Police Stop Protest at Senate Building
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The quiet, sunny atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building was transformed into a chaotic scene yesterday when dozens of war protesters filed into the lobby, formed a prayer circle, shouted Scripture and eventually were arrested as Senate staffers hung over railings and crammed glass-walled offices to watch.
Employees in the building and longtime area activists said they had never seen police allow such a demonstration in a government office building, with activists one and two stories up reading the names of the Iraq war dead, civilian and military. The names rang loudly through improvised megaphones into the building's open center. Dozens of police streamed into the atrium and arrested about 35 people, including Rick Ufford-Chase, who until recently was a top official of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
"I've been working here nine years, and I've never seen this much police activity -- except during the anthrax scare," said an employee who did not give his name because he said he had not been authorized to talk to the media.
Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Capitol Police, said: "We don't encourage people to demonstrate in the buildings. . . . I'm not aware of anything unusual about how it was handled on our end."
Thirty-five additional antiwar demonstrators were arrested yesterday around the U.S. Capitol in related protests. Hundreds of antiwar actions have taken place across the country this week as faith-based and other groups push for a timetable for the United States to leave Iraq. Thirty-four people affiliated with the umbrella organization coordinating this week's efforts, Declaration of Peace, were arrested Thursday after they refused to leave the White House without talking with President Bush.
Although leaders of major U.S. denominations have spoken against the Iraq war since it began, such proclamations are becoming louder and more prominent.
"Today was the first time national-level leaders were participating -- not just themselves but calling on members of denominations to join them," said Gordon Clark, coordinator of the D.C.-based National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance. "And there's a big difference between going to a protest and putting your body on the line and resisting arrest. And that's what they haven't been doing before."
Participating yesterday was Rabbi Arthur Waskow, head of an interfaith dialogue center in Philadelphia and a leader of the Jewish Renewal movement. Arrested in addition to Ufford-Chase was the Rev. Jackie Lynn, president of the Chicago-based Episcopal Peace Fellowship.
Senate staffers watching the demonstration showed neither support nor opposition, simply gawking and taking photos with their cellphones as protesters below sang "We Shall Overcome," read from the Book of Jeremiah and lay on the cold floor as police filed in with plastic handcuffs.