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“I’ve learned that words really do have power,” writes Shane Claiborne in  Executing Grace, subtitled, How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us. “So do stories. And so does the Bible,” he writes, adding, “And so do facts.”

Claiborne, a prominent speaker, activist, and best-selling author, heads up Red Letter Christians, a group that aims “to take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.” He was in New Hampshire for talks in Manchester and Durham on November 11, both organized by the NH Council of Churches.

Before both audiences, Claiborne showed his ease sliding back and forth from theology to history to journalism, blending stories of murder victim family members, death row prisoners and exonerees, biblical characters, and the occasional public official.

“It’s hard to talk about the death penalty divorced from race,” he began, noting that in the USA, the death penalty belt overlaps the areas where states hung onto to slavery the longest, where lynching was commonly practiced, and where racial segregation was the law of the land. It’s also the “Bible Belt,” the region with the highest percentages of practicing Christians, and where what passes for “religious conservatism” has the most political influence.

“Why do we still have the death penalty?” Claiborne asks. “It’s because of Christians.”

But what if Christians – and others – took seriously the idea that “there’s a way to transcend evil without mirroring it?” And what if we adopted an approach to justice rooted in righteousness and healing the wounds of the world rather than vengeance? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It wouldn’t be just the death penalty that would left behind, it would be the whole punishment-based approach to criminal offenses. It’s a big reach for many, but Shane Claiborne can make as compelling a case for it as I’ve heard.

But what about New Hampshire, which is far in miles and politics from the Bible Belt, and is thought to be one of the least churched states in the country? Here we are, still hanging onto the death penalty nearly 80 years after the most recent execution. We might start by making the case that even here in the “deep north,” racism has a disturbingly persistent impact on attitudes and public policy. Can it be just a coincidence that the one person sentenced to be executed in New Hampshire in recent decades is a black man who killed a white man, while a rich white man on trial at the same time for hiring people to kill someone against whom he held a grudge escaped a death sentence?

But even here, there’s an anti-death penalty argument for just about anyone, and that’s where the facts bolster the theological approach, or vice versa. For example, anyone suspicious of a too-powerful state ought to be more than skeptical about a politically driven system for determining who should live and who should die. The jury in a capital case is the real “death panel.” Anyone who wants our tax dollars to be used carefully should scorn a system that bogs down the courts and ultimately costs more than lengthy imprisonment. Anyone who wants to deter crime should look at the studies which show the death penalty has little impact on promoting public safety or protecting the lives of law enforcement officers.

And anyone who wants to show compassion for people who have lost loved ones to homicide should, like Shane Claiborne, spend some time listening to them. “The more victims I have gotten to know and love, the more I have realized that there is not just one way to heal from trauma,” Claiborne writes.

“When it comes to the family members of the murdered, some of the most amazing stories of healing and closure I have heard or read are from families who found alternatives to execution for the offender. In contrast, some of the folks who still seem overcome with pain and anger and resentment were able to witness the execution of the offender. In other words,” Claiborne concludes, “the idea that an execution will bring closure or final justice is a mirage.”

“The death penalty extends trauma, exacerbates wounds,” he told the four-dozen people clustered in the parish hall at Brookside Congregational Church. “And any time we call for death, we undermine the possibility of redemption.”

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Campeones de Champiñones

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We are the Champions!  (of mushrooms)

Cuajimoloyas is a small village nestled in the mountains 3200 meters (10,500 feet)  above sea level, and 1645 meters (5400 feet) above the city of Oaxaca  P7140782 and the valley that surrounds it.  As a member of the Pueblos Mancomunados, the people of Cuajimoloyas are part of a project that combines sustainable farming and forestry, community-based enterprises, and ecological tourism to promote regional autonomy, cultural survival, and decent livelihoods for their citizens.

It is also an area of rich bio-diversity, including wild mushrooms.

Every July for the past 17 years, Cuajimoloyas has hosted a mushroom festival, the

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Feria de Hongos which includes lectures, workshops, great food, and a mushroom hunt.  Judy and I were participants in this year’s mushroom hunt, along with some students and faculty from the University of Washington studying food sovereignty, friends from Oaxaca, and a couple of other gringos we met along the way. 

Along with several other teams we set off mid-morning from the town center and headed uphill to the forest.

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Our team leader was Eustorgio, a community leader whom we had met on a visit to Cuajimoloyas 7 years ago.  Equipped with a basket and a Swiss Army knife, our team entered the forest and began our hunt.

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Each time we spotted a mushroom, Eustorgio would examine it to see if it was one we had already collected.  If not, he’d tap it on its head to release theP7150821 spores, slice it off with the knife, and drop it in the basket.  Along the way we joked about winning the contest by bringing back the collection with the largest number of distinct mushroom species.  

We found big mushrooms, tiny mushrooms, clusters of mushrooms, red mushrooms, gelatinous mushrooms, and translucent mushrooms.  Eustorgio would tell us if each one was edible or toxic.

As our basket filled, his ability to remember whether we already had a sample of each one we found amazed me.

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Here are some of my favorites.

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The forest was beautiful, with lots to appreciate in addition to the mushrooms and the members of our team.  But by around 1:30 PM, we started to worry about getting back in time for the judging deadline.

It being the rainy season, it was no surprise that a drizzle started as we hustled on a muddy trail to the final meeting place at the Comedor de Truchas.  There, we laid out our mushrooms on a blanket20170715_144732

and went off to stand in line in the rain to join a feast of tlayudas and mushroom tamales.

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We were all surprised, or at least I was, when Eustorgio told us our team had won, at least unofficially, with 137 distinct mushrooms.  But sure enough, the next day, we were the big winners!

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The competition was fun, the walk was great, but we were also reminded by speakers at the festival that mushrooms have great significance from cultural, dietary, economic, ecological, and health perspectives.  The annual Cuajimoloyas Mushroom Festival is a great way to celebrate and highlight their importance. 

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Oaxaca Pride March Aims to Link Struggles

Oaxaca’ ninth annual Pride Parade set off from the Fountain of the Eight Regions at  about 5:30 PM yesterday, w
P7080733ith perhaps 100 people marching behind a rainbow banner and a marching band. Prior to the march, Jesús Yoshio Morales Ramírez read a statement explaining that two additional colors had been added to the flag.

A brown stripe represented the struggles of indigenous peoples, whose land and  communities are threatened by mega-projects, the new guise of colonialism and an expression of racism. The flag also bore a black stripe, marking the struggles against racism of peoples of AfricP7080744an descent.

Oppression is “a long chain whose links will never be broken if we continue to look at it in isolation, if we think that machismo, homophobia, transphobia, lesbophobia, and so on are not related to class struggle, misogyny, racism, discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities,” Morales said “It all forms part of a whole, it is the mortal alliance that puts us under and oppresses us and places us at the disposal of the elites and the dominant powers of the world.”

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The march proceeded down the hill through a major intersection into the city center, eventually reaching the crowded tourist zone, swelled with people typical of a Saturday evening in July. Along the way, the band kept playing at the front of the march while another group at the rear banged on drums and shouted chants. Several P7080853 people passed out condoms and information about HIV prevention along the way. By the end the number of marchers had doubled.

Morales read his statement again at the march’s conclusion, in the always busy plaza near the Santo Domingo church and museum. It’s not enough for Oaxaca to be “gay friendly,” he said, if people’s rights are not actually protected. “All of the rights, all of the people,” everyone chanted.

P7080824 You can find the statement, in Spanish, at http://www.laondaoaxaca.com.mx/2017/07/invitan-a-9a-marcha-calenda-por-el-orgullo-de-la-diversidad-sexual-e-identidad-de-genero/

More photos:

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Workers Memorial Vigil, April 27, 2017, Concord NH

This is what I had to say at the Workers Memorial Day vigil sponsored by the NH Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.

Four years ago, this past Monday a building in Bangladesh called “Rana Plaza” collapsed and came crashing down.

The building housed five garment factories which employed 5000 people.

Brands that were sourcing from the factories in Rana Plaza building include Benetton, Bon Marche, Cato Fashions, The Children’s Place, Walmart, and JC Penney.

The owners ignored warnings about the building’s structural flaws.

The workers did not have a union.

The laws were weak and unenforced.

When the building collapsed, one thousand one hundred and thirty-four workers lost their lives. Thousands more were injured.

The scale of the disaster was so large, and the capacity of NGOs like the International Labor Rights Forum and the Clean Clothes Campaign was strong enough, that even though the workers were unorganized it became possible to pressure the companies and the government to reach agreements for inspections, compensation for affected workers and families, and renovating factories to make them safer.

But workers in Bangladesh still face repression when they try to organize.

That makes reforms hard to defend, especially when workers are inter-changeable pieces in a global supply chain, thousands of miles away from the consumers of the products they make, and several corporate intermediaries away from the firms whose logos they sew onto the apparel they make.

That’s one reason why we need to stand together, as workers, as consumers, as citizens.

One hundred and thirty-one years ago next Monday, hundreds of thousands of American workers went on strike calling for an eight-hour day. (The eight-hour movement followed the earlier ten-hour movement, which was led largely by young women like New Hampshire’s Sara Bagley and conducted in places like Dover, Manchester, Exeter, and Lowell.)

In Chicago, at the same time, a strike was going on at the McCormick Reaper plant, whose owner was trying to replace workers with machines. Several days of protest followed the May Day strike. Police killed 2 strikers on May 3. During a rally the next day protesting killings by police, a bomb went off. No one ever knew who was responsible. Several police officers and strikers lost their lives in the violence.

To be brief, Albert Parsons and August Spies, leaders of the eight-hour movement, were blamed, tried, convicted, and executed, despite the lack of any evidence tying them to the violence. (Hanging, not injection of toxic chemicals, was the method used back then.)

The following year, May Day was observed in their honor throughout the world and became known as International Workers Day.

In this country, over the past decade or so, International Workers Day has become associated with protests, rallies, strikes, and marches led by immigrant workers. That includes this coming Monday in Manchester, 5 to 7 pm, in Veterans Park.

Why does this matter?

When immigrants are afraid to complain about the toxic chemicals they use to clean our schools or the excessive heat in bakeries, factories, and laundries, the rights of all workers to a safe workplace is threatened.

When immigrants can be scapegoated and threatened with loss of jobs, the rights of all workers are weakened.

When capital can cross borders with barely any restriction, but workers face walls and troops, we have to stand together.

When workers are so desperately poor that they will take jobs that put their lives at risk, we have to stand together.

When the number of people forced to flee their homes dues to violence, climate disruption, and economic desperation is at an all-time high, we have to stand together.

When xenophobic and nativist movements are on the rise the world over, we have to stand together.

When workers anywhere are afraid to organize, we have to stand together.

And when workers do organize, despite the fear, despite the risks, despite the threats, despite the scapegoating, we have to stand with them.

During Workers Memorial Week, we say, injustice anywhere is still a threat to justice everywhere.

We still say, an injury to one is an injury to all.

We still say, Solidarity forever.

– Arnie Alpert

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This ran as an opinion article in the Concord Monitor on March 30, 2017.

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “all options are on the table” with regard to North Korea, he was indicating that the United States is considering attacking the country with nuclear weapons.  That’s the real “nuclear option.”

The United States maintains an arsenal of some 6800 nuclear warheads, one-fourth of them deployed on land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles, or long-range bombers.  Most of them carry many times the explosive force of the first generation nuclear bombs that killed more than 200,000 people in Japan in 1945.  The warheads on land-based missiles are kept in high alert status, meaning they can be launched within minutes of a suspected attack, perhaps before that attack is even verified. 

And while official policy still speaks of “deterrence,” it is now and long has been US military doctrine to consider using nuclear weapons in pre-emptive attacks, including against North Korea.  As Donald Trump asked, if we’re not going to use them, “why are we making them?”

The Trump administration is pushing ahead with a plan hatched during Barack Obama’s term to do a complete replacement of the U.S. nuclear arsenal at a cost of one trillion dollars.  That’s a new generation of land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles, and land-based missiles, plus a new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile.  Then, there’s a new generation of warheads, designed to be more “usable.”  

The authority to use U.S. nuclear weapons – which could set off massive famine on top of direct casualties – rests with Donald Trump, the commander-in-chief.

Eight other countries also have the capacity to launch nuclear weapons:  Russia, France, Britain, Israel, India, Pakistan, China, and yes, North Korea, which is believed to have about a dozen warheads on what by U.S. standards are primitive missiles.   

The danger that any of these countries might detonate their terrible weapons of mass destruction, and that conflicts between them could lead to nuclear exchanges that would literally threaten the future of life on the planet, is the “nuclear option” that ought to be keeping us awake at night, not the prospect of a change in the Senate’s rules for approving judicial appointments.

The good news is that talks started March 27 at the United Nations on a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons.   Although the USA and other nuclear powers are boycotting the event, more than one hundred nations are behind the new push.  “We need to find a new way to inspire and motivate the public in support of disarmament, in the same way that they have been energized to respond to the challenge of climate change, an existential threat facing humanity,” commented Kim Won-soo, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

Congress is also taking notice.  Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) has introduced legislation, S.200, “to prohibit the conduct of a first-use nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress.”  As the bill states, “the framers of the Constitution understood that the monumental decision to go to war, which can result in massive death and the destruction of civilized society, must be made by the representatives of the people and not by a single person.“  The bill has a parallel version in the House, H.R. 669, sponsored by Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA).  (No members of New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation have yet signed on as co-sponsors.) 

Another piece of good news:  two weeks ago voters in the little town of New London, New Hampshire, voted 73 to 45 in support of a resolution calling for an end to the trillion dollar nuclear build-up, the de-alerting of land-based missiles, and talks leading to global nuclear abolition consistent with U.S. obligations under the 1965 Non-Proliferation Treaty.  At other times in our history, it was grassroots action like New London’s that grew strong enough to get world leaders stepping back from the nuclear brink.  It’s time once again to exercise our anti-nuclear option. 

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“Spigot of military dollars is about to reopen”

No surprise, the Trump transition’s “landing team” for defense includes several members with deep connections to corporations (including Boeing, L-3, Elbit, Cubic, BAE) that sell weapons to the US government plus at least two consulting/lobbying firms.

Of those with military experience, the Trump team appears to have a clear preference for Army officers.

The Department of Defense “landing team” members were announced on November 18.

Writing in Defense News, Aaron Mehta suggests the appointments indicate that any skepticism about excessive military spending Trump voiced on the campaign trail may be put aside. “Those comments seem long ago, with today’s team announcement unlikely to change the belief among investors that the spigot of military dollars is about to reopen,” Mehta reported last week.

Here’s the cast of characters that will guide the Trump transition:

Mira Ricardel, who spent 8 years as a Boeing VP for space and missile systems, describes herself as consultant specializing in “marketing, sales and growth strategies, leveraging extensive US Government policy, program and operations expertise in the defense and aerospace arena.” Prior to her service at Boeing (2006 – 2015), she held senior positions at the Pentagon, worked on Capitol Hill, and spent a year and a half at Freedom House.

Keith Kellogg is a retired U.S. Army general who ran the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004 and later served as a Vice President at the Cubic Corporation. Cubic subsidiaries specialize in combat training and “highly specialized support services for military and security forces of the U.S. and allied nations,” such as “networked Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities for defense, intelligence, security, and commercial missions.” Cubic says it has operations in nearly 60 countries.

Thomas Carter, another veteran of the Coalition Provisional Authority, has been in and out of military, diplomatic, political, and corporate service going back to the Reagan administration. Most recently, he spent several years lobbying for Elbit Systems, an Israeli military electronics company that manufactures drones and surveillance components of Israel’s separation wall. Elbit, which, owns Kohlsman Instruments in Merrimack NH, has been targeted for divestment by the BDS movement.

Michael Duffey, currently Executive Director of the Wisconsin Republican Party, previously served in a variety of Pentagon posts, including special assistant to the White House liaison.

William Hartzog, another retired Army general, currently serves as CEO of Burdeshaw Associates, which describes itself as “a full-spectrum, senior consulting and professional services firm, consisting of former Senior Military Officers, Government Civilians, and Corporate Executives with unparalleled knowledge, experience and insight.” The firm was founded in 1979, it says, “to bridge the gap between the defense industry and the U.S. Army, primarily in its equipment development process.” According to Open Secrets, Hartzog was a lobbyist for a partnership between the Nurol Group of Turkey and BAE Systems. The partnership, known as FNSS Defence Systems, supplies combat vehicles and weapons to Turkey’s armed forces.

Justin Johnson served as an aide to Rep. Todd Akin and Rep. Doug Lamborn, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, before landing at the Heritage Foundation, where he specializes in defense budgets and policy.

Earl Matthews is described as a current or recent employee of the U.S. Army.

Bert Mizusawa, another retired Army general, ran for Congress in 2010 and lost in a competitive GOP primary.

Sergio de la Pena is a retired Army colonel who has lobbied for L-3 Communications and now runs his own consulting firm. From 2006 to 2008, he served as Division Chief for International Affairs in the Northern Command, which runs U.S. military operations in North America and the Caribbean. L-3 is the ninth largest military contractor, according to Defense News.

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The Pledge of Resistance and the “Sofagate” Action

Ronald Reagan brought with him to the White House an extreme anti-communism and intense hostility to the government of Nicaragua, which was led by revolutionaries who had recently ousted a US-backed dictator. Soon the administration was organizing, funding, and training a band of counter-revolutionaries – the “contras” – who waged terrorist attacks across the border from bases in Honduras and Costa Rica. An outright US invasion seemed like a real possibility.

To protest and deter an invasion, US activists organized the “Pledge of Resistance,” a campaign which promised massive civil disobedience in the event of a US invasion, beginning in 1984. Across the country, “affinity groups” of activists organized, attended nonviolent action training sessions, and prepared to occupy Congressional offices. By publicizing their activities, they sought to influence Congress to restrain the administration’s bellicose agenda.

Perhaps it worked; there was no US invasion. But despite evidence of flagrant human rights abuses committed by the contras, US support for them continued. The CIA even mined Nicaragua’s harbors. As the suffering of the Nicaraguan people deepened, the Pledge of Resistance decided to change its plans. Instead of waiting for a US invasion, the call went out for affinity groups to begin acts of civil disobedience. Many of the actions were based on occupations of Congressional offices.

Planning the Action

In New Hampshire the Pledge of Resistance was coordinated by Witness for Peace and AFSC, working through networks of locally based peace and solidarity groups. In the spring of 1985, several affinity groups demonstrated at the offices of New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation.

In addition to an active role in coordination and training, I was part of a local Concord affinity group made up largely of activists associated with the Concord Committee on Central America. I have a clear memory of our nonviolent training session, held at the office of Womankind Counseling, which was then on Warren Street. It was our plan to occupy the office of Senator Warren Rudman, who had served as the state’s Attorney General before seeking office as a Senator. He had a reputation as a moderate, but supported the administration’s policies in Central America.  (His office was in the building at the corner of N. Main and Centre Streets in Concord, in the space where the Prescription Center now runs its medical supplies and equipment operation.)

As we debriefed the roleplay of a scenario in which we occupied Rudman’s local office and refused to leave, we asked ourselves some critical questions. What was our demand? Did we want to meet with the Senator? Refuse to leave until we talked to him on the phone? Shut down the office to say “no business as usual” should be allowed until he changed his tune on support for the contras?

Through discussion we recognized that while we weren’t opposed to meeting with the Senator or talking with him on the phone, dialogue would not by itself address our concerns. Likewise, assuming we might be allowed to stay throughout the normal business day but would be ejected at the close of office hours, we agreed that this, too, did not really meet our concerns. Neither did we see much point in simply being disruptive. Instead, we agreed that what we really wanted to do was communicate to the Senator the depth of our concerns, and that this would be better accomplished through persistence than short-term disruption.

Action and Arrests

If my memory serves, we delivered to the Senator a letter explaining that we would be having individuals sitting silently, by themselves, in the waiting area of his office for two hours each morning, and two hours each afternoon, as an expression of our concerns. We all signed up for shifts and began our visits on Thursday, May 16, 1985, when Don Booth took the morning shift and Marcia Freeman took the afternoon one. The pattern of two people a day for two hours each continued the next day and every weekday of the week that followed. While we sat on the sofa inside the doorway, members of our group read books and articles about Nicaragua and US interventionism, wrote letters to the Senator, and sat in silent reflection.

At the end of the second week, we were handed a letter from the Senator informing us he would no longer allow us to continue. Sitting near the reception desk, he said, we were able to overhear conversations his staff were having with constituents about Social Security checks, veterans benefits, and other issues. “It is simply impossible to treat constituent inquiries in a confidential manner when a protester is sitting in the office in a position to overhear private conversations,” he wrote.

“Although I appreciate your effort to conduct your demonstration in a manner which avoids disruption of business at the Concord office,” the Senator continued, “I have become convinced that the present situation is unworkable. Therefore, in fairness to other constituents who may wish to use the Concord office, I must ask you to end your sit-in demonstration.”

We called a meeting, agreed it was not our intent to disrupt constituent services, but that we would not suspend our action. After all, anyone in the waiting area would pose the problem Rudman had identified. In a letter we drafted, we informed the Senator that we understood his discomfort about the effect of our presence on office operations. “We have not thought about our presence of concern as a protest demonstration,” we wrote, “but as a simple statement of our awareness and caring.”

“It is important for us to continue,” our letter went on. “We are sure that US administration policies in Central America will have disastrous effects for people here as well as for people in Central America, and we want to express that concern by our presence.”

“We do not need to be in the office for half of each working day, as we were last week. Our concern can be expressed in one hour a day,” we informed him, adding some specific policy recommendations with regard to ending support for the contras, blocking military aid to Guatemala, and support for a regional peace agreement then under discussion.

The following week, on Wednesday, May 29, we delivered our letter and began again. Five volunteers, one a day, entered the office, took up our position on the waiting area sofa, and were told that if we did not leave we would be arrested. When we each politely said we intended to stay, police were called and we were each taken to the Concord Police Station for booking on charges of criminal trespass.

From the Office to the Courts

At Concord District Court four months later, we had the chance to argue that what we were doing was well within our rights to peacefully petition the government for redress of grievances. One member, Dick Duckoff, who hired a lawyer, succeeded in getting his charge dismissed. The other four, who chose to represent ourselves and were tried by a different judge, were all found guilty. Don Booth, Meg Grace, and I decided to appeal to Superior Court, where we would have a trial by jury. Stacey Baston decided not to appeal and went to jail.

Don secured representation from the NH ACLU. Meg had a public defender. I continued to represent myself. Rudman, the former Attorney General, was taking so much interest in the case that the city and county attorneys were apparently not of sufficiently high caliber to prosecute a handful of pacifists charged with misdemeanor offenses. Instead, Assistant Attorney Generals, who spent most of their time on homicide cases and other serious felonies, were assigned to the case. Rudman also arranged for legal counsel from the US Senate staff to help out.

My own memories of the Superior Court proceedings are pretty fuzzy, but the order issued by Judge George Manias on January 3, 1986, referred to hearings held on three days in mid-December. The State filed motions to exclude evidence of the office manager’s reasons for having us arrested, wanting instead to have the trial consider only whether the facts met the standards for criminal trespass. The State tried to consolidate the three cases into one, to which we objected. Don’s lawyer filed three motions to dismiss, including one based on constitutional rights, one claiming the trespass statute was overbroad, and one “on grounds of collateral estoppel.”

Judge Manias did not take a long time to rule that what we had been doing was in fact protected by the First Amendment protections of free speech and the right to petition. The prosecution argument that we were invading a private office had no validity, he ruled. We had been “licensed and privileged” to enter the Senator’s office. That’s exactly what it’s there for, and that’s why it was located in a prominent downtown location, the judge observed.

“At all times pertinent to this matter,” Judge Manias wrote, “the Defendants remained silently sitting on the Senator’s couch and did not carry with them any placards or materials that would visibly disrupt the office, nor did they engage in any activity such as shouting, yelling, or speaking out loud that would disrupt the office.” The charges were dismissed on January 3, 1986. The NH Supreme Court later refused to consider an appeal filed by the State.

Together with other demonstrations taking place during the same period, the action was covered amply in the local press. In fact, I was being interviewed by a Concord Monitor reporter at the time of my arrest.

Lessons Learned

Looking back with thirty years hindsight, I can still draw out some of the lessons of what we sometimes called the “sofagate action.”

  • Be thoughtful about your demands. You might get what you ask for and discover that really wasn’t what you wanted. In this case, what we wanted was to communicate with the Senator, not just to talk with him, and not just to get arrested.
  • Nonviolent action training offers opportunities to test out action scenarios in role-play exercises. We can adjust our plans based on the experiences we share.
  • It is possible to conduct a high quality action with a small number of people.
  • The courtroom can be treated as an extension of the action. Look for opportunities to continue to raise the issues which motivated the act of civil disobedience in the first place.
  • What may start out as a short-term commitment can extend into days, weeks, and longer when hearings, trials, and appeals are considered, and that’s not even counting the possibility of jail time.
  • But the lengthy time between arrest and trial, and the even longer time if a conviction is appealed to a higher court, can diminish enthusiasm. (In another civil disobedience action I organized, the gap between arrest and ultimate conviction was so long that our lawyer and one of our members had time for heart surgery, a second member had a hysterectomy, and a third had a baby.) Life goes on while we are waiting for justice. In this case, we did not return to Rudman’s office after the ruling was issued. (And by the way, the Senator re-arranged his waiting area.)

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