OLEAN Hours before U.S. forces began the war in Iraq, Jessica Morgan, Molly Brechtel and Sister Anne McCarthy joined 16 others for an anti-war protest at the federal building in Erie, Pa.
They staged a sit-in in the lobby of the building and everyone was arrested. That night U.S. bombs rained down on Iraqi targets.
What good did protesting the war do? Was it worth getting arrested?
Sister McCarthy, Ms. Morgan and Ms. Brechtel discussed that question Wednesday in the John J. Ash Community Center. They were invited to Olean by the Olean Area Coalition for Peace and Justice as part of its continuing series, Reflections on the First Amendment. Thirty-five people attended.
Sister McCarthy is director of the Center for Social Concern at Gannon University in Erie. Shes also former national director of Pax Christi USA, the Catholic peace organization. Ms. Morgan and Ms. Brechtel are students at Gannon.
Ms. Morgan said she questioned the value of her protest and subsequent arrest in the days after the war began.
And thats why I come back to my faith and my belief that there is love within us all, she said. I feel as though thats who I am and what Im supposed to do.
She said she felt compelled by her faith to speak out against the war and in the end get arrested at the sit-in.
We did not believe business should be going on as usual at the federal building as things werent business as usual in Iraq, she said.
Ms. Morgan said the protest did have an impact in Erie and made people aware there was opposition to the war. It gave them a way to act against war in a nonviolent manner. Prior to the sit-in, Ms. Morgan and other war protesters at Gannon advocated for peace on campus and in letters to the editor.
It was effective because I had people with me who wouldnt have been with me if we hadnt started months in advance, she said.
Ms. Brechtel said protesting the war was what her faith and conscience required.
Civil disobedience for us was a final attempt for us to be heard, she said. I honestly cant say that I felt we could stop the war. For me, it was more about being able to live with myself.
Sister McCarthy said the protests against the war in Iraq are the latest in a long line of protests against evil. She said the pursuit of peace is always worth the sacrifice.
It will take a long time and many different actions for peace to prevail, she said.
She noted that every day for years protesters gathered outside of the South African embassy in the U.S. to protest apartheid.
Apartheid was a system of institutional racism supported by the white South African government which denied blacks basic rights.
Apartheid fell when it looked like it wouldnt, Sister McCarthy said.
Sister McCarthy said nonviolence isnt just a protest tactic, its also a way of life. She said every religion embraces nonviolence and teaches it as an alternative to fear and violence.
The motivation for nonviolence is love. The motivation for violence is fear, she said.
She summed up the impulse to resort to violence as: I fear you hurting me, so I will hurt you worse.
Audience member Winifred Owens said stopping violence in the world begins at home.
Stop violence in your own life, she said. Stop violence where you can.
Francoise Krampf of Hinsdale said those opposed to war have a moral obligation to speak out against policies which encourage violence.
We have a duty to inform our neighbors, she said.
She also said the power of prayer should never be underestimated.
Audience member John Walters said he hopes the advocates for peace will prevail. But he said he believes the military-industrial complex in the U.S. has too much power to be stopped by nonviolent protest.
The problem is they dont fear you, they dont fear anything, he said. Im so afraid that its eventually going to come down to a very, very violent action.
© The Times Herald, Olean, N.Y. 2003