ON THE SUNNY Monday before Easter 2015, roughly 60 people, some wearing clerical collars, gathered in front of Key Arena in Seattle. “Build futures, not cages,” one sign read. “Love youth/build hope/invest in futures,” read another.
The timing of this protest against a proposed new youth jail in Seattle’s Central District was no accident: Activists had dubbed it Holy Table-Turning Monday, a commemoration of Jesus flipping over the tables of money changers in the temple square in Jerusalem.
The group, a mix of church people—Methodist, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, and others—and organizers from Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), crossed the street and entered the lobby of a building housing the offices of Howard S. Wright, the contractor hired to construct the proposed detention center. An uneasy PR man walked out from the glass-walled offices and chatted with a pastor in a purple stole.
Meanwhile, members of the group set up a card table and laid a purple tablecloth on it. They piled it high with nickels, symbolizing the 30 pieces of silver Judas received in exchange for his betrayal of Jesus, and cards with hand-written messages. “Change agent,” one said. “Be accountable to our history and dismantle the prison-industrial complex,” said another. The group prayed, acknowledging their own complicity in the system they sought to destroy. Then, as a unit, they flipped the table over.
Nickels crashed to the ground and the tablecloth fell in a heap of purple and lace. Folding up the table, the group walked out. A few office workers peeked out into the lobby.