Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Welcome To The Occupation, Part 3: Protest Ends With Mixed Emotions

Welcome To The Occupation, Part 3: Protest Ends With Mixed Emotions

Note: On Friday, July 6, peace activists occupied the Cedar Rapids offices of Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin.  Part one of this three-part story looked at the training and planning for the event, while part two included events at the Federal Courthouse site of Senator Grassley's office.

Tom Harkin's office fell victim to its own openness. Cameras, laptops, cell phones and other 21st century equipment were allowed in the private Wells-Fargo Building, as opposed to the 19th century attitude of the Federal Courthouse. So at 3 p.m. I switched sites to await the arrests at Harkin's office.

The outer lobby of Tom Harkin's Cedar Rapids office is small, with a couple of chairs, a reception counter, a photocopier and shelves of government pamphlets. Staff Assistant Tom Larkin -- that's not a typo, he just has a very similar name to his boss -- was taking statements from those risking arrest and from supporters, listening to Paul Street: "A lot of us are interested in a criminal investigation of the decisions that led to this war."

In contrast to the marshals at Grassley's office, Larkin was much more accommodating. "Did everyone get the sign-in sheets?" he asked, also offering directions to the restroom down the hall.

The arrest-riskers discussed the tactics of the moment: some wished to sing and chant, but Larkin was still listening to Richard Fischer, who was offering a statement and asking for details on how to set an appointment with the senator. So the singers quieted down.

tight quarters.JPG (910767 bytes)

"We assumed Harkin was going to be a bit more accessible," Lara Elborno said, taking issue with the official statement Larkin has provided outlining Harkin's position:

Senator Harkin was a strong advocate for provisions in the FY2007 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Conference Report which would have required the Administration to begin a withdrawal of troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007, with the goal of completing the redeployment no later than March 31, 2008.  Unfortunately this legislation was vetoed by President Bush, and Senate Democrats lacked the 67 votes needed to overturn that Presidential veto.  

This position was short of the group's request that Harkin and Grassley pledge to vote against any further funding for the war.

"At least we got in right away," said Kerry Hofferber, "but he's still inaccessible."

Casteel stopped by about 3:30 and reported that little has changed at the Grassley office.

At 4 p.m. the protesters at Harkin's office were reading the names of the dead, American and Iraqi. Staffers and reporters maintained a respectful silence. Wendy Barth reported that David Goodner had been arrested at Grassley's office. This puzzled people, as Goodner hadn't been on the list of those planning to risk arrest. The puzzle pieces were slowly assembled; he'd been scouting around the Federal Courthouse for another entrance and went somewhere he wasn't supposed to

"I could read all these names but at some point you have to realize, these people didn't just die," said Lara Elborno at about 4:15. "Someone did this to them, someone gave an order." The sit-in evolved into a group discussion that resembled a teach-in, with a wide-ranging foreign policy focus that likened Joe Biden's three-part Iraqi state plan to the partition of India and Pakistan and noting the human misery of that forced migration.

"Is this a protest?" asked a worker from one of the other offices on the floor, passing by at about 4:30 to use the restroom. "I'd sit with you but I have to be in my office."  The building was showing signs of winding down for the day as custodians moved up and down the hall emptying the trash.  Most of the Harkin staff was gone for the day; Larkin was left behind to answer the phones and close down shop at 5.

Fifteen minutes before closing time, some of the arrest-riskers went to take a smoke break. Court wasn't scheduled till 9:30 Saturday morning, which is a long time without a cigarette. The bathroom issue was also addressed. "At 5 o'clock he's going to call building security. Everybody who's going to get arrested needs to get in here." More logistics ensued: gathering possessions and goodbye kisses. "It should be noted that we left the office in good condition," noted John-Paul Hornbeck, a veteran and artist.  Indeed, the place was spotless, though crowded.

Negotiating at Zero Hour.

Building security arrived promptly at 5 p.m., with Cedar Rapids police behind. "We know and you guys know what's going on," the security guard said politely but firmly. The support people negotiate the exact nature of the final pre-arrest warning.  One person suggested "they could just let us stay here and wait," but building security wanted none of that.  I asked four of the protesters if they were going to cooperate or go limp; "we're just gonna go" was the consensus.

"You've all been very respectful, and it's been very interesting talking to you," Tom Larkin announced at 5:02. "But please, now is the time to leave."

No one moved.

The head of building security had now arrived. She repeated the warning, as did a police officer. "Everyone who doesn't want to get arrested needs to leave NOW." The support people stood in the hallway, and the reporters were visibly frustrated -- not wanting to miss The Picture, but not wanting to get arrested either. "I want all the press over here," said a police officer, pointing to the right. We duly did as he directed. "OK, everybody who doesn't want to get arrested, out now." The support people began to leave. The reporters hesitated. "Which door are they gonna be at?" asks one. "I can't disclose that, operational security." "So, we together here?" I asked the Gazette guy. I don't hear a response but we all start to move.

Photographer Mauro Heck and I had swapped cell phone numbers earlier and agreed to split up, each going to a different entrance and edging around the building. Police cars were spotted in the back of the building, so supporters and reporters congregated there.

After a few minutes, John-Paul Hornbeck and Jamie Fredericksen emerge and stand as if at attention.  Fredericksen crossed her hands in front, as if handcuffed, but there were no cuffs.  Lara Elborno was brought downstairs next and flashed a peace sign through the window.  Employees of the bank and other businesses were allowed out the door by police, off to a Friday night that would probably be less dramatic.

Kerry Hofferber emerged next, to applause.  An undercover officer -- the badge was a giveaway -- filmed the press and supporters who were taking pictures.  Two additional police rode up on bicycles.  One secured his bike to the railing with handcuffs.  I never thought of that.  Efficient and effective, yet keeps people guessing.  In any case, they were the first -- and only -- handcuffs we saw.

Suddenly, the four arrestees lined up outside the building were ushered back in.  "They're going out the other way," shouts Mauro Heck, running with his camera.

Now friends, there was only one or two things that Obie coulda done at the police station, and the first was he could have given us a medal for being so brave and honest on the telephone, which wasn't very likely, and we didn't expect it, and the other thing was he could have bawled us out and told us never to be see driving garbage around the vicinity again, which is what we expected, but when we got to the police officer's station there was a third possibility that we hadn't even counted upon, and we was both immediately arrested.  Handcuffed.  And I said, "Obie, I don't think I can pick up the garbage with these handcuffs on." He said, "Shut up, kid.  Get in the back of the patrol car."

"Alice's Restaurant," Arlo Guthrie, 1968

They were hoping for the first thing Office Obie could have done, but expecting the third.  But instead, what happened was closer to the second.

Ajax Ehl and Lara Elborno, disappointed that they aren't in jail.

"They don't want a PR problem," Lara Elborno offered as explanation.  "They processed us all, and I said 'I'll only leave in handcuffs.' Then they cited me and walked me out the door." Ajax Ehl arrived from Grassley's office and reported the same drill went down there.  The discussion turns to David Goodner, the only protester who's actually in jail.  "He was at another door," said Ajax Ehl.

Frank Cordaro brought the group together once everyone arrived at the Wells-Fargo building.  He suggested bailing Goodner out of jail.  "He may not want that, but we'd like to not leave him alone."

I asked Cordaro why the police let everyone go.  "They didn't want to put 21 people in a holding tank," he said.  "There's safety in numbers sometimes." Will this hurt media publicity? "Yes," said one person behind me.  "This is bad because now the media..." said Lara Elborno, her thought clear without completing the sentence.  "They did a smart thing from their perspective."

But Frank Cordaro has been through this many times and he was nonplussed, knowing that the action will still get publicity.  But not too much, he adds, "since Paris Hilton isn't with us."

No comments: