The date is March 17, 2003. St. Patrick’s Day and just two days before U.S. bombs began raining down on Baghdad, 40 year-old Teresa Grady, her older sister Clare, Daniel Burns and Vietnam veteran Peter De Mott decided to take action against the impending illegal Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.
The group of Catholic Workers from Ithaca, New York, known as the “St. Patrick’s Four,” entered an Army-Marine Recruiting Center and poured their blood on the walls, recruiting posters and an American flag in an act of non-violent civil resistance to what they knew already was to be the first of countless violations of international law the Bush Administration would commit during their invasion and occupation of sovereign Iraq.
“We are about caring for the poor, needy and disenfranchised,” Teresa told me two days ago when I asked her to sum up what the Catholic Worker movement was about, “We do this while confronting the political and economic structures that cause poverty.”
It had already been a long day, as Teresa had earlier sat through her sister’s sentencing – six months in a federal prison.
The criminalization of dissent in our country is now obvious to anyone paying attention – Clare and Teresa will spend six months in a federal prison for a non-violent symbolic action to protest an illegal war; meanwhile someone guilty of manslaughter will spend less time behind bars, and not in a federal prison.
“As a mother who knows the preciousness of children, not just mine – but all children – I want the court to understand that before we walked into the recruiting station a million people had already died in Iraq from U.S. imposed sanctions, half of them children,” her sister Clare said earlier that day at her sentencing in Binghamton federal court.
I wanted to show my support for the actions of the St. Patrick’s Four (SP4). But nearing the end of a short but concentrated tour of presentations in New York’s capital area, I’d nearly decided not to venture to Binghamton for the sentencing of the group. After arriving there I quickly realized it would have been a big mistake not to have come.
“War is bloody. The blood we brought to the recruiting station was a sign of the blood inherent in the business of the recruiting station,” read the statement the group issued the day of their action, “The young men and women who join the military, via that recruiting station, are people whose lives are precious. We are obligated, as citizens of a democracy, to sound an alarm when we see our young people being sent into harm’s way for a cause that is wholly unjust and criminal.”
I’d only met Teresa earlier that afternoon just before I gave a presentation about the countless violations of international law committed by occupation forces in Iraq, including the initial invasion itself which UN Secretary General Kofi Anan even referred to as an illegal act which contravened the UN Charter.
My presentation ended with a showing of the short film “Caught in the Crossfire” which shows footage of the desolation of Fallujah. The scourge of war is obvious in the city where 70% of the buildings were destroyed by bombs and between 4-6,000 civilians died while illegal weapons and collective punishment were meted out by the US military.
I sat watching this movie, one I’d seen dozens of times from previous presentations I’ve given, as it captured the true plight of the people of Fallujah better than anything else I’ve seen. But I’d never viewed it with someone who, in less than 48 hours time, would be sentenced to six months in a Federal Prison for trying to stop the bloodshed that has been flowing non-stop since the invasion began-and invasion which began less than 48 hours after her action at the recruiting office.
I took the stage after the film ended, and fumbled to speak-caught off-guard by the deep sadness. It hit me that if more people in the US, on a national scale, had been willing to engage themselves in actions like that modeled by the SP4, massacres like that of Fallujah could have been averted.
After the presentation we drove through snow filled hills to the Bronx in New York City. Over a late dinner I asked her a few more questions about topics we hadn’t covered on the way over.
“Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland,” she said, “We are named after him because he represents all of us as Ireland is our heritage.”
As for why they chose to pour their own blood in the military recruiting station, Teresa replied “We poured it on the posters of those beautiful people-to see the blood on them. It was perverse…but it was truthful because war is ugly and perverse. People who join the military, like those in the posters, will be made ugly and perverse by war. And as far as the flag-some of the blood dripped down on the flag-we didn’t pour it on the flag to start. But when I saw the blood get on the flag, I decided to add more-because there really is blood on our flag now.”
The night grew late and we were both exhausted. Teresa had much to do before going to jail for six months.
Before we left the diner where we’d sat, I asked her if she felt it was worth it: “The action, the upcoming half a year in federal prison, was it worth it?”
“After seeing that film, this feels right to me,” she said while nodding, “It feels right that I’m gong to jail. It feels like a piece of cake. Watching the film I thought ‘This is criminal.’ We belong in jail for allowing that kind of atrocity to occur.”
Just before we parted ways, Teresa provided me with the final statement she would make to her judge in less than 48 hours. She would soon leave these thoughts in the courtroom as she is about to begin serving her six month sentence in a federal penitentiary:
“No measure of punishment could change the rightness of the act of March 17th 2003 to call people to conversion of heart and mind away from a great national tragedy. My heart is at peace, in that my actions were in concert with the millions of people of our nation who protested this war.”
“What human being would sit silently by, listening to the screams of a child who is being bludgeoned to death, and do nothing? The people of Iraq were, and are being bludgeoned by our policies.”