Eleven religious leaders were arrested during a budget cut protest at the Capitol rotunda yesterday. They’re in good company.
An interfaith coalition of reverends, rabbis and their supporters gathered yesterday at the Capitol Rotunda for a prayer opposing budget cuts that target the poor, resulting in eleven arrests.
In a statement released after the demonstration, one of the protesters, Rev. Michael Livingston, explained that he and his associates cannot sit by and watch the government get overtaken by greed.
“Congress is paralyzed by toxic partisan politics while people suffer,” Livingston wrote. “Our elected officials are protecting corporations and wealthy individuals while shredding the safety net for millions of the most vulnerable people in our nation and abroad. Our faith won’t allow us to passively watch this travesty unfold.”
Another member of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim coalition, a reverend named Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, said, “Too many Congresspersons of all parties are trapped in a space where conviction to the common good is diminished for the sake of personal gain and the seduction of power.”
These arrests come just two days after Rep. Luis Gutierrez was cuffed outside the White House for rallying against the government’s immigration and deportation policies. That’s the second time the Illinois representative has been detained for his civil disobedience, the first being last year, in 2010.
Looking over high profile political arrests over the past few years, history shows that most of the time the participants were progressive Democrats and their allies.
For example, seven members of the wholly Democratic Congressional Black Caucus were arrested for demonstrating outside the Sudanese embassy in 2006. Massachusetts Reps. Jim McGovern and John Olver were taken in during anti-genocide rallies that year, and again in 2009.
And way back in 1994, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters and two others were halted during a peaceful opposition to the government’s Haitian refugee policy.
Elsewhere in D.C., and more recently, the District’s Democratic mayor, Vincent Gray, joined the chain gang when he protested a conservative-led budget deal last April.
Progressive LGBT activists have also found themselves shackled for sit-ins and other forms of disobedience, as have anti-war, AIDS and human rights activist, and of course 60s-era civil rights freedom fighters raised peaceful demonstrations to new heights.
Republican and other right wing activists, meanwhile, are very rarely putting their criminal record on the line to make a stand. Other than Republican Rep. Luiz Diaz-Balart’s 1995 arrest for protesting Clinton’s Cuba policies, you’d be hard pressed to find a Republican official allowing themselves to be apprehended in solidarity with a cause.
And unless you’re talking about anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, there aren’t many right wingers who sacrifice themselves for their ideological causes. Perhaps that’s because they have little respect for civil disobedience.
Writing about Gutierrez’s 2010 arrest, one right wing blogger called the Congressman a “dumbass Democrat,” while another conservative, commenting on the Congressman’s most recent brush with the law, referred to Gutierrez as a “slimeball.”
Still another wondered, “Didn’t he swear to uphold the Constitution? Isn’t this an impeachable offense for a US Congressman?” Clearly they have a skewed image of peaceful assembly and its place in both our constitution and our civil sphere.
But perhaps that’s because conservatives have a different perspective on activism, preferring instead to protest same-sex couples’ marriages or throw Molotov cocktails, neither of which show much courage of one’s convictions.
Image via UPI.