Call it "rebel reporting" or even "Jesus journalism," but next week I'll be in Washington, D.C., with members of the Catholic Peace Ministry and the Des Moines Catholic Worker. We'll be bearing witness as we get arrested for preaching inside the "No Free Speech Zone" directly in front of the White House.
Our nuanced anti-war protest on Feb. 27 also will include nonviolent civil disobedience training, a vigil in front of the Pentagon and the lobbying of Iowa congressmen.
The protest is part of a larger "Winter of Our Discontent" campaign organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a Chicago-based group seeking to end military and economic war against Iraq. The Catholic Worker movement, founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day, emphasizes voluntary poverty, hospitality and good works.
Frank Cordaro, a 55-year-old retired priest and co-founder of the Des Moines Catholic Worker, will probably be serving six months inside a federal prison at the time of our protest, the result of a trespassing charge at Offutt's Air Force Base last December. Cordaro has racked up more than 100 arrests since his first act of civil disobedience in 1977 (a symbolic "blood spilling" at the Pentagon), and has already served more than 45 months of hard time in 12 states.
"Civil disobedience is as American as mom's apple pie," Cordaro said. "Historically, it is how we do social change in this country."
Brian Terrell, 49, a farmer from Maloy and the director of the Catholic Peace Ministry, said his pilgrimage to "the Imperial City" will be a continuation of the work he does here in Iowa. Terrell's resume includes arrests in Honduras and the West Bank. He references the abolitionist, labor, women's suffrage and civil rights movements as evidence that civil disobedience plays an important role in social change.
"If you like your freedoms, don't thank a soldier," Terrell said. "Thank a protester."
Renee Espeland, 44, a mother of four, also will be crossing the line in D.C. along with Des Moines Catholic Worker members Wendy Vasquez and Elton Davis. Davis said he began his career as a nonviolent prophetic witness three years ago, and is traveling to D.C. to register his discontent with the policies of the Bush Administration.
"I tried lobbying, things were still going haywire, and I decided I had to say no in the strongest terms possible," Davis said.
Davis was detained for trespassing at Offutt's in 2004, an action listed in a Department of Defense database as a "credible threat" to national security. Terrell's 20-year-old daughter, Clara, also garnered attention from the department for a similar action.
These seasoned prophets of the prairie subscribe to the civil disobedience model of social change because they believe it to be rooted in the biblical teachings of a radical, nonviolent, egalitarian Jesus Christ.
"It is very much a part of the Christian tradition to speak the truth to the powers that be and to break the law," proclaims Cordaro, citing the Palm Sunday and temple cleansing stories from the New Testament as evidence.
Of course, this crew of criminal clergy would be remiss if they weren't converting neophyte activists over to their dogma of disobedience and dissent. Marla McElvain, 29, a journalist from Grant City, Mo., is going to D.C. for her first direct action because she disagrees with the war and doesn't believe that we live in a democracy anymore.
"If enough of us get together, maybe [our elected officials] will finally get it," McElvain said.
Five students from Loras College in Dubuque will round out our group. Andrea Urbain, 19, and John McLaughlin, 22, are both devout Catholics who say that it's important for students to think critically about the war.
"When [critical thinking] is coupled with a peaceful conviction, we are bound to achieve something," McLaughlin said.
Both students also encourage young people to stand up for what they believe in.
"You can't just sit back and watch something bad happen," Urbain said. "You have to do something about it."
David Goodner is an Iowa City resident and a member of the Writers' group, a corps of local residents who write regular columns for the Press-Citizen.
© 2006 Iowa City Press Citizen