On February 22, 2010, Chris Gaunt began conducting a weekly sit-in at the local offices of her US Senators, Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, in Des Moines, Iowa, urging them to refuse any further funding for war. A number of other local peace activists joined Chris in conjunction with The Peaceable Assembly Campaign. As part of the sit-ins which took place during office hours, Chris made a point of connecting with the office staff, person-to-person, while she endeavored to educate them on the dire urgency of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite these efforts, it was clear that the Senators themselves were not willing to seriously consider voting against war funding or even listen to the rationale that Chris and others were offering. Chris recognized that, to be taken seriously, more had to be done.
On March 11, 2010, Chris changed the weekly peaceful sit-in to a peaceful die-in. She lay down on the floor as if she were dead, with a note explaining that she would remain there until she could get a straight answer from the senator about cutting off funds for the wars. The office staff called on the police to physically remove and arrest her. She and others have returned to conduct die-ins nearly every week, a total of eleven times, since. Speaking of the results, Chris describes the opportunities she has had to interact with a variety of people, including Senate staffers at all levels, both in Iowa & DC, Federal Building Security Officers, Police Officers, Prosecutors, and now Judges.
Below is a poem Chris wrote about her experience as well as an excerpt from a letter to Senators Grassley and Harkin and their staffs.
Contacts: In Athens – 30-694-266-3852 In New York – Leslie Cagan, 347-581-1782
After a two hour stand off at sea, the U.S. Boat to Gaza – The Audacity of Hope – was seized by the Greek Coast Guard and forced to return to the port of Piraeus under military escort. The boat’s captain has been put in jail, charged with disturbing sea traffic–which includes endangering the lives of those on the ships– and disobeying a police order to remain at dock. The crew is being detained on the boat, which is being held at a military dock just outside Athens. Most of the 36 passengers remain on the ship in solidarity with the captain and crew.
Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army Colonel, responded strongly to the arrest of the American captain of the U.S. Boat to Gaza. “I think it’s outrageous what the Greek government is doing to our captain who was taking a group of Americans to challenge the illegal Israeli blockade. We call on the Greek government to release our Captain and dismiss all charges.”
One of the most important foreign policy statements of the year came from Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, on May 16. Responding to non-violent protests at Israeli borders and military posts, he said, “The Palestinians’ transition from terrorism and suicide bombings to deliberately unarmed mass demonstrations is a transition that will present us with difficult challenges.”
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
—U.S. Constitution, Amendment I
An old cliché says that anyone who has herself for a lawyer has a fool for a client. Nevertheless, going to trial in Washington, D.C., this past June 14, I and twenty-three other defendants prepared a pro se defense. Acting as our own lawyers in court, we aimed to defend a population that finds little voice in our society at all, and to bring a sort of prosecution against their persecutors.
Sherman has also stated that he is planning on working with the Department of Homeland Security to make sure all non-U.S. citizens aboard the flotilla would be permanently barred from entering the U.S. This list includes Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire, former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, as well as a number of parliamentarians and government officials from Ireland, Britain, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, and Israel.
Despite the evidence that the defendants were “peaceably assembled for the redress of grievances” and that their first amendment rights had been “abridged” by the police orders in question, Judge Magistrate Celeste Bremer found Christine Gaunt (on four counts) Kirk Brown, Ed Bloomer, Renee Espeland, Elton Davis, Brian Terrell, Mona Shaw guilty and imposed a $50 fine per count. Commander Goldberg’s hopes for injunctive relief from such assemblies were disappointed, however, by Judge Bremer’s final words to those she had convicted and fined- “I hope that your witness to the senators continues and expands!”
A charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor against the mother of a 12-year-old war protester has been dropped.
Frankie Hughes, daughter of Renee Lynn Espeland, 49, of Des Moines, was charged last Wednesday with trespassing when she allegedly refused to leave U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s office in downtown Des Moines.
The following morning police wrote a misdemeanor ticket to Espeland for contributing to the delinquency of a minor for allegedly encouraging and contributing to her daughter’s arrest.
The group met with the staffs of both senators on April 6th, and on April 8th, seventy-five people attended an action at Senator Franken’s office. They began the action by reading the names of soldiers from Minnesota and civilians from Afghanistan that have been killed during the U.S. war and occupation of Afghanistan. A group of about 15 then went into the offices of the Senator while others symbolically ‘threw shoes at the occupation’ and participated in a ‘die-in’ in front of the building.
Photo by ANDREA MELENDEZ/THE REGISTERBy Brian Terrell
April 9, 2010
Des Moines—On Wednesday afternoon, April 7, Christine Gaunt, 53, of Grinnell, Iowa, and Frankie Hughes, 12, of Des Moines, were arrested for trespass in the Des Moines offices of Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. Chris and Frankie were in Harkin’s office as participants in the Peaceable Assembly Campaign (PAC), a national campaign seeking an end to the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and an end to U.S. support of the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories. Each Thursday afternoon since October 29, Iowans participating in the campaign have hand delivered petitions to the offices of Senators Grassley and Harkin encouraging them to sponsor and vote for legislation consistent with the campaign’s goals that include ending the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, ending military aid to Israel and converting excessive military spending to human needs abroad and in the U.S.
On entering the Dane County Jail, the first holding cell that Brian Terrell and I were placed in had only one other person. We previously saw this man outside the cell during our initial booking. He was a man with dark black skin and a full beard. I thought I heard one of the officers say he was from Gambia. When we entered the cell, the man was in mid-ritual in what appeared to be a Muslim’s midday prayer. A young white guard, who had the accent of a Midwesterner, looked disdainfully at the man and then somewhat positively at Brian and me. The guard said, “Just ignore that,” as if the man was insulting or threatening us by his peaceful act of prayer. To which I replied, “It’s fine with me.”