Dear friends of Truth, Justice, and Peace, the three pillars that hold up the world --
My life-partner Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I came home from Washington on Wednesday night both exhausted & exhilarated. We had prepared to risk arrest and were sorrowful that the Secret Service acted in such a way as to prevent anyone from doing that. -- And we were also persuaded that their very action was a sign of how much the White House feared how powerful this Moral Witness was and would be.
We had come determined to persist in our prophetic speech even if that meant risking arrest. The White House decided to fence us in, to prevent any acts of nonviolent civil resistance because the White House did NOT want to arrest one hundred clergy and other leaders of their faith communities. They were afraid of that profound engagement of the Prophetic community. Their response was a signal of the strength of our protest.
We gathered Wednesday morning at a church near the White House – a church with a strong history of prophetic religious involvement. There were about 400 of us. There was a brief speech by Rev. Dr. Barber about the origins and purpose of the ”Moral Wednesday” action, in which he gave full honor to Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 as its origin and to The Shalom Center for organizing that and for our involvement in the planning of this Moral Witness Wednesday.
I introduced a litany in which Sahar Alsahlani, Rev. Jacqui Lewis, and Rabbi Alana Suskin led the whole assemblage to take the purpose into itself. [In this photo, Reverend Dr. Barber is on the left, I'm on the right, and the three women leaders in between.]
(Two other members of our Board and one former member were present – Rabbis Jeff Roth and Mordechai Liebling, and Jeffrey Dekro. Mordechai and I, who had been deeply involved in the Planning Committee and in the Prophetic Council that emerged in the process, were both speakers later at Lafayette Park across from the White House.)
There was a very strong representation of Jews, almost all Rabbis, many many of whom came up to me to thank The Shalom Center for putting energy and outreach into the action. So did at least 20 Christians and Muslims who were among the many more who receive our Shalom Report letters. Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights --- also had a strong presence. Mordechai Liebling, who is on their Board, had a strong influence in persuading Truah to endorse the action.
There had been detailed negotiations for more than a week between organizers for “Repairers of the Breach,” the home organization for Dr. Barber, with the US Park Police, who are responsible for Lafayette Park. The Park Police explained in detail when and where insisting on speaking would bring arrests. All seemed arranged. But they warned that there was a chance that if someone under Secret Service protection (i.e. the President, his family, or a foreign dignitary staying at Blair House very close by) came out of the White House or Blair House, the Secret Service might keep us out of the Park, in theory for security reasons.
We undertook a 20-minute Procession from the church to Lafayette Park.
When we arrived, the Secret Service had indeed closed the Park. (We think but are not sure, that was because someone from the White House came out. That may have been a deliberate effort by a family member to keep us away; we don’t know.) Meanwhile, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for President and has made a point of his commitment to a prophetic religious outlook, showed up unbidden. The organizers took steps to ensure we would not look as if this Moral Witness were supporting a candidate.
After some waiting, the organizers started with the list of speakers on a bullhorn much weaker than the P.A. system already prepared on a platform/stage in the Park. Rabbi Simcha Zevit -- who had at the Freedom Seder chanted in Hebrew the brief passage of Jeremiah (22: 1-5) that had inspired Dr. Barber to call for this action –- did so again at his request. This time she chanted both Hebrew and English in Haftarah melody. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Reform Jewish community’s Religious Action Center, blew the shofar (ram's horn) and later spoke. Reverend Traci Blackmon of the United Church of Christ spoke, especially about the attempts of this White House to subjugate women.
Then I gave the three-minute talk that I hope you saw in my Shalom Report letter on Tuesday.
I called us to respond with the fierce urgency of NOW to this Adninistration's enabling of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are burning Earth and poisoninhg neighborhoods.
How should we respond to their deadly all-consuming fire? With a different kind of fire: the inner fire of the Burning Bush, the inner fire of life and love and liberation. The inner fire that did not consume the Bush in which it burned. The Burning Bush that lit up the way to the Sea of Reeds, to Sinai, to the Cross, to Mecca, to Selma and to Memphis. The inner fire to defeat all pharaohs and their sins of subjugation and to heal the plagues they bring on Humankind and Mother Earth. The inner fire of the Burning Bush that we must carry home within us.
Then the Secret Service opened the Park. Rabbi Avruhm Addison spontaneously led many in the crowd in a song from the Psalms about opening the gates to praise the Breath of Life –
We heard the rest of the speeches, which ended with Mordechai Liebling speaking on this Administration’s violations of the Constitution. We were ready to cross Pennsylvania Avenue and risk arrest at the edge of the White House. But at that point, we discovered that the Secret Service had entirely superseded the Park Police, were not even pretending to physically protect some person from the "First Family" of Subjugators. Instead they were providing political protection.
They had sealed off Pennsylvania Ave, emplaced barriers on the edge of the Park and deployed officers on the Avenue. They made it impossible to risk arrest.
(I remembered that Mr. Trump at the same time he had dumped leaders of the Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol for not being cruel enough, had replaced a career chief of the Secret Service with a personally chosen favorite. "Caesar's Praetorian Guard?" I wondered at the time.)
So the organizers decided to pin our petitions to the barriers and end the protest.
Before we left, however, I decided to speak to the police officers of the Secret Service, as I have on a number of occasions just before getting arrested.
“We recognize that you are acting under orders that are intended to deny us the full use of our First Amendment rights to speak the prophetic truths of Jeremiah. But we say to you: Remember that you are not only police officers, you are both human beings and Americans. Many who work in that building, that White House, are doing criminal acts that destroy lives.
“As human beings, remember that they are burning Earth, where our children and grandchildren need to live. As Americans, remember they tore children from their mothers’ arms and put them in cages; and they have broken the Constitution in plain sight. Remember you are more than police officers, you are human, you are Americans. Over the next days and weeks, remember who you truly are and figure out some ways to oppose these crimes committed inside the White House! Remember!”
Rev. Jacqui Lewis, standing next to me in the photo above, picked up the theme, “Remember your souls!” and for several minutes the whole crowd of faith leaders picked it up: “Remember your souls!” “Remember your souls!” “Remember your souls!”
As I said to start with, when the White House decided to weaken our protest by preventing nonviolent civil disobedience, that was a signal of the strength of our protest. The White House did NOT want to arrest one hundred clergy and other leaders of their faith communities. They were afraid of that profound engagement of the Prophetic community.
And we should stay aware that the Secret Service is now doing the political bidding of the President, not only his physcal protection. Another measure of the passion for subjugation that now defines and dominates this White House. The Sin of Subjugation is the opposite of Democracy. It is the opposite of Love.
Now we must carry the inner fire of the Burning Bush back home.
Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! -- Arthur