Police horns blast out their first, second, and third warnings. Officers mounted on horses appear like giants out of the crowd pushing past the bright pink banner on which is written “Peace on Earth.” Radio and television reporters swarm on every side with heavy cameras and microphones, threatening to crush those of us kneeling in prayer on the sidewalk in front of the White House.
I’m in a very mixed crowd of protesters on the verge of being arrested. We are a teeming mass of pentecostals, pacifists, and pagans; Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis, and Katrina evacuees; anarchists, Gold Star moms, hip-hop preachers, and war vets. We are “rabble” in the ancient sense of the word—a “tumultuous crowd.” We are the “scraped together masses” of Numbers 11:4; the “mixed multitude” described in Exodus 12:38. And we are roused.
While our placards demand an immediate end to the Iraq war, I realize that the hunger present here is much deeper and wider than a simple political message. These are people straining toward liberation. In the midst of the chaos I keep thinking, “They are yearning to be free.”
BY THE END of that September day in 2005, I was one of 370 people arrested for not dispersing when our permit to demonstrate was revoked. Many of us spent about 10 hours handcuffed, waiting to be processed. Everyone was given the option of either a court appearance or a $75 fine. My arrest slip identified my “property” as a Bible, a set of keys, and shoelaces. All were returned to me intact.