NEW YORK – “War against Iraq is unjustifiable and immoral. It will cost thousands of innocent lives, Iraqi and American. And I will do everything I can to stop it.” So said Rabbi Michael Fineberg before his arrest on the steps of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Dec. 10. Fineberg, an interfaith organizer, was among the 100 clergy and lay leaders who committed non-violent civil disobedience to display their moral opposition to war in Iraq. Gathering at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, the New York City Forum of Concerned Religious Leaders held an interfaith service before leading a march of 300 protestors to the U.S. Mission. In a statement they said, “a new war against Iraq would show contempt for human rights while reflecting a tragically misguided conception of America’s proper role in the world.”
Sister Arlene Flaherty, one of the organziers and director of the Inter-Community Center for Justice and Peace, told the World, “You could really feel the stirring of the movement that is [for] peace among us. It wasn’t a passive spirit – it was energizing, a spirit of the movement pushing us forward.”
As the march proceeded, many sang and chanted in support of those who had decided to participate in the civil disobedience.
As the 100 stood on the U.S. Mission steps, police read them a warning to vacate the area. A tremendous wave of emotion surged through the crowd as each stepped forward to be handcuffed, some saying, “In the memory of Phillip Berrigan, I make this act.”
Berrigan, a lifelong peace activist and former priest who died last weekend, served 11 years in prison for civil disobedience on behalf of peace.
The crowd was filled with clergy of many faiths as well as students and faculty from Union Theological Seminary and veterans from the anti-Vietnam War movement. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in an effort to reveal the secrets behind the Vietnam War, told the World, “The country is being once again led into a wrongful war, done without our consent. We’re trying to wake up our fellow Americans that this war presents a moral and a national security crisis.”
Thousands took part in demonstrations in over 150 cities, towns and campuses the same day in nationally coordinated actions marking International Human Rights Day. Jason Kafoury, an organizer for United for Peace, a new network of peace and justice groups and a sponsor of the actions, told the World, “There’s a longing by people from rural areas to huge cities for organized opposition.”
The Dec. 10 actions included interfaith groups, churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. It marked the beginning of a faith-based movement against the war in Iraq and for economic justice and human rights here and abroad.
Rev. James Lawson, a co-worker of Dr. Martin Luther King, told New York participants the night before the action, “We’ve allowed lust and greed to rule government. We who have been in the peace movement for years now must become the organizers of a justice movement. Hussein didn’t shut down my health clinic…” He said this is “not a single civil disobedience action, picket line, but a protracted struggle deeply rooted in nonviolent social and moral action.”
Betty Jane Bailey, a retired United Church of Christ minister, told the World, “I sense there is a great concern about peace that is just now getting organized. Bush in part is trying to use foreign issues to cover up problems in the economy.”
As protesters filled the jail cells, they used their cell phones to do jail cell interviews with The New York Times, CNN and Newsday. As the hours passed, so did apples, song and discussion pass between the cells. The 67 men arrested were put in one holding cell, where they were able to talk and continue to organize. Ellsberg did handkerchief tricks while others traded stories of past movements and lessons for today.
Sam Webb, national chair of the Communist Party, who was among those arrested, told the World, “The whole day was very inspiring. One of the clergy in the holding cell said there is no reason why the peace movement can’t win a majority of the American people to oppose the invasion of Iraq. No one disagreed, and from the stories and songs that filled the air for more than three hours, it was evident that everyone in the holding cell was committed to carrying the struggle for peace forward with new determination.”
Lawson said the mission on Dec. 10 and after is: “Take this beautiful land back from Bush and put it into our hands. We need conversion from military spending to education, jobs and healthcare. We have to immobilize Congressional offices, set up picketlines around their homes. We must demand they recover their humanity for democracy to continue.”
The author was among those arrested. The cases will be tried on Jan. 17, 2003. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published by the People’s Weekly World