Report on the Feast of the Holy Innocents
Faith and Resistance Retreat in Washington, D.C.
December 27-30, 2010
by Art Laffin
Over 50 people from the Atlantic Life Community, the Southern Life Community, New Jerusalem Community in Philadelphia and other peacemakers gathered at St. Stephen and the Incarnation church in Washington, D.C. for the annual Holy Innocents Faith and Resistance retreat to commemorate the slaughter of the Holy Innocents--past and present. The retreat included several talks, time for prayer, reflection and discussion, and three nonviolent actions at the centers of military, economic and political power of the U.S. empire: the Pentagon, the World Bank and IMF, and the White House.
On the evening of December 27, flu-stricken Liz McAlister gave a powerful reflection on the history of the Pentagon and the role it has played in producing weapons of mass murder and waging war since its inception.
On December 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents, retreatants witnessed at the Pentagon calling for an end to U.S. warmaking and the abolition of all weapons. Several children made an appeal to the Pentagon to stop bombing other children in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Steve Woolford, Beth Brockman and Joan Wages were arrested by Pentagon police for trying to leaflet workers and later released with a March 18 court date. Later that morning the group viewed a moving heart-wrenching video called "The End of Poverty."
On the evening of December 28, Ramsey Clark, world renowned human rights lawyer and former U.S. Attorney General under President Johnson from 1967-69, gave a compelling talk on the 20 year history of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and the devastating impact U.S. bombings, sanctions and occupation have had in the Iraqi people. He spoke of the urgent need for people in the U.S. to take to the streets, like the millions of people in Iran and Philippines did, to nonviolently overthrow the Shah and Marcos, and demand justice and peace.
On the morning of December 29, Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, spoke about Jubilee USA's inspiring work to cancel the debt imposed on poor countries by the World Bank and IMF. The group, which included many children, then held at witness at four World Bank and IMF sites. One of the recurring chants that was offered at each site is "Debt is Death", a quote from Wahu Kaara, of the Kenya Debt Relief Network. (See below the readings and prayer that was offered at each site). In the evening there was a sharing about Ramsey's talk and stories of hope-filled resistance to the U.S. massacre of Iraq. The night ended with a children-led talent show which lifted everyone's spirits.
On December 30, retreatants had a concluding liturgy, during which time we remembered the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, including those in our communities who have died. We then held a nonviolent witness at the White House which focused on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "A nation that continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." After processing to the White House five people temporarily hung a long cloth graph on the White House fence showing that the military budget is 59% of the total federal budget. Police immediately threatened people with arrest if the graph wasn't removed from the fence, so the five decided to stand on the ledge of the White House fence holding the graph for the hour-long witness. Meanwhile, the rest of the retreatants held another large cloth graph directly in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Ave. showing the total breakdown of the federal budget and facts about how money spent on warmaking could instead be used to help people get health care, receive affordable quality education, and alleviate poverty. Eight speakers then addressed various aspects of the military and domestic budget, including the $85 billion the Obama White House and Congress plans to spend over the next ten years on upgrade the nuclear arsenal. This was followed by children showing how the military budget could be converted to meet urgent human needs. The witness and retreat concluded with a closing circle as retreatants committed to working for a world without weapons and war, where we care for our wounded earth and environment, and help create the beloved community.