Monday, March 31, 2008

3/23: Peace Protesters Stage Dramatic Die-in to Oppose Iraq War at City's Most Prominent Catholic Parish

I have very mixed feelings about this protest, because of how it does not actively invite its audience, but rather shocks and shames them.

However, it hearkens back to the dramatic protests in the late Sixties and early Seventies by Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan, and many others of the Catholic Left (the Baltimore Four, Catonsville Nine, the Camden 28, etc.). Such protests could be read alongside the prankish, but no less serious, symbolic actions of the Situationists and others (see Lipstick Traces, for one source).

3/23: Peace Protesters Stage Dramatic Die-in to Oppose Iraq War at City's Most Prominent Catholic Parish

CHICAGO, March 23 – Six members of the anti-war group “Catholic Schoolgirls Against The War” staged a dramatic die-in during the 11AM Easter mass at Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago’s most prominent Catholic parish – and the home of one of the nation’s most conservative church leaders, Cardinal George. The action included a denunciation of Cardinal George’s January 7 meeting with Mayor Daley and President Bush, the ‘chief architect’ of the ongoing carnage in Iraq. Four people were arrested at Bush's January 7 visit, one of whom was slapped with bogus felony charges.

The three men and three women activists timed the action to reach both Holy Name’s large easter audience -- including some of Chicago’s most prominent citizens, who commonly attend Easter mass at the church -- and the many more viewers and readers of the local press, which usually extensively covers the services.

The action was staged in the Gold Coast cathedral’s parish center, an auditorium where mass is being said while the main cathedral undergoes renovation. Easter services at Holy Name are traditionally one of the most heavily attended masses of the year, and this mass was no exception, with people packed wall to wall for today’s Easter morning holiday service.

The group of young men and women, dressed in their Easter best, sat through the 11AM mass until George reached the homily. George had just uttered the words, "Often, we hear people say 'love is blind," when the protesters rose from their seats to address George and the hundreds of parishioners in the auditorium. "The sixth commandment says 'Thou shall not kill'" said one protester. "Yet more than a million Iraqis have been killed since the invasion of Iraq," said a second. Many members of the audience audibly gasped and murmered at these words. "On January 7, Cardinal George met for lunch with George W. Bush," said a third protester, saying that Bush was responsible for the ongoing carnage in Iraq. That statement referred to a January 7 meetng Cardinal George and Chicago mayor Richard Daley had with George W. Bush during a presidential visit to Chicago that was capped by the arrest of four peace protesters.

In the wake of the Bush visit in January, peace activists vigorously criticized the Cardinal and mayor Daley for failing to publicly raise the issue of the war -- and the need to end it -- with Bush, and the Holy Name action was staged in part to remind George of his resonsibility to press for the issue of an end to the war with public officials, particularly leading war boosters like Bush.

At this point during the church service, ushers had rushed around the protesters, who then squirted themselves with stage blood and collapsed to the floor in the aisle. Some stage blood spattered on non-protesters in the vicinity.

The protesters voluntarily got to their feet at the ushers' urging and walked out of the auditorium, chanting "Even the Pope calls for peace!" "And so should we all call for peace," said George from the alter as the last protester was led out.

The protesters were arrested outside by Chicago police, and conducted a series of media interviews with local television outlets, which had packed the auditorium to film George's service, while cops waited for a police wagon to take them to lockup.

The six peace activists -- Angela Haban, 20 years old, female; Regan Maher, 25 years old, female; Mercedes Phinaih, 18 years old, female; Ephran Ramirez, Jr., 22 years old, male; Donte D. Smith, 21 years old, male; and Ryane J. Ziemba, 25 years old, male -- chose Holy Name as a way to ratchet up a sense of urgency about the war with the cardinal and many of the city's elite who attend services there.

The protesters' sense of urgency seems to be well placed -- four more U.S. soldiers were killed today in Iraq, bringing the total number of soldiers killed there to over 4,000 since the war began just over five years ago. Estimates of Iraqi dead total in the hundreds of thousands, and perhaps as high as a million or more. The U.S. government has chosen not to keep track of the number of civilian casualties in this conflict.

"On a day when we're celebrating the resurrection of the Prince of Peace -- a man whose ministry was deeply tied to comfort and relief for the most oppressed among us -- it's critical that we remind ourselves and others everywhere of the need to reject business as usual and demand peace in Iraq from our own government and its supporter," said Kevin Clark, a supporter of today's protesters. "The fact is that many in attendance today at Holy Name Cathedral are among the city's most powerful people, and it's incumbent on them to endure a little discomfort to be reminded that unless they're working tirelessly to end this war immediately, then their presence in this church on Easter Sunday is an act of hypocrisy."

This afternoon, the Chicago police announced that the six young people arrested at the Holy Name Cathedral die-in have been charged with one count of felony criminal damage to property and two counts of simple battery. They are currently being held at Cook County jail at 26th and California, and are expected to be arraigned on the felony charge some time Monday morning, possibly as early as 9AM. Police denied one arrestee who is hypoglycemic access to his medication. Police have also repoortedly been telling concerned callers that supporters of the peace protesters could be investigated for terrorism by Homeland Security -- a tactic supporters says underscores the repressive political nature of the police response to the protest.

Supporters are working to arrange jail solidarity and legal support. For more info, call Kevin Clark at 312-259-4380 or email him at solitaryleftist (at) Supporters have also set up a paypal account to raise bail funds. The contact email for that effort is holyname6 (at) Paypal donations can also be sent via the following url:


Anonymous said...

The semester is almost over. I hope that some students will ask their student government to approve resolutions in defense of these protesters.

In the absence of anything that can be called an "anti-war movement", these 6 young people have, PEACEFULLY, reminded a few hundred thousand newspaper readers that a genocidal war is still raging, and that we can stop it.

Had they also mentioned the war on Palestine, they would be facing worse than felony charges right now.

Philip Metres said...

These protestors, while they are courageous, also risked distracting people with themselves rather than the message. The blood aspect of the demonstration seemed particularly, well, controversial, given the fact that there are young children at mass. I admire their conviction, their courage, but would ask them to think about whether they had exhausted all other alternatives before engaging in civil disobedience. Such acts could invite others in solidarity, rather than alienate them further.