Some friends and I recently joined a Sojourners-sponsored prayer vigil on Capitol Hill. We prayed for the poor in our country who are threatened by a bill that would take away billions of dollars from social programs.
And we ended up in jail.
We went with the understanding that we were standing up for a just cause. We believe that abortion and gay marriage are not the only difficult issues facing our country, even though they are the issues that seem to dominate the political and religious conversation. Domestic poverty, we believe, is equally important and just as “moral” an issue.
Upon our arrival on December 14, we received non-violence training at a Lutheran Church and were then led by Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, to the capitol.
On the way, we sang, held up posters that read: “Budgets are Moral Documents” and got to know others with a similar vision.
This was a group of people from all over the country, involved in all sorts of ministries and social action groups–from feeding the hungry to finding affordable housing for the homeless to writing articles in papers to create awareness.
We were accompanied by a police brigade of motorcycles that would zoom up and down the streets, stopping traffic in order to let us continue our march. When we arrived at the Cannon office building, where the congressional representatives have their offices, we gathered on the terrace for singing, praying and a press conference led by several leaders and Sojourners staff.
Those of us who would be engaging in civil disobedience then took our positions. And I was among them.
We walked to the entrance of the building and knelt, sat, or stood in front of the doors. Capitol police quickly surrounded us. They gave us several warnings, and began arresting us for “incommoding” a public building entrance. All 115 of us.
We were handcuffed and loaded onto buses that took us to a police facility where we would spend the next seven hours as the police processed us.
I had several interesting conversations with my fellow protestors. One person said that an arresting officer had thanked him for standing up for the poor. “Not many people do that,” the officer said.
The officer who arrested me thanked me for not throwing golf balls at him. I asked him why he was thanking me for such a thing and he responded, “Last week we had a group of college students who were protesting something, and they threw golf balls at us. Golf balls hurt,” he said.
This is the first time I have been arrested (standing up for a moral cause, nonetheless). But God cares for the poor, and we need to do the same. If it means getting arrested, then let’s get arrested.
The leaders of our country need to know that we do care about the poor, that we do want to change a system that has for so long trapped people in poverty. We want a fair system. We want to pass laws that are life-giving and peace-embracing.
I am very glad to have had this opportunity, to have been arrested along side others who share the same beliefs as myself.
I am thankful for the community of friends at Eastern who also participated–some getting arrested, some praying and others encouraging us along the way.
Despite our actions, the bill was set in motion. The House voted and passed it by a 212-206 margin, but it was a close vote. There was a 50-50 tie in the Senate, and the vice-president had to cancel his plans in the Middle East in order to return to break the tie.
And on February 1st, the House had its final vote. The Budget was ultimately approved by an even closer margin, 216-214.
This means that child support, healthcare and educational help for low-income families will decrease dramatically as soon as President Bush signs it into law.
Unfortunately, it seems as if the gap between the rich and the poor will continue to increase.
But I don’t feel defeated. I’m glad there is a growing Christian presence in the political spectrum that is standing up for the poor.
I’m glad that there are more and more people like Ron Sider, who was also arrested with me, that say: “I am not a social activist; I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Other arrested Eastern community members speak their minds
“I got arrested because God wants us to be a voice for the voiceless and our political leaders are shutting their ears to the cries of the poor by passing this budget proposal. May the extreme become common place and may peace fill the whole world.” –Angela Sprock, Counseling Psychology graduate student and staff member
“[I got arrested] because I love Jesus and am trying to love my neighbors as myself. These are extreme times–the question is not will we be extremists, but what kind of extremists will we be–extremists for the rich or for the poor.” –Shane Claiborne, founder of “The Simple Way” and Eastern alumnus