Anti-War Protesters Arrested in Senate Gallery Thursday
Five anti-war demonstrators were arrested Thursday night and charged with disruption of Congress after rising from their seats in the Senate gallery to voice opposition to the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
With some members of the group waving small red scarves, they chanted in unison “No money for war” during a Senate vote. The commotion overhead caught some lawmakers off-guard.
“Anytime something like that happens there is always a momentary freeze, because you wonder, ‘Did they bring something in?’” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who noted the protestors did not “put up much of a resistance” when Capitol Police officers ushered them out of the gallery.
“But obviously with all the devices and [checkpoints] they’ve got to go through they couldn’t bring anything in,” Harkin added.
Three women and two men were arrested and charged with the disruption of Congress, a “misdemeanor punishable by a fine not exceeding $500, or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both,” according to U.S. Code.
During their protest, the group attempted to tie the war to U.S. business interests in post-war Iraq.
“Our taxes are not for bombing nations or foreign occupation to profit corporations,” they sang. The chants echoed throughout the Senate hallways as they were led outside to be transported to Capitol Police headquarters.
Lined up underneath the Senate carriage entrance facing the building, police out-numbered the protestors 5-to-1.
A representative of the group handed out a press release to reporters touting their success in shutting the Senate down. However, business continued, and most reporters covering the showdown over the fiscal 2004 budget ignored the protesters as they were led away.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) shrugged off the group’s efforts, saying they were “three days late,” referring to this week’s military victories in Baghdad.
To which Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) remarked, “I would say three weeks late. The bombing just occurred. It is over.”
As he was being placed into the police transport truck, Christopher Doran of Washington, D.C., said the group was protesting the “illegal aggression against Iraq,” and criticized the war as a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Doran did not give his age, and Capitol Police would not release the names of the other activists who were placed under arrest.
Other representatives of the group would not talk to reporters or refused to identify what anti-war group they represented. But the press release said they were affiliated with Pressure Point, a Seattle-based group keeping watch over corporate power.
“At Pressure Point, we are working to shift the decision-making power from the hands of the few into the hands of the many and create a true global democracy,” according to the organization’s Web site. “We believe that in a true democracy the new bottom line will be to sustain life and the decisions made will be based on a healthy environment and on social and economic equity and justice for all.”
Sarah Wright, a spokeswoman listed on the press release, said in a telephone interview Thursday night that the protesters were trying to “speak directly to the Senate.” She noted there has been “some sense of frustration” over Congress’ support for the war as well as its efforts to cut taxes, “which would seem to benefit more corporations.”
“The idea was really to try and appeal directly to the conscience of the Senators,” Wright said.
Even though the protest startled some Senators, Hatch said nobody was worried.
“It isn’t always humorous to us, but this one was,” he said.
The police recently began conducting instant background checks of visitors who are not part of a staff-led or scheduled tours. Visitors’ personal information is screened through the FBI’s National Criminal Information Center. It is not clear from what office the protesters obtained their gallery passes.