On January 12th, Americans gathered at their televisions – and leaders gathered at the capitol – to watch President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union Address. The tradition dates back to 1790, when George Washington delivered the first annual report to Congress. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson halted the practice for being “too monarchical” until Woodrow Wilson restored it in 1913.
But perhaps even more American than the president’s annual report is the citizens’ freedom to peacefully assemble in opposition (to it or anything else).
My organization filmed a piece that day displaying various congresspeople’s reaction to the speech. Security measures required press to set up early in the day, and leave until evening. When my partner (Trey Yingst) and I left the capitol building, we came across a rally of about 40 people expressing frustration with President Obama’s foreign policy. Donning signs, a paper mâché Obama mask, and a mock drone, the protesters, mostly over age 60, marched towards the capitol steps.
When confronted by police, the group, calling itself “National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance” (NCNR) explained that their plan was to deliver a petition through the front entrance of the capitol to Joe Biden. The petition demanded a halt to extrajudicial drone killings overseas. Told that they’d have to move to a designated protest area, protesters cited their right to speech, peaceful assembly, and a redress of grievances. They refused to leave, resulting in mass arrest (see our video below as well as my livestream):
Having witnessed and filmed hundreds of arrests in Washington DC, I can say that a typical peaceful protest ending in mass arrest takes over an hour. DC Metro, Parks Police, and Secret Service tend to be extremely conservative about arrests, granting several warnings with minutes in between. They usually apprehend activists one by one, taking ample time to observe all protocol perfectly.
In this case, from the first warning to the last activist loaded into the police van, the process was over in less than 20 minutes. With only News2Share and one other media outlet present, police had an obvious incentive to clear the incident before anyone else noticed.
According to Popular Resistance, the arrestees were: Carol Gay, from New Jersey, Martin Gugino, from Buffalo, Joy First and Phil Runkel, from Wisconsin, Malachy Kilbride, a Maryland Quaker, Linda LeTendre, from Saratoga Springs, New York, Joan Nicholson, a Pennsylvania Quaker, Max Obuszewski, Baltimore, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, from Kentucky, Trudy Silver & Alice Sutter, from New York City, Brian Terrell, Iowa, Eve Tetaz (elderly and requiring a walker), Washington, D.C.
They are expected be arraigned in D.C. Superior Court at 11 AM on February 3