Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Alice's Continuing Adventures

During the hottest part of July, I went to the Washington, D.C., area to attend to some legal matters. I had been arrested near the Pentagon in March, along with approximately fifty other individuals. We were attempting to deliver a coffin to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when we encountered a hastily built fence and hordes of police. The fence was placed near a parking lot, out of sight of the Pentagon. It became obvious to me that, if we were to stay in this fenced in area, we would be protesting for our benefit only. Although I had not intended to risk arrest that day, I was so shocked by this blatant violation of my first amendment right to seek redress of grievances of governmental officials that I impulsively made the decision to cross that fence.

The charge against me was “violation of a lawful order.” It is a class B misdemeanor. The court in which the case was to be heard was the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

I arrived in Washington, D.C., on July 18. I was greeted by a wall of heat and by the sight of lollipops melting on the pavement. Almost before I knew it, I was near the White House, protesting the Israel-Hezbollah war. It was the hottest, sweatiest protest that I had ever experienced! I saw the Code Pink group, which was fasting and vigiling at Lafayette Park. I met several people from the Middle East, who just wanted to see the violence stop. One was Mohammed, who is from Morocco, where, he told me, people of all faiths live together in peace. Another was an artist, Mona. Originally from Egypt, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area. Her paintings, which can be found at monaart.com, reflect her North African roots.

During the few days that I was in Washington, D.C., I spent much time in the Palestine Center., 2425 Virginia Ave., NW. The first time, I saw a documentary film titled Improvisation, directed by Raed Andoni, about a musical family, the Joubran brothers. These brothers play traditional Arab music. The movie depicted their relationships with one another and the rest of their family, their practices, the playing and construction of the ‘oud (a traditional Arab instrument), and their performances. It also gave viewers an impression of life in Ramallah, under the Israeli occupation. It was a beautiful movie about music, life, love, and perseverance in spite of man-made obstacles.

Also, at the Palestine Center, I heard an informative talk about Hamas and how it came to win the election in the Palestinian territories. The speaker, Nadia Hijab, offered an historical perspective of the region, the series of negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the Palestinian resistance movements. It was an interesting, yet disturbing talk. She asked, “Where do we go from here? The region is doomed without a comprehensive solution. How many people will die before this reality is recognized?”

On Friday, July 21, I was in court. I found out that the judge assigned to the case was Theresa Buchanan, who was well-known for sending protesters to jail. I was horrified. I had not anticipated the possibility of being sent to jail, even though I was aware that the maximum sentence for this charge was six months in prison plus a big fine. I had intended to plead “no contest” and to ask the judge to sentence me to “community service” and “probation” (the prosecutor said that “probation” had to go along with “community service” so that there would be someone to “supervise” me).

As it turned out, Judge Buchanan would not accept a no-contest plea. So I chose, along with 13 co-defendants who were in court that day, to plead not guilty. We were proceeding “pro se” (defending ourselves). Some of my co-defendants did a fine job in giving an opening speech and in cross-examining the chief prosecution witness, Major William Stout of the Pentagon Police. He insisted that he had designed a “free speech zone” for us so that we could enjoy our protest in a nice, secluded spot. Under cross-examination, he acknowledged that the spot was so secluded that no one in the Pentagon could either see us or hear us. After the prosecution rested, the judge shocked everyone in the courtroom by abruptly dismissing the charges.

That abrupt dismissal ended the trial of the century, which most certainly did not live up to that title.


That is the new title of the Erie County Fair. I entered two pastel paintings, two crocheted doilies, and one small crocheted blanket into the contests at the Creative Arts Building. One of the paintings was a still life of (what else?) food… a loaf of bread, a jar of pickled vegetables, and a hunk of cheese on a plate. The other painting was a portrait of a girl dressed in an eighteenth century costume singing as she sat on the ground in front of a harp. When I went to the fair with my family, I was thrilled to find out that I had won two ribbons for my efforts. That was sort of like the frosting on the cake. Just having the stuff on exhibit is a big treat for me. But it’s always fun to win.


In September, I spent ten days in the Midwest. I was in Chicago, Illinois; LaCrosse, Wisconsin; and Decorah, Iowa. I went to visit people, to experience life in the Midwest, and to speak to groups about the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

In Chicago, I stayed with Voices for Creative Nonviolence, an organization founded by Kathy Kelly and Simon Harak, and dedicated to providing humanitarian aid and witness to war in Iraq. It is always good to see the Voices for Creative Nonviolence folks. They had been in Washington, D.C., from February to March to fast and to protest the war in the “Winter of Our Discontent.” A few of them had crossed the fence with me at the Pentagon on March 20.

One of the unexpected highlights of my Midwestern trip was a train ride between Chicago and LaCrosse. I was treated to a guided tour by two narrators, who were volunteers with the Trails and Rails program, sponsored by Amtrak and the National Park Service. The narrators told stories and shared facts and historical data about the areas, as we were passing them.

After getting off the train in LaCrosse, I was greeted by my friend Mary Cary, whom I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years. The two of us had been students in the University of Missouri-Columbia, when we last saw one another. We were so happy to see one another! Mary introduced me to her friend, Perry-O Sliwa. The two of them had arranged for me to spend the next several days at Perry-O and David Sliwa’s farm outside of Decorah, Iowa.

My time at the organic farm was delightful. I spoke about WHINSEC at Luther College and at the Friends meeting house in Decorah, as well as at a Friends’ meeting in Gays Mills, Wisconsin. I went to a workshop on how to build solar food dehydrators. I spent time outdoors, picking berries and walking. I experienced the beauty of the Iowa countryside, with its valleys and ridges and rivers.

After spending several days in Iowa, I returned to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where I stayed with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. I gave a talk about WHINSEC at the Franciscan Spirituality Center. Mary gave me a tour of downtown LaCrosse. I stood with the Women in Black at their weekly vigil. I enjoyed a walk alongside the Mississippi River. I even got to see a ballet called “Dracula,” presented by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at Viterbo College. It was dark, dramatic, foreboding, and highly entertaining.

The Sliwas, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and Voices for Creative Nonviolence were kind and gracious hosts. It was a fantastic opportunity for me.

I enjoyed my time in Iowa and Wisconsin so much that I would consider going out there for a longer period of time, if I could find the right community.


The time is rapidly approaching. I’m going back to Fort Benning next month. I was hoping that it would be to celebrate the passage of HR 1217, but, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Maybe we’ll have better luck with legislation with a different Congress.

I am hoping that many people decide to cross that fence this year. It is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the School of the Americas, which has had a variety of names but has always been the same school. The issue has always been accountability. If the government really believed that no harm had been done by training offered at that school, wouldn’t it welcome an investigation?

I am asking you to consider crossing the fence this year. Having 20,000 people walk onto the grounds of Fort Benning, by a variety of entrances, would make an impression on people at the school and people in Washington, D.C. Please think about it.

I’ll see you there!

(For more detail about my adventures, take a look at my blog at alicesgrandadventures.blogspot.com.)

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