Bringing the War Home to the Pentagon and the White House

Washington, D.C. — In a pre-dawn civil disobedience action Monday morning, forty-one War Resisters League members and others sat down and were arrested at a pedestrian entrance to the Pentagon, slowing foot traffic at that location and prompting officials to close the U.S. military headquarters’ sole stop on Washington’s Metroline for a period.

Protesters — including Elizabeth McAllister and her daughter Frieda Berrigan, Susan Crane, Ken Crowley, and others with a long history of peace activism and arrests for civil disobedience — leafleted or sat down to block people from entering Entrance Three of the sprawling U.S. military command.

Crane called upon the backed-up line of civilians and military personnel waiting at the security checkpoint to “remember the innocent victims in Iraq.” Another protester urged officers to think about what they were doing and “resign your commissions.”

Wearing a Veterans for Peace garrison cap and t-shirt, I took the opportunity to say, “Good morning, my name is Mike Ferner. I’m from Toledo, Ohio,” and explained that I had served in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman during Viet Nam, taking care of hundreds of soldiers coming back “in pieces” from that conflict. “We have to get smarter than that,” I implored.

At the same time, protesters blocked other portions of Entrance Three, delivering various messages to hundreds more of the 26,000 workers in the building with over seventeen miles of corridors.

Pentagon police handcuffed each of us and led us back down a stairway to the access road where cars and buses added to the flow of workers arriving from the Metro. Sitting on the curb, with our arms pulled back tightly behind us, we continued to talk to as many men and women as we could before being taken by patrol car to a nearby Pentagon facility.

Over the next four hours, we were fingerprinted, photographed and booked, receiving written citations for disobeying a lawful order, and given dates in January to appear at the Arlington, Virginia Federal District Court.

The night before the action, sixty people, including those who were ultimately arrested and others providing support, met at the offices of a community organization in the Shaw district of Northwest Washington, where a volunteer attorney from the National Lawyers Guild briefed us. Other Guild observers were present as we were arrested and met us after we were released from booking. The action was well prepared.

Corporate media coverage of the morning’s activity, however, was minimal, except that Berrigan gave a phone interview to Democracy Now from the booking facility and that I gave an interview to an Indymedia reporter on the street in front of the White House. Pentagon officials have banned any photographs of the facility since the attack on September 11, 2001, which may have made the corporate media reluctant to cover the event, but no print or radio reporters were there to observe, either. Organizers had sent out news releases three days earlier but had not scheduled a news conference for when arrestees were released from booking — perhaps, we can do better the next time.

I went to support the much larger civil disobedience action conducted by United for Peace and Justice. At that event, the arrest of Cindy Sheehan — her “first time being arrested” — and nearly 400 others drew considerable press attention. A small number of those arrested at the White House, including Franciscan priest Jerry Zawada, had also been arrested earlier at the Pentagon.

Neither action, in itself, can end the war. Both are nonetheless critical first steps to bring the war home to the Pentagon and the White House.

Mike Ferner

Mike Ferner is a freelance writer and member of Veterans for Peace. In addition to participating in the civildis obedience action at the Pentagon, he joined nearly a half-million peace activists in Washington, D.C. September 24.