Today I didn’t get arrested. To be fair, I didn’t get arrested yesterday, either. Or any other day in my 52 years and almost four months of life. But today I had the opportunity. I made a choice not to get arrested today, while several of my colleagues and also many of the laity did choose arrest. Perhaps I should back up a bit.
Today was a day of prayer and action. Prayer For Relief. Relief from the deportations. Children are coming across our borders on their own, risking their lives, and there are some in this country who want to turn them around and send them back to the dangerous places that they left. Families are being torn apart as some members are being deported while others, who have adequate documentation, are allowed to remain. More immigrants have been deported under President Obama (a President I personally support, by the way), than under any other President. For so many reasons – so many reasons – it is time to end the madness, to have some compassion, and to take care of the children. So today, I participated.
I made the choice not to participate in the civil disobedience. I wasn’t sure how it would affect my military benefits if I was arrested (I really need to check that out), so I decided that this time, anyway, I couldn’t do that. I could support those who were going to be arrested, though. I volunteered to be a driver. More on that in a bit.
We started out at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. A bonus for me — one of the organizers was a classmate of mine from seminary! Good to see her again. There was training there this morning. I missed that (oops), but got there in time to park my car (I’d need it later), meet up with folks, get some logistics, and head to the metro. The organizers had made plans for the arrestees to leave their belongings at the headquarters (the volunteers and drivers would bring them to the detention center for when they were released), and also made plans for snacks and water at the release site.
We got on the metro, and then we headed to Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. Many of us wore clerical attire (I wore a collar today, and my bright pink running shoes), and others wore clearly identifiable t-shirts, so we were fairly obvious, and it was good to get some affirmations on the walk over. Once we got to the park, we had a brief interfaith rally. United Methodists. Unitarian Universalists. Jews. I know there were Baptists and Catholics there, and many others. And then it was time to move toward the edge of the park, and for the arrestees to move to the White House fence.
We who stood in support stayed behind barricades in Lafayette Park. The arrestees proceeded to the White House gate and sat or stood on the sidewalk facing us in the park. We continued to sing and chant. The U.S. Park Police were nothing but polite. They were ready for us. There were some police vans and then a school bus for transporting the arrestees. Did I mention how nice the police were? Because they were. They were in no way adversarial in this. The police were not the enemy. They were doing their job. And the arrestees were doing what they (and we) believed they must.
The police gave the arrestees three warnings, and then they began to arrest people. It was all very polite. Our people cooperated completely. The police were not rough. We cheered as each person was arrested. Once the first van was filled up, I headed toward the United Methodist Church (UMC) van with several volunteers and another driver. I got to drive the UMC van back to the UMC building.
Back at the UMC building, we packed up the cars with the belongings and the snacks and water, and also the volunteers, and then we headed to the detention center. I’d run into some traffic and a lot of long red lights, so it took me a while to get back to the headquarters, so there was no need to load up my car on the way there, which turned out to be good, because I got a tad lost on the first trip.
By the time I got to the detention center, some of the arrestees had already been released. Our volunteers were sitting or standing out on the grass nearby, and we cheered again as each person walked out. I filled up my car with three arrestees, and drove them back to the headquarters.
I did try to make their trip back as pleasant as possible. “Hello, my name is Madelyn, and I’ll be your driver this afternoon.” After all, they’d just been arrested. No matter how much traffic I’d faced, I’d spent the whole day with my hands not twist-tied behind my back. Many of the folks were from out-of-town. So I tried to play tour guide a little bit, too. It was really the least I could do, I think.
One more trip to the detention center, and one more carload of arrestees, and that was it for me! That’s because there were plenty of volunteers and everything ran very smoothly. And because the U.S. Park Police were efficient in processing and releasing the protesters.
Many of those arrested were themselves immigrants. This started out as an interfaith action, and then an immigrant organization asked to join with us, and, understanding the role of ally, the organizers of course said yes! When we were singing today, and I couldn’t sing along with many of the songs in Spanish, I was reminded that I was there as an ally. I was there to support. This wasn’t about me. At all.
That is, it’s about my duty to others, but the struggle isn’t mine. Leviticus 19:34 tells us “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (NRSV). This is why I was part of this at all today. This is why I stood with all the others in Lafayette Park. This is why I shuttled people from the detention center back to the headquarters on Capitol Hill. This is why I won’t stop.
If I choose at a future date to get arrested, who will stand by me? Who among you will be there to welcome me when I’m released, and to drive me back? I hope the day will come soon when we need not sit down in front of the White House to demand that our elected officials protect all children. Until that day, we stand together. (And that’s why the picture up top isn’t of me – it’s the folks waiting to be arrested).
That’s all I’ve got – that’s my mite.