I have been in many, many congressional hearings in the past several months. And yes, I have acted up, spoken up, been moved to stand up in protest, been removed and threatened with arrest. I have confronted legislators in hallways, following press conferences, in their offices, at events and on the streets of D.C. I have lobbied, monitored, and marched into the teeth of opposition. It is true, I have pushed the envelope and been pushed across the line and onto the floors of the House office buildings. That must be expected when one is working with likes of revolutionaries Medea Benjamin and Gael Murphy. I have not, however, been arrested… before Friday, March 23.
Civil Disobedience has been something I have supported, and advocated. It is a valuable tool for change in our society, a vital part of Democracy. But I have made a point in many conversations to stress that it would take a very clear issue to motivate me to join the ranks of the Activists who so willingly lay their bodies, records and pocketbooks on the line to emphasize a point to their government. Last week, I proudly, but with an overwhelming sadness, added my name to the list of those whose life stories include defying rules and laws to shed light on injustice and express dissent.
I spent early Friday morning on the sidewalk between the House office buildings and the Capitol lobbying Members going to and from the Democratic Caucus meeting, stressing that if they buy this war, by funding it, they will own it and will be held responsible for the outcome. I won’t say the effort was wasted, because the experience hardened my resolve. When Members who greeted me on their way to the Caucus meeting wouldn’t look me in the eye upon their return, I understood that our battle for de-funding was facing defeat at the hands of the Democratic leadership. The reality of the betrayal was stark, but not startling. Move On had ensured that the staunch attitude of “No more money for War” from the Peace Movement contingent was muddled with an invalid poll and millions of dollars applied to pushing Dems to vote for the Supplemental and it’s millions for programs unrelated to ending the war. The tears started to flow freely when a Democrat finally looked at me, standing on the sidewalk with a poster of an American Solider carrying a dead Iraqi child, and said, “There’s nothing we can do about it. They are going to get their votes. Thank you for trying. Don’t stop.”
After working so hard, for so many weeks, with so many people, to pressure Congressional Democrats to vote “NO” on the Iraq War Supplemental, or for Democrats of principal to support the Lee Amendment that would fund only the safe and orderly withdrawal of troops, I felt I had no choice but to ensure that a voice of dissent was heard in the House.
I entered the Capitol building with Marine Mom Tina Richards, Military Families Speak Out co-founder Nancy Lessin, and two other members of MFSO. I was wearing black, clearly marked with Code Pink – Women for Peace, with stage blood on my hands and face. We waited in line, passed through security, waited inside the Capitol and were finally admitted to the House Gallery. Tina and I were seated in the front row, along the rail, directly behind the Democrats. As Speaker Pelosi addressed Congress Tina produced a photo of her Son, Cloy, bravely held it in front of her face and refused to put it away. She wanted to remind Congress, many of whom had met with her in the previous weeks, that her son could be recalled to active duty and deployed to Iraq, for the third time, if they funded the Supplemental. She was escorted out of the gallery by four plain clothes Capitol Police officers and removed from the building. They did not want to arrest her, told her so, and showed regret at her plight and were kind to her as they ejected her. As the Speaker wrapped up her address by twisting the Peace Movement’s talking points to her purpose, making it seem as if the interests of American and International Peace Groups were truly being served by the passing of this bill, I felt physically ill. Pelosi was co-opting our truth and besmirching it with her partisan spin. The feeling of betrayal was overwhelming and my heart started to pound with an outrage that rivaled that of the dismay and anger I felt over “Shock and Awe”.
Congress quickly moved for a voice vote on the bill. When the applause faded and legislators moved to cast their electronic votes for the record I recognized that my time had arrived. I quickly stood, held my bloody hands in the air and shouted, “Don’t buy this war.” I was grabbed by the Capitol Officer who had stationed himself next to me, expecting just this type of disturbance, and pulled into the aisle. I continued, “You’re buying it and you own it!” Four more officers surrounded me and lifted me by my elbows up the stairs as I shouted, “Troops Home Now! Troops Home Now! Troops Home Now!” as they carried me from the Gallery. Another Activist, Tighe Barry, picked up the cry from another area in the Gallery as they dragged me out, sustaining the dissent for a few more moments. We were both arrested, searched, cuffed and taken away by Police quite efficiently and without violence.
Looking back, I realize that our actions did not change the way the votes fell, but the spirit of true change was recognized in the Capitol. Pelosi and the Blue Dogs got what they wanted legislatively. They got their money, but they also got the message that the cost was much greater than 100 billion dollars. The true cost will be paid in blood and tears. They did not, however, get it quietly, floating their political maneuvering under the radar. Tighe and I made sure they and everyone in the Gallery and maybe those watching at home on CSpan realized that there are those in the public that disagree, that there are Americans that don’t believe that more money for war is supporting the troops. I truly hope that all members of Congress understand that we will continue to mourn and dissent even in the House Chambers, and now in the Senate, until they act responsibly to Bring our Troops Home Now.
Lori Perdue is a native of Indiana, mother of two teenagers, a United States Air Force Veteran and is officially affiliated with Code Pink – Women for Peace, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out. She has been a full-time Peace Activist for two years.