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Art told me of a memorial liturgy to be held in front of the White House the next day, marking the 12th anniversary of the precision bombing at Amiriyah, lest the massacre be forgotten.
"You should come with us," said Art in his soft-spoken but prophetically challenging way.
"But I am planning to write the kind of op-ed that might inform enough people about the lies upon which a new war on Iraq would be launched that the juggernaut might be stopped," I thought to myself. "If people only knew the truth..."
Then Linda Loman's words started ringing in my ears -- or perhaps they were coming from somewhere else -- maybe a voice emerging out of my deep respect for the likes of Dorothy Day and Art Laffin. "Attention, attention must be finally paid."
So there we stood marking the day, and praying that somehow future days like it could be avoided. The wind-chill factor was well below zero, so there was some solace to being put in the paddy wagon. It was my first arrest and (brief) imprisonment.
And it was exhilarating. I may be biased, given the experience of this first arrest, but if you are going to risk arrest via non-violent civil disobedience, you can't have steadier, more prophetic companions than those of the Catholic Worker.
When we went to court for trial the new war had already begun. To our surprise, the judge announced that the arresting officer had not appeared and, thus, we were free to go. I rushed to get out the door, thinking the officer might still get there.
But Art blocked my way, turned to the judge, and asked if she would allow him to explain what we were doing on Feb. 13, 2003, and why. The crowded courtroom listened intently as Art held forth for about five minutes.
"Let's have some coffee," said Art as he caught up to me running down the street away from the courthouse. "Have you been able to reflect on what just happened? Do you remember how that African-American woman police officer was listening to us as we shared our hopes in the paddy wagon? Do you think she wanted her son to be recruited to serve in Iraq?
"Do you think, Ray, that non-violent civil disobedience could be contagious?"
A day or two later, a short passage in Luke's gospel leaped out at me. Jesus of Nazareth is warning fledgling "Catholic workers" about what to expect if they remain faithful:
"Countries will fight each other ... there will be terrifying things coming from the sky. Before all these things take place, however, you will be arrested and persecuted; you will be handed over to be tried ... you will be brought before kings and rulers for my sake ... Stand firm ...
"This will be your chance to tell the Good News."
Duh! My big chance to tell the Good News, and I'm running for the door. I was even more grateful that Art was big enough to block that door and courageous enough not to pass up this golden chance to witness -- and to remind me, as well as the others, what witness is all about.
I've matured to the point where witnessing and risking arrest comes more naturally -- and has become even more exhilarating. On the very snowy day of Dec. 16, 2010, when 131 witnesses against war were arrested at the White House gates at a rally arranged by Veterans for Peace, 42 of us insisted on standing trial.
The authorities, though, quickly lost their appetite for trying the likes of us, most of whom have defended our country and its constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly, for "failure to obey a lawful order," i.e. not moving, after being ordered not to remain stationary on the sidewalk in front of the White House.
The "paperwork" on all 42 of us had been misplaced, we were told.