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Army Veteran Arrested Trying to Petition Rep. Thelma Drake

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Amendment I of the Bill of Rights: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
As Virginia celebrates the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, it seems that a certain public official in Virginia is trying to reenact the role of arbitrary colonial governor. Recently, the progressive activist group launched a letter-writing campaign inviting concerned Americans to write their representatives to stop the escalation of the war in Iraq. Delegates then delivered these letters to hundreds of local congressional offices this past Thursday, February 22, that is, except in the Virginia Beach, Virginia office of Congresswoman Thelma Drake, Republican, 2nd District. A rather strange occurrence transpired when the local delegation attempted to deliver their letters. Thelma Drake is, for those of you who don't know, a hard-core backer of President Bush's war policies, including the new "Surge Strategy", and a true believer in the War on Terror. Her views are rather Manichean and ideological, apparently reducing her position toward the Middle East to that of the self-righteous Bush Administration versus archetypal evil. But to continue with our story: Eight to ten citizens assembled around noon on the 22nd for a brief gathering in the parking lot adjacent to Drake's office in a strip mall, sporting a few signs such as "Iraq Escalation-Wrong Way", rather bland stuff overall. There were at least two veterans and the mother of an active duty Marine recently returned from Iraq among them. One of them, Army veteran Tom Palumbo, a member of Veterans for Peace, would soon find out how Thelma's office responds to those who have served their country to defend our freedoms, but who don't kowtow to the White House Weltanschauung, for ironically, he was about to be arrested for trespassing. According to a news article by Steve Stone in the Virginian-Pilot published the next day, this is what transpired as they reached Thelma Drake's office entrance: ["Palumbo said he and the others had planned to deliver letters "asking her to take a stand against the escalation of the war" in Iraq. Instead, they found that staff members inside had locked the doors. Margie Long, a police spokeswoman, said "these protesters were basically scaring them by their demeanor, their vocalizations." She said a staff member called the management of the building, in the 4700 block of Euclid Road. "The owner showed up and asked the people to get off the property," Long said. Police officers arrived and ordered the protesters to leave. All but one did. Long said Palumbo sat down in front of the door to Drake's office and told officers, "If you want me to leave, you're going to have to arrest me." They did...."] ( )

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Photo by Lyle Sanders Now this is a very interesting development when a Congressional office can be frightened out of their wits by a handful of activists trying to deliver mail from its own constituents. Has the pervasive paranoia of the so-called War on Terror affected Thelma's staff so much that they are seeing the Enemy behind every placard? After all, Bush has said you're either with us or you're against us. Does that also mean it's time to start denying those on the "wrong" side their constitutional rights, a la the old Soviet Union or present-day Burma? Of course, the staff might also be floating the fear scenario as a canard to justify dispersing these "undesirables". Now let's here the other side of the story. Here is an eyewitness account by Ann Williams, another member of the embattled contingent: "10 of us assembled peacefully in the parking lot several yards away from the office before 12 noon. No one in the office could possibly have seen our 'demeanor' from that distance, which was peaceful. A man claiming to be the landlord was there in a flash, blocking part of the lot with his big Mercedes even before we could all walk across the lot to the door, as though he was waiting for us...." Another participant, Lyle Sanders, adds, "It should be noted that the man claiming to own the property, Ernest Hudson, arrived within a couple of minutes after the first of our group. We were planning to meet at noon, and (we) got there about 11:50 am. Mr. Hudson got there about 11:55 am. That was while about 4 or 5 of us were standing on the far side of the parking lot from Drake's office, just talking and getting a couple of signs out. Because Mr. Hudson arrived within minutes, and before the noon meeting time, I think Drake or her staff called him in advance of our arrival. But to answer your question, no one did anything before or after Mr. Hudson's arrival that could reasonably be construed as a verbal or physical threat." Ann continues: "We did not start 'vocalizing' until we had three speeches to our group, from Tom, William and the mother of the AD Marine, which was well AFTER the landlord arrived and well AFTER we were locked out. So how could we have been "scaring" them by our 'demeanor' and 'vocalizations' before that point? They twist the facts to suit their own agenda and hide the fact they weren't doing their job, which is to be available to their constituents. They forget who pays their salaries. Our Constitutional rights were intentionally violated by their actions and violent responses...." After the speeches, "Tom sat down quietly on the sidewalk with his sign and back to Thelma's door (actually, as a photo shows, he was several feet from the door-Mac), saying he would wait until Thelma or one of her staff members became available. "All they had to do was listen to us for five minutes and accept the petitions on Thelma's behalf...But to lock out citizens and disrespect Vets is a despicable and cowardly act on their part." Tom Palumbo also commented on the incident and his arrest: "In my remarks outside her office, I explained to the assembled group that I met with Thelma on the campaign trail and asked her if we had an economy where there was job security, health care benefits, educational opportunities and retirement plans, how many people would be joining the military? She ignored my question and walked away. "So to the group gathered Thursday, I said 'It is no wonder she voted against raising the federal minimum wage!' "I went on to say 'She ran in 2006 and now she is hiding!'. Additionally, I stressed that the debacle at Walter Reed (and most other VA hospitals) happened on her watch! Another 10,000+ soldiers with life long injuries and impairments happened on her watch. 1,000+ American service members killed on her watch! New Orleans left to drown - on her watch! Billions in fraud and waste on her watch! "I said Ms. Drake should come out and meet with the military family and veterans and tell us just what it was we don't understand about war! "All of this was for naught. As noted - they locked themselves inside and sent the landlord to send us on our way. The police arrived and we stressed it was a constitutional right to petition members of congress for redress. We were not blocking vehicular or pedestrian traffic, nor being threatening in any way... The bottom line is that when we were directed to leave, I said I intended to wait to speak with those inside, because while these were just letters we wanted to deliver - there were lives hanging in the balance. "I made the decision to stay and speak to Thelma or any one in the office because their actions to barricade themselves inside was the height of arrogance of power - and they have lost sight of what it means to be part of a representative democracy! "I maintain I am not guilty of criminal trespass - only a concerned citizen who felt the issue needed to be heard. I will refute the charges in court and I intend to subpoena Ms. Drake and others to appear to account for their actions and charges made against me. "I truly appreciate and welcome your support. This issue isn't just about me - it's about all of us who care to have a say in our elected government!" Another veteran who attended, former Navy Lieutenant William Reyes, who served in the Persian Gulf on the USS Nassau in 2003, had this to say: "We behaved like ladies and gentlemen. We read our speeches. No one was vulgar or threatening. We were locked out by our representative's employees who were hiding in the rear of their suite (whether they were physically hiding is speculative- Mac), on our tax dollar. This is taxation without representation. Tom was arrested for refusing to leave until we had spoken with our representative, his constitutional right." I don't know about you, but it is pretty obvious to me that a little theater transpired here, what with the suddenness of the landlord's arrival, the mysterious locked door and the alleged scare, according to the police spokeswoman, by "vocalizations" that came only after the office's shutdown. All of this smacks of premeditation. If the landlord wants to say the delegation was trespassing, we can argue that the landlord was repressing and obstructing the rights of citizens to petition their government, which I would think is unlawful. Or do we now live in a country where property rights trump our most sacred Constitutional rights? What is even more distressing is that this is apparently not an isolated incident by Drake's office. To again quote Lyle Sanders, "This is the second time Drake's staff has had someone come and claim to own the property and demand that we leave. On April 11, 2006, a group of people from went to Drake's office to deliver a petition about the Medicare part D deadline. We assembled in from of her office, talked for what little press was there, then went inside and gave the petition to the staff member behind the desk. Some of us signed the register, I thanked the staff member for their hospitality and we walked out to get in our cars and leave. As we were walking away from Drake's office, a woman came and told us she owned the property and that we had to leave or she would have us arrested. I told her that we had been there to exercise our first amendment right to petition our government for a redress of grievances. Again she threatened to call the police and have us arrested." The First Amendment implicitly makes it an obligation for the owner and his representatives, knowing full well that he has leased a publicly-financed congressional office to a servant of the people, to ensure that citizens have full access to what is, in effect, their office. If he wants to obstruct this right, then perhaps he should move to Communist China, where they regularly indulge in such practices with great enthusiasm. This is a serious matter, and is a further example of the arrogance of the authoritarian network that has captured the Republican Party. When the voters sent a clear message to the White House to de-escalate the Iraq debacle last November, Bush's reply was to escalate the war. When Virginians now try to petition a Republican representative regarding the same issue, her tax-payer financed staff's reply is to lock the door and engineer or allow the arrest of a messenger of the citizenry. How much longer before they decide to shoot the messenger? I don't care if the messenger is from the Minutemen, the Flat Earth Society or anyone else. This is blatantly wrong! Thelma Drake has in effect thrown down the gauntlet, or should I say prison-keys, to us all. If we the People want to protect our rights and freedoms, we had better accept her challenge before this becomes contagious among our representatives. Tom Palumbo has stuck his neck out for everyone's rights, and he needs our support. If you want to personally contact him, you can email him at DissentingSoldier@Yahoo.Com . This is the contact info for Thelma Drake, if you need to express yourself to her: Washington, D.C., Office: 1208 Longworth HOB Washington, DC 20515 Phone: (202) 225-4215 Fax: (202) 225-4218 Hampton Roads Office: 4772 Euclid Rd., Suite E Virginia Beach, Virginia 23462 Phone: (757) 497-6859 Fax: (757) 497-5474 Her website is , where you can access her email system. If you feel outraged about this, please consider contacting your own Representative or Senator as well and asking him or her to demand that Thelma Drake be investigated for this affront to the First Amendment. If this turns out to be a deliberate pattern, she should be censored. Please also consider writing a letter to your local newspaper. We do not know if Drake was actually in the office when these events took place. We would like to know. But whether she was there or not, she bears the responsibility for her staff's conduct. We should demand from Congress, in no uncertain terms, that the First Amendment be honored and protected. If it takes a law to clarify this, so be it. The First Amendment is our first line of defense against tyranny. It is active citizenship and a willingness to speak out that will keep this country free. Please do your part.
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I am a student of history, religion, exoteric and esoteric, the Humanities in general and a tempered advocate for the ultimate manifestation of peace, justice and the unity of humankind through self-realization and mutual respect, although I am not (more...)
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