Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Philadelphia protest (September 2006)

Friends and fellow progressive patriots,

I have just come back from two of the most emotionally, though not physically, satisfying days of my life. On Monday, September 25th, I attended a peace rally and march in Philadelphia with three members of LEPOCO, Nancy Tate, Robert Daniels II and Tim Chadwick, and then Robert, Tim and I participated in civil disobedience at Senator Rick Santorum's office at the Widener Building in that city. Fourteen of us were arrested, charged with three (3) misdemeanors (apparently declaring peace is now a criminal conspiracy, criminal tresspass, and defiant tresspass) and then held overnight in the infamous Roundhouse. We were not released until after 2 PM yesterday, 23 hours after our initial arrest.

Many supporters and local activists had gathered at 10 in the morning in downtown Philadelphia's Old Reformed Church in Olde City, at 4th and Race Streets, where a beautiful and inspiring service was held. Introductions were made by Robert Smith of the historic Brandywine Peace Community, and then we shared music, including, in English and Spanish, No Nos Moverán (We shall not be moved) and a verse of Yo Vengo a Ofrecer mi Corazón, Fito Páez' moving song (I have come to offer up my heart). The Grannies for Peace sang several funny Broadway takeoffs (There's no business like war business!), Sylvia Metzler reported on some of her recent activities and travels through Nicaragua and other places where we have meddled and caused death and destruction, and we ended with Tom Mullian teaching us an inspired song written specifically for the Declaration of Peace activities.

From the church we marched through Center City to the Philadelphia Federal Building, headquarters of Senator Arlen Specter in Philadelphia, where we proceeded to declare peace loudly, reading the names of PA dead and Iraqi civilians dead, and heard from a brother on homelessness and the need to "Feed our cities, not the war." We then marched around City Hall, coming finally to the Widener Building, where the offices of Senator Rick Santorum are located. Prior to entering the building we declared peace and demanded the eight points of the Declaration of Peace,

Four of us, two men and two women, had entered the building through a side entrance and proceeded in the elevator to the Senator's office on the 9th floor. Once there, we had knocked on the glass door (there is no doorbell provided) and asked to meet with the Senator so that we could hand him some documents. After repeatedly knocking, an aide told us the door would not be opened, so we sat peacefully and began reading the names of the 126 PA soldiers dead interspersed with some of the names of Iraqi civilians dead. At one point, the aide who had said he could not open the door also stated he could not speak to us. We were then joined by one of the aides, known as "Jeff," who engaged us in discussion, and stated that "we would never agree," as the Senator has made clear statements about the "evil out there," including Chávez in Venezuela and the "situation in Iran."

Some time after Jeff spoke to us, about seven or eight police persons escorted Santorum's staff members from a side door in Santorum's office, away from the "danger" posed by the four of us who were sitting on the floor reading names...

It should be noted that when as we were coming up the elevator, at the 9th floor the heavy elevator door began to close, and the two who were out had to hold the door open so that we could squeeze out. We later found out that all elevators were shut down when the remaining group attempted to proceed upstairs, so that we were declaring peace in front of Santorum's office on the 9th floor and downstairs in the lobby, joined by over a hundred supporters both inside and outside the Widener Building.

At about 1:30 PM we met a man who introduced himself as Homeland Security, Anti-Terrorist Squad for the Police Department (is this an excuse to use Homeland Security funds?). He stated that the building owner/manager did not want us to remain on the premises, and that unless we left voluntarily, we would be arrested. We explained that we were all constituents of the Senator, and were attempting to speak to our Senator or one of his aides in behalf of his 126 dead constituents. This individual (whose name escapes me) returned on several occasions; at one point he said that if we did not leave we would be arrested "on his time, not ours," and charged with a count of trespass. He told us that the last warning would be videotaped. It was only during the videotaped warning that we were advised the charge had been "upped" to a misdemeanor charge for "defiant" trespass. Sometime after 3 PM the four of us were arrested and taken out of the building by a rear entrace. As we were cheered by supporters and led into waiting police vans, we were joined by others who had also been arrested.

The nine women (we were segregated by gender) were taken to an intake facility and there we were photographed, and herded together in a dank, dirty cell with a bench and a toilet/drinking water metal apparatus. We were inside for hours, and when we asked for some privacy so that some of the women could use the toilet facilities, a mocking officer by the name of Rita said that if we wanted to "tangle with the Man," what else could we expect, but she did close the door briefly to give us some privacy.

All nine of us joined in spontaneous singing, from Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary songs and old spirituals, through a rendition of Amazing Grace that I am told moved many outside, the adapted lyrics to Sibelius' Finlandia (This is my song, Oh God of all the nations, A song of peace for lands afar and mine), Guantanamera, and some wonderful discussion on places we had been to (Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic) and things we had done. It felt as though we had been there for a couple of hours, but at the same time, the company and moral support and solidarity made the time go by quickly. Our jailhouse birds for peace impromptu choir should go on the road...

As were led outside to the waiting van for transport to the next facility, which we were several times assured would be the 55th and Pine facility, and later told the Roundhouse, we were cuffed to each other in groups of two; Sylvia Metzler and I, sharing a first name as tocayas, decided to be cuffed together, and we were then put inside inside a poorly ventilated van. The van door for the driver kept opening and then slamming, as if people were getting in and out, we were standing inside a garage, with no ventilation, and at times the lights inside would go out. We were having difficulty with breathing; some of the women arrested were in their seventies; when we asked for fresh air, the heat was turned on, making it harder for the rest of us, handcuffed to each other, to breathe. I do not know how long we were in the van, but it felt longer than an hour (not moving, although sometimes the van would be started, driven forward, driven backwards, and then stopped).

At the Roundhouse, we were fingerprinted, again photographed, and then herded into cells which were
approximately 69 X 79 inches (I toilet-paper measured the cells, when I was refused information about their size) X 7 foot (I toilet-paper measured the cells, and will provide more exact measurements in a further report) with one toilet/water facility, and one single metal bench against the wall. There is no toilet paper inside the cells, or any soap; you have to literally beg the outside "attendants" for paper by clanging your cell door and screaming, and eventualy they bring some. These cells are suitable (if one can use that word for anything in the Roundhouse facility) for a single occupant, if that, but there were at least three of us in each cell. I shared the accommodations with a woman who had been arrested for possession of narcotics, and another who had been arrested and charged with burglary and retail theft for a $15 blouse which was never found in her possession... she had contusions from attack by five security officers (not police) at a local Rainbow store...

Several of the women I was arrested with were in their seventies and late sixties; when they asked for a blanket or a jacket, these were denied. No food was offered until midnight? 1:00 AM? when after being examined by an RN, those who asked received a peanut butter sandwich and a small container of orange juice. I had already decided to go on a hunger strike, but I did have a container of orange juice because I was feeling dizzy.

Through most of the night the women and men who were working the Roundhouse kept a loud radio on, very loud conversation and laughter, so that it was nearly impossible to sleep. I sat against the dirty wall and eventually dozed off at about 3 AM for a couple of hours (one of my jail mates kept asking someone the time...) We had been told we might have a hearing in the morning, but we were not reached until after 1:30 PM, when we had a videohearing, released ROR, and handed our charges. They had been raised to misdemeanors, and there were three rather than one.
Now, here is where all of you who are reading this come in. First, as you know, we had conducted a vigil to declare peace on Thursday, September 21st, International Day of Peace, which was one of many vigils nationwide to declare peace. Our local paper sent a photographer but to my knowledge, published nothing, and will not release photographs unless they are paid for, and not to be used except for "personal reasons." Apparently the Pocono Record does not think that the work of peacebuilding is "news fit to print." I do not think they will write about the Philadelphia arrest or mistreatment at the Roundhouse and in processing either.
It is up to each of you to write protest letters to anyone you can think of, to share the news, so to speak, about our local paper's refusal to 'share the news.' I also would ask that you write letters to anyone in Philadelphia, to the Human Rights Watch, about the horrible conditions at the Roundhouse. I speak not only as someone who was mistreated and abused, but as a person who for many years represented people of color, who are more likely to be arrested for minor things and mistreated and vilified (think of the $15 shoplifting mentioned in the middle section of this report). I will attempt to file a class action, not only for the mis-treatment of dissidents, but for the mistreatment of the prison body at large. By the way, our men were herded into a large holding pen with benches, no privacy, high lights always on...
One of the reasons that we continue to raise our voices is that we know full well the iniquities and inequities of the "justice" and prison system in our country; I have interviewed prisoners in my former "hat" of criminal and civil rights lawyer in many inadequate jails, but the Roundhouse will remain in my book as the worst I have viewed or had the displeasure to be "housed" in; I also have to say that although we were well treated by some of employees at both facilities (the fingerprint man, with whom I discussed the similarities between our movement and the Civil Rights movement) is a wonderful example, there were also many sadistic, mocking and unduly harsh officers. Officer Rita is hereby nominated into the Top Five Nasties!
So please send your letters, to all agencies you can think of, to your friends, relatives, enemies, to all who might and should make a change in the way we treat those that come into the so-called justice system. The streets of Philadelphia are full of homeless men and women; all our cities have them, and with our government's decision to fuel the war and not the cities, this will only get worse.
At some point I will be spearheading a drive for funding; with three misdemeanors, including criminal conspiracy, we will have to hire counsel.
Banish apathy! Protest! Raise up your voices in song and in protest! ¡Hasta la victoria siempre!
Silvia Antonia Brandon Pérez, abuelita revolucionaria
(Put your gray hair to work, people!)

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