How’s a Busy Mom Supposed to Find the Time to Protest Guantánamo?

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How’s a Busy Mom Supposed to Find the Time to Protest Guantánamo?

Witness Against Torture protesters rallied outside the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. earlier this week. (Flickr / Matthew Daloisio)

This is how it starts.

I am sitting on the floor in the living room. My son Seamus — a two-and-a-half-year-old — is cuddled in my lap. I am talking to my sister on the phone and then, suddenly, I am covered in vomit.

“Ah, Kate. I am going to have to call you back. Seamus just hurled all over me.”

I throw down the phone and carry my screaming son upstairs and into the bathtub. He has the flu.

Meanwhile, my friends are fasting in Washington, D.C. They are vigiling, witnessing and organizing to shut down Guantánamo, end torture and ensure accountability for the perpetrators. They are wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods (over very warm coats). They are at the Pentagon, the White House and the Capitol, as the new Congress is sworn in. They are embodying solidarity by showing up for demonstrations against police brutality and U.S. military aid to Mexico. They are waking up early, going to bed late and sleeping on mats on the floor. They are hungry and cold. They are meeting, planning, praying and singing.

I am not there. I am missing it and I am missing them.

Witness Against Torture started nearly 10 years ago as a small group of people looking at the issues of torture, indefinite detention, collective punishment, scapegoating, racism and violence in the George W. Bush administration’s Global War on Terror. Through prayer, study and building community, we were able to stretch ourselves over fear to do what our consciences told us was right. We got on a plane, flew to Cuba and began walking to Guantánamo. We aimed to walk right onto the U.S. naval base and visit the men (at the time there were more than 700 Muslims and Arabs and others interred there). We got pretty close to the base and there we vigiled and prayed and fasted for five days while we held press conferences, did international media work and called the U.S. base incessantly asking to be let in. Flying back to Newark, N.J., we told customs agents that we had been to Cuba, hoping that we’d be tried for violating travel and financial restrictions. We never were.

Nine years later, those Cuba travel laws are all changing, but the reality for the more than 100 men still at Guantánamo remains the same. More men (nine) have died at Guantánamo than have been tried for their alleged crimes by military commissions (eight). Sixty-three of those still imprisoned at Guantánamo have been cleared for release by both the Bush administration and the Obama administration. Shaker Aamer, Fahd Ghazy and 61 others: These are the men my friends are fasting for in D.C. and beyond. This coming Sunday will mark 12 years of indefinite detention and separation for the men at Guantánamo.

Since coming home from Cuba in December 2005, Witness Against Torture has grown from 25 people to thousands. We have worked to make January 11 a day of national shame. Each year, we have gathered in Washington, D.C., in anger, outrage and the hope that we won’t have to do it again the following year. And then we do it again the next year, and now it is 2015.

Today is day five of their fast. Our fast? I am not fasting. I am still nursing a 17-pound, 10-month-old and her demand for liquid nutrition is near constant. I am not fasting, but I have sworn off sweets and beer until the Witness Against Torture fast ends with breakfast on Tuesday, January 13.

It does not feel like enough, especially because I am not in D.C.

Seamus has stopped vomiting, but he still has a fever and is miserable. It is just by grace (and the bionic nursing baby immune system) that Madeline has not gotten his nasty bug, but she is teething and has a runny nose. While my friends have been marching, vigiling and singing, I have been marooned in various rooms in our house, with Seamus whining on one side of my lap and Madeline nursing on the other. My clothes are covered in kid snot, I have not been able to go to the bathroom by myself, and all I want at the end of the day is a beer and a brownie. (This unmet want makes me feel like my token fast is some small sacrifice after all. I guess that is something.)

I planned to take the kids to Baltimore to see their Grandma Liz and then on to D.C. on Wednesday, and then on Thursday, and now maybe Friday or even Saturday. We will see how they feel. I am struggling so much with this! I am still getting used to this being responsible for other people phenomenon called motherhood: I have to think about the health and warmth, food and nutrition, well-being and safety of two very little people. When we went to Cuba in 2005, I was not a mother, I was not nursing and I had never been covered in baby snot or toddler vomit. It doesn’t seem like so long ago and I am not a different person, but it is hard to be here when my friends and part of my heart are in D.C., working so hard for justice, accountability and all that I hold so dear.

Thank you friends. I am with you in spirit. But those of you with immune systems degraded by cold, fasting and tiredness are surely happy I am not any closer.

Frida Berrigan

Frida Berrigan, a columnist for WagingNonviolence.org, serves on the board of the War Resisters League and organizes with Witness Against Torture.

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