I am writing in response to Clint Talbott's editorial on July 31, "Protest, amplified," which focused on my arrest at Congressman Mark Udall's office.
There were two inaccuracies in the editorial that Talbott has graciously corrected on the Camera Web site. Talbot wrote that I had been protesting in Udall's office for three weeks. Although people had been going into Mark Udall's office regarding his position on the Iraq war funding for about three weeks prior to March 8, I had only personally been in the office once in that period, and that was on Feb. 22, at the request of Alan Salazar, Udall's chief of staff.
Talbott also wrote that my lawyer David Harrison defended the protest as free speech. In fact we based our case on the right of the people to seek a redress of grievances from their elected officials. Colorado Constitution Article 2, Section 24 states: "The people have the right to peaceably assemble for the common good and to apply to those invested with the powers of government for the redress of grievances, by petition or remonstrance." Remonstrance is defined as a formal protest against the policy or conduct of the government by aggrieved citizens. From my point of view, this was exactly what we were doing on March 8.
Talbott writes that while I had a right to protest a war I view as egregiously immoral, I didn't have the right to "thwart the work of Udall's office indefinitely." I had actually been reading the names of Iraqi and U.S. dead for about 10 minutes when I was arrested. Is a "10 minutes and you leave" rule reasonable for a public official whose office is being paid for by his constituents, especially given the Colorado Constitution's support of citizens' rights to express their grievances?
Congressman Udall has not and does not make himself available to hear his constituents. He largely stopped having town meetings in the metro area a couple of years ago. His staff will meet with his constituents, but it is very difficult to get a meeting with Udall himself. By not meeting with his constituents, he is spared from having to hear their passion about his obligation to end the war. E-mails, letters, phone calls and even meetings with his staff (who are generous with their time) are not enough.
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Most people don't know that ideas about civil disobedience have changed and evolved in some ways since Thoreau. Under the traditional notions about civil disobedience, as promulgated by Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, people generally pled guilty and went to jail. However, since the 1960s, civil disobedience activists have developed new theories and actions. Currently most activists prefer to use the term "civil resistance" to describe activities designed to prevent or impede criminal activity by public officials under well-recognized principles of international and domestic law. Trials are often used to raise these issues of illegality of government action. So when I pled not guilty and went to trial, I was using my constitutionally guaranteed right to a trial by my peers with the hope of raising these issues more broadly and contributing to the anti-war effort, not avoiding responsibility for my actions. Moreover, I believe I was seeking a redress of grievances (supported by the Colorado Constitution) from Congressman Udall.
Regarding my jail sentence, Talbott writes: "Some say that's unfair, It isn't. It's the price of civil disobedience." Since I can only speak for myself and not for others, I understand that and am willing to take the consequences for my actions. I have always fulfilled the obligations that I incurred as a result of my civil resistance actions. Independently of me, however, many people protested my arrest and potential jail sentence, as they have every right to do.
Talbott writes about Udall: "Udall's record on the war is not beyond reproach. As he positions himself for his bid for the U.S. Senate, he appears to be embracing ostensibly centrist views in hopes of attracting statewide support." Does Mark Udall know that the U.S. attack on Iraq was a war crime, that the U.S. is currently committing war crimes in Iraq and that funding the war allows the war crimes to continue? If so, is he complicit in war crimes? Not surprisingly, the United States has refused to join the International Court of Justice in order to ensure that its officials will not be prosecuted.
For Iraq and its citizens, the hour is very late. We must stop the illegal U.S. occupation now. It is imperative that we all raise our voices, because, in the words of Martin Luther King, "Silence is betrayal."
Carolyn Bninski is affiliated with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.
© 2006 Daily Camera and Boulder Publishing, LLC.