Ashes to Ashes

Revolutionary Worker #1191, March 16, 2003, posted at

The day of resistance was kicked off in the early morning in downtown L.A. as 300 people answered a call from the Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) for: "Ashes to Ashes: nonviolent witness against war on Iraq."

The action included a rally, march, interfaith ceremony and civil disobedience. People from many faith traditions participated: Native American (Aztec), Zen Buddhist, Sufi, Muslim, Christian and Jewish. Leland Stewart from the Unity and Diversity Center read from their "Declaration of Interdependence."

Following a 7 a.m. rally at La Placita, the oldest plaza in L.A., protesters marched to the downtown Federal Building. Rev. Dr. George Regas, Director of the Regas Institute, one of the national leaders of the Moratorium, said, "People do it in different ways, and this is our way." In addition to George Regas and Leland Stewart, the protest included many of the most well-respected religious leaders in the peace and justice movement, who have stood with the people for decades.

In the Christian tradition, March 5 was Ash Wednesday. But there was deep symbolism in the large boxes of ashes, which were mixed with ashes brought from Iraq, the product of U.S. bombings. During the interfaith ceremony, Rabbi Steven Jacobs noted, "During the holocaust, 11 million people, and not `just' six million Jews, were killed because they were different: cremated, ashes to ashes. They tried to bury their memory but they could not. So ashes are sacred in our tradition. And I think we all share this: George Bush's policies are turning to ashes on our tongues."

"Ashes are the result of destruction," a Protestant minister said. "When a war is made, when a system of industrial consumption and greed is unleashed, the beautiful growing green things of our world become ashes. The buildings and neighborhoods and parks and living spaces of our common human communities become ashes." Other speakers said the ashes symbolized what the Bush administration has done to the Bill of Rights.

Fr. Chris Ponnet of St. Camillus Catholic Church, announced that he and others were beginning a liquid-only fast for 40 days. Steve Rohde, a constitutional rights lawyer, spoke about the rise of repression in the U.S.

At the end of the ceremony, some marked themselves with ashes. A group of 19 members of the ICUJP who had decided to carry out civil disobedience carried urns with names of U.S. atrocities --Iraq, Hiroshima, Afghanistan--and dumped them at the steps of the Federal Building. Then they stepped into the street and sat down, blocking two lanes. Then they blocked the whole the street. After 10 minutes, they stood up and marched down the center of the street. The crowd surged into the street after them. Someone shouted, "Our streets!" and a reply came: "Our world!"

Protesters blocked the intersection between the Federal Building and LAPD headquarters, tying up traffic and business for over an hour. They included people from the Catholic, Jewish, Episcopalian and Methodist faiths. There were several members of the Catholic Worker, four nuns and five ordained clergy.

Finally, the LAPD came out and issued an order to disperse. As they said the words, "In the name of the people of the state of California," people chanted, "Not in OUR name!"

Nineteen people were charged with "failure to disperse" and released. And that evening the local TV news carried pictures of priests and ministers in their flowing white robes, their hands plastic- cuffed behind their backs, walking proudly and defiantly.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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