A 52-day peace-in ends in arrest
Congresswoman Doris Matsui’s staff approached the March 22 sit-in at her office in the federal courthouse on I Street like each of the 51 days before it. They shook hands, chatted and brought large Dixie cups of water to the protesters occupying the tan sofas in the waiting area defined by gray cubicle walls.
But on day 52, the Sacramento Coalition to End the War decided to up their resistance—in an attempt to grab the Congresswoman’s attention the day before she voted on an Iraq war funding bill—by encroaching on office policies outlined in a document on the waiting-area coffee table.
1) “No more than four people in the office at one time.”
At about 9 a.m. seven protesters entered the office. For the first time in 52 days, protesters began reading the names of the dead.
2) “Reading material of interest to all constituents has been placed on tables in the front office and should not be moved or covered by personal belongings.”
At 10:13 a.m., a total of 15 protesters populated the waiting area. Lists of dead Iraqis and American soldiers overtook the stacks of rules and Matsui press releases denouncing the war.
Since the start of the peace-in protest on January 8, at least one coalition representative has sat-in Matsui’s office during business hours every day.
Their message: Vote no to more war money.
“I still believe we can make change in this country, but it’s a little harder than I thought,” coalition spokesperson Cres Vellucci, a former journalist and Vietnam War military correspondent, told SN&R.
“She keeps saying that she’s opposed to the war, but she’s gonna vote for more funding for the war—it’s politics,” he said.
“The congresswoman has opposed the war from the beginning. It is [more] a difference of strategy than of substance,” Matsui’s chief of staff, Joe Trahern, said. He explained that Matsui agrees with the coalition on many issues, but ending the war is not as simple as cutting off funding.
3) “Keep the noise volume to a professional level.”
Protesters added clauses as they read through the names of the dead: “killed by a sliver that penetrated his head almost four years ago today … [died in] a war that has lasted longer than the second World War … all little boys … kind of a bloody day, I guess.”
At 12:47 p.m., the number of protesters peaked at 17. The group raised their voices and read in unison.
4) “Cell phone conversations and ring tones are distractions unsuitable for a professional work environment.”
Vellucci took cell-phone calls from an office cubicle. He told media contacts that protesters were risking arrest in Matsui’s office as they refused to stop reading the names of the dead.
At 5 p.m., protesters who did not wish to be arrested exited the office.
The remaining seven joked, snacked on energy bars and waited.
“The sad thing about all this is we’ll probably find ourselves in the same position next year—with 1,000 more soldiers’ names to read,” said protester Karen Bernal, who had chosen to leave the office.
Federal Protective Service officers gave the final seven a chance to exit. They didn’t. Handcuffs arrived at 5:23 p.m.
The crew of about 15 crowded into one elevator and the door closed on day 52.
On day 53, a majority of the House, including Matsui, decided to pass the bill, which approves about $100 billion in war spending and set a 2008 deadline for troop withdrawal. The protesters, cited and released, ended the peace-in.