On the afternoon of July 28, for half an hour under the great dome of the U.S. Capitol, along with 10 others I prayed, sang, spoke out -- against the travesty of Congressional and Presidential kowtowing to the hyper-wealthy and the largest corporations in the world -- and then was arrested on behalf of the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the squeezed middle-class, the victims of war and the wounded Earth itself.
I am joyful that Rev. Bob Edgar, former six-term Congressman from Pennsylvania, former head of the National Council of Churches, a recipient of The Shalom Center's "Prophetic Voices" honor, now head of Common Cause, invited us to gather. On 24 hours' notice, 11 of us came prepared to be arrested. Dozens more came to support and affirm our insistence that the present debates about the budget and the debt ignore the deepest teachings of our faith.
I am joyful that Methodists and Presbyterians, Mennonites and Roman Catholics, folk from the United Church of Christ and Interfaith Worker Justice, clergy and laity, women and men, African-Americans and Euro-Americans, were among the 11 along with me.
I am joyful that Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, came to spend more than an hour with us and to speak in strong support of us, even though he could not himself take part in civil disobedience because he was committed to lead gatherings of Jewish leaders that afternoon. They themselves were coming to approach members of Congress on behalf of meeting the needs that Torah and all of Jewish experience teach us that governments need to meet.
We gathered first at the Methodist Building, two blocks from the Capitol. As we prepared to leave, Bob Edgar invited me to send us forth in prayer. I said, "You Who taught us long ago that 'Tzedek tzedek tirdof, Justice justice shall you seek,' and Who taught us that 'justice' is mentioned twice to insist that we must use just means to seek just results, may You fill us with courage and compassion as we go forth to use that form of action that is purest justice -- nonviolence -- on behalf of those who most need justice."
When we gathered under the Rotunda, welcomed by Congressman Rush Holt and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, we gathered in a tight circle to pray, to sing hymns, to speak our truths to the powerful and to tell each other our stories about visiting the Rotunda, about encountering the Congress, about getting arrested.
I noticed that each of us chose hymns and songs with care to be inclusive of all our traditions: "Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me"; "We Shall Overcome"; "Down by the Riverside."
- Not about millions deprived of jobs and despairing whether they could ever work again;
- Not about the danger that the poor and senior citizens could be deprived of the payment of their Social Security pensions and their Medicare and Medicaid health needs;
- Not about the rotting infrastructures of our water systems and sewers and railroads;
- Not about the failing school systems and tuition raises making college impossible for large numbers of the middle class;
- Not about the dead and maimed of unending, unwinnable wars, or the trillions spent to kill and destroy;
- Not about the unprecedented droughts and unprecedented floods afflicting not only such faraway countries as Russia and Pakistan but, increasingly, whole regions of the United States itself as a result of the worsening climate crisis;
- Not about any of these but about different ways of squeezing choking, drowning those governmental programs that could meet these needs.
NOW more than ever, I urgently ask for your help in making a donation to The Shalom Center. Summer is traditionally a dry time for all donations, but as you can see, we don't stop our work for justice, peace and healing.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Director, The Shalom Center
Shalom, salaam, shantih, peace and healing. --Arthur