized “We Shall Overcome” into the prayerful space created by those seated on the floor. Later, after being released, those who were arrested would speak of the profound respect and courtesy that passed between protesters and police officers, including several comments from officers that they would be protesting, too, if they were not filling their present role.

As I stood watching the arrests from the side, I was drawn into conversation by several workers and visitors to the Hart building, and I had the opportunity to explain some of what was going on. My own small witness was greeted with receptive ears and many questions. We peacemakers have good news to offer this world and this country. The stories of violence and loss from this war continue to be overwhelming. But the witness of people of faith, who see a better way and stand up for it, whatever the weather or social climate, is changing the world.

Matt Black is a member and staff of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. More details from the event are available at olivebranchinterfaith.org