A Different Kind of Arrest Report: Civil Disobedience in DC

On Thursday, June 28, Women’s March and partner organizations organized a mass civil disobedience called "End Family Detention: Women Take Action" in Washington, D.C.

H-CAN members Sara Atkins and Ann Elise Catherine Mclaughlin traveled to the action and were arrested. They share their experiences with us here.  For Ann Elise, this was her first act of civil disobedience--a big step! Sara is an experienced political birddogger and anticipated facing her seventh arrest.

Note: These are the experiences and opinions of the participants and not H-CAN. H-CAN does not, as an organization, encourage civil disobedience, which is illegal; persons do so at their own risk and of their own volition.

Sara Atkins's story:

For new friends, I always write a recap of my arrest experience because it helps me process and also frankly because I want to be able, fifty years down the line, to have something to share to my future generations so they can learn. This is history being made. (For people who do not know me, I am a Lubavitch Chassidic woman and I might forget to translate Hebrew/Yiddish words!)

My day started with my little 6-year-old not wanting to go to sleep. She finally went to sleep after asking if I would be in jail when she wakes up. My kids blow me away on how they simply get it, but saddens me in some ways, because it's become a normal part of their life. By the time she fell asleep, I had time to shower and pack my food bag.

Our amazing car group (Sarah Weinstein, Rachel Suzanne, Beth Goldstein Huxen, and Ann Elise Catherine Mclaughlin) met at my house and we headed out in pouring rain. When we got to Freedom Plaza in DC, we all checked in and I met Sophie Ellman-Golan and her amazing mother. It was HOT! In one part of the Plaza there was a rally happening. I just wanted to see my DC family.  There were so many hugs from birddog nation!

There was speakers and another training and people learning chants and songs. It was pretty awesome to see a sea of women dressed in white. I stood out like a sore thumb in my black AND white. I just don't own a white cardigan or long sleeve or a white snood. Sophie brought Linda Sarsour to come and meet me. What I can say about the conversation is that we both are in a place where we realize we are stronger together if we can find places of commonality. We are going to arrange a time to really sit down. Right now, a time when the GOP is trying to destroy and take away our democracy, we MUST do the hard work to find a way for a coming together around common issues. I urge my Jewish friends to trust me that the conversation from both us of was incredibly sincere.

We started marching to Department of Justice. Seeing the line of women snake around the streets was powerful! I hope they got an aerial shot! We started singing a song and I admit, it got me choked up. There is a part that talks about the voice of my great-granddaughter and all I could think about was my Bubbie, my great grandmother, who came to this country fleeing the pogroms that were wiping out the Jews of her hometown being saved because of HIAS and how she then went on to save countless lives from the Holocaust as President of Chicago HIAS. One of those lives was my childhood Rabbi, a man who invented the Reform Jewish camping movement and hundreds of thousands of lives have been impacted because of this. I hope I am doing her proud.

On the route, we walked past the Trump Hotel and the crowd offered lots of boos, middle fingers, and hisses. Also, an even louder voice of chants and song. By the time we got to the Department of Justice, I have to admit, I was exhausted from the sun. We were given the signal to sit. We knew they most likely would try to avoid arresting us there. We sang, we chanted, and we had some speakers. I met some new and amazing people and was so proud they all knew what Torah Trumps Hate is. It was still so HOT! I chugged water because I was sweating so hard and was worried about dehydration.

We moved on, heading to the Hart Senate building. The walk was again, really intensely hot and we were screaming the whole time. About a mile away, I knew I was not going to make it. Besides the fact that I had to pee like a racehorse, it felt like the ground was moving and not in a good way. Sarah was so sweet and stuck with me and helped me call a Lyft. We saw a older woman who was behind the crowd slowly walking and offered her a ride with us. I couldn't even put on my seat belt myself I was so dizzy. The air conditioning in the car was what I needed--badly! I was able to breathe (I have asthma and I didn't realize how my lungs were struggling till I got in the car) and my body calmed. We got to Hart and I had to go. The car had to make multiple reroutes cause of streets blocked off cause of US! At Hart, I asked people "Can I budge? I have to pee so bad and can't hold it." Everyone was so beyond kind! Even at the bathroom line they all pushed me to the front. I made it! At that point, my head was no longer foggy and I could focus on the work!

I was seriously so glad that Paul Davis had told me to take a Lyft and he was one of the first people I saw when I was ready to go again. We waited for everyone to get through security and seriously enjoyed the a/c! I was taking it all in, expecting to be in the heat for HOURS and HOURS either in the barn or on the side of the road being processed. Finally everyone was in. It was time to go!

We started chanting/singing and got the signal to sit! Nice cool marble--YES! Over 1,000 people were with us, and the echos on the marble were just powerful. I recommend everyone put on their bucket list to protest in the senate buildings at some point because the intense power of the experience is mind-blowing. For me, as someone who is extremely religious, civil disobedience is one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. Multiple times I closed my eyes and I could hear the Abishter (G-d) so clearly. I could feel this collective energy and power pulsing through the entire building going in and around me. That it was all women risking arrest. It was beyond amazing. I was brought to tears so many times.

Soon after we started, supporters on the many levels (the building is in a square around an open area that goes all the way to the top and the hallways all overlook it) started unfurling banners! It made us all so excited! Powerful! After a bit, the Capitol Police went to confiscate them though most let them fall to us before they could get one. One BRAVE woman as the Capitol Police grabbed hold, she spun around in it, bundled it up and threw it over the ledge. She was put in cuffs and arrested!

Soon after, the Capitol Police started making arrests. I was incredibly surprised that they did not cuff us. I was not complaining at all cause I usually am black and blue from them! I was one of the first 100 arrested. They lined us up into groups of 25. This is because they needed a group of 25 per arresting officer. (I do not know why it was 25 but I assume it was for easy counting.) We had a very nice woman as our arresting officer who on more than one occasion was laughing with us as we asked her a million questions. Eventually they started taking us out and the eruption of cheers was insane! Off the charts! I'm still flying from it, frankly!

They took us across the street to a park, which didn't surprise me, because I knew they tend to pat us down in the park. Still no cuffs. I looked over and saw the long, long table with citation pads and knew they were not fully processing us, we would be given a ticket for post and forfeit (like a parking ticket; we wouldn't have to see a judge) and have to come back to pay it.  It just was too many people for them to process at the moment; we would be there all night and into the next day if they had. Boy, was I happy that they were going to keep us in the shade on the soft grass until we were released.

There were some rumors going around that they would confiscate our ID, take our stuff, and refuse us food and water, would keep us through the night, and some other crazy things. They took our IDs so they could run them and make sure nobody had an outstanding warrant. This is NORMAL! They never took any of our stuff, which is NOT the norm. Normally, everything is put into a bag which is returned when we are released. Even when I was processed outside before, they NEVER let us stream and basically party. Heck, normally they yell at us when we chant, sing, and cheer. None of that this time! This was 100% the easiest arrest out of my seven, hands down. For the first timers, please don't think it will be that easy if you do it again!

They were very prepared for us this time, so things went smoothly. The only thing they did not think ahead on was water. Normally they hand water out very freely. I asked because my mouth felt like cotton balls again and I was told unless it was REALLY necessary, they were not giving it out. I think I was processed about two hours after I was arrested. They were smiling and kind. At that point, I really needed water and told them so, because I did not know where we were going from there once released and they gave me a water immediately.

I made a point (especially since they were actually really kind this time) to thank them. Frankly, if we go and they refuse to arrest us, the media maybe will give a brief line. Mass arrests make major news. We all have a part to play. They were doing theirs. The Capitol Police I came in contact with pretty clearly agreed with us and thanking them and reminding them they had a part in this they really appreciated. More than one apologized to me for arresting me until I explained and said thanks. They can't participate on our side and after talking to them, I believe a number of them would if they could.

Once we were released, we walked to the train station. We headed back to Freedom Plaza to check back in and head home. They had pizza, cold Coke, oranges, and music. Boy, did that cold Coke save me. I was starting to get woozy again from the heat and it made all the difference! From there, we headed home and I was home by ten o'clock. Hell, I am not sure I have been released by ten ever before!

According to Capitol Police, 700 women were arrested. We are ALL sisters now. We will continue to make our voices heard. I hope they continue to come out, because this will not be the end. This is the start of a long summer once again of civil disobedience actions. To my birddog nation family--I love you and miss you all already. We will win!

I am sunburned pretty badly but I will be okay; it's a small price to pay. This Shabbos, I will be with everyone in spirit who are marching. I will be sleeping and cuddling the kids. The energy I took into me from this will help my Shabbos davening (prayers) fly.

Ann Elise Catherine Mclaughlin's story:

As I prepare to take an OurBus back to DC this Sunday (for two hours then return home) to pay my civil disobedience citation, I figured now would be a good time to write some of my thoughts on my participation in the June 28 civil disobedience action in DC in response to the administration's zero-tolerance policy and resulting family separations.

I have marched, called my legislators, sent postcards, used resistbot, and made donations, but I felt I needed to do more. Then I saw a posting regarding an action in DC with a risk of arrest. I was nervous! It had been over 30 years since I had participated in any "risky" action. So, I reflected, then I spoke with my spouse, then my children, and with their complete support, I reached out to my local Facebook groups asking for answers to my concerns. Immediately, I had support, and even better, an email from a local group's chair saying she too was a middle-aged mom risking arrest for the first time. At the same time, a lovely woman, Sara Atkins, asked if I wanted to carpool with her, and three other powerful women who have been arrested numerous times and would answer my questions, support me, and keep a watchful eye on me in DC. Fortunately, I work for a very progressive and flexible attorney, who also approved my time off knowing I might not return to work until the next week if the arrest delayed my return. So, I was in!

Several nights before, there were phone conferences sharing important information and answering questions from the over 200 callers. The night before the event, I prepared my supplies: a water bottle, sunblock, driver's license, cellphone, and my inked white shirt with my message. I removed some of my jewelry and hid $20 in the sole of my sneaker. (Thanks for the tip, Amy KS.) I left at 4:30 a.m. to meet with the carpool of Sara, Sarah, Beth, and Rachael; new-to-me activist friends. We drove (through a thunderstorm), talked, shared personal history, discussed past actions, and made plans for meeting up if separated.

Near 9 a.m., we were at Freedom Plaza in DC. It was encouraging for me to see a gathering sea of mostly women in white shirts of all ages, abilities, and races. Music was playing as I checked in and filled out a legal form, received $50 cash to pay my fine, and checked in my belongings that I couldn't carry. Portapotties were on site, as well as free food and water. Organizers were having small group discussions in preparation for the action. And then we waited...and waited...and waited in the sun as speech after speech and news interviews were made; all while capital police patrolled the plaza listening to the organizers' plans. Finally near 1:30 p..m, the call was made to begin marching to the DOJ. This was powerful! We were a collective of invigorated people all chanting, protesting the administration's policies, and calling for families to be reunited.

We arrived at DOJ to find ALL the entrances blocked, closed, and barricaded (no surprise here) so we sat in the street AND MORE SPEECHES HAPPENED. (This was my lowest point as I hunted for shade and listened to the calls of "medic, medic" as protesters began to pass-out or fall ill due to the sun and heat).

After about 45 minutes, the call was made to stand up to continue marching to the Senate Hart building. For a middle-aged not-so-fit gal, this held me in a low point, until finally I saw the bottleneck of participants slowly being processed through the metal detectors to enter the Hart building. Fortunately, a participant steered my group into an alternative entrance and upon entering the A/C, it was a wonderful relief. We all made our way to the central courtyard...and waited! The delay was due to trying to process over 1,000 marchers through the one or two entrances with metal detectors. But the crowd grew; I saw Susan Sarandon walking.

Then the sign was given to gather and begin chanting and it was deafening, powerful, emotional (I got teary-eyed singing the song about the "voice of my great-granddaughter"), banners were unfurled along the balconies, and senators and aides came to windows as I watched the police circle the periphery.

I started to get nervous. I mentioned to Sara that the police were coming and she waved me off with no concern and said, "Just keep chanting. It's fine." Then police began trying to remove the banners and a few were tossed into the crowd amongst screams of support and draped above the women chanting on the floor. Then the Capitol Police made three announcements regarding eventual arrest and as one and on signal, those who were supporting stepped back as those risking arrest sat down. And very quickly, the police began gathering groups of women (25 in each group) for arrest. They approach you, give you a verbal warning that you will be arrested, you relinquish your ID and get placed along the wall, and await being taken out of the building, to cheers from the protesters.

Due to the size of the participants cited, we were not cuffed, nor possessions taken (I had my cellphone the whole time), and we were taken to a park nearby, sitting in the shade to await processing by a line of fifty officers sitting at desks on the sidewalk with bottles of water, pens, and citation pads. About 1-2 hours later, as participants were still being brought out to the park, I was called and processed with my citation and was informed I had to return within fifteen days to appear and pay my $50 fine. I then met up with the other four women, and we went back to Freedom Plaza to check-out (accounting for all participants) to cheers, and cold drinks, and pizza. We then drove home at rush hour and I was back to my house by 10 p.m.

So, my take-away...

The bad: I didn't like the waiting while the talking heads got their sound-bites and photo-ops. I was nervous and just wanted to get marching, protesting, and risking arrest--really doing something. Communication on the day could have been much better. The art of surprise was lost with all the standing around. And finally, I don't know if it made one damn bit of difference. 

The good:  The conference calls the nights before Thursday; the solidarity and care of all the people on Thursday watching out for each other; the acceptance of everyone's personal choice to participate to the level they felt comfortable; not feeling alone in my dismay and feeling of needing to do something/anything; seeing Senators Warren, Duckworth, Gillibrand, and Blumenthal come out in support and having Rep. Jaypal get arrested with us; and meeting women from all over the country who made bigger sacrifices than I to come and participate in non-violent action.

That night, as I talked with my husband Richard before falling asleep I said, "I don't know if it did any good. I was still privileged in my experience; no zip-ties, no holding cell, no pat-down, no removal of my personal effects and communication with the outside world, and no REAL risk to my person--just an inconvenience...and I wonder if it will change anything. I personally have a better understanding of 'good people' who move towards violence. I can understand it if that is what it takes to effect change." Even now, I still wonder, did it really do anything? What is MY next step? How do I affect change?