by Keeley Colville
Each summer, the Atlantic Life Community hosts a Faith and Resistance retreat in Washington, DC. It is held during the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945. We use this time to remember the dead and to raise our voices and say, “Never Again”. I went along with my dad this year.
After holding demonstrations against war and nuclearism at the Pentagon, the Department of Energy and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Military, our final stop was the White House on the afternoon of August 9th.. I was arrested there after participating in a die-in along with two men, Steve Miller and Start Loving. We laid out in hundred degree weather on hot concrete, bearing signs with pictures of atomic bomb victims. Steve, Start, and the protesters not risking arrest were at my side and giving me encouragement. Mary Grace came to give us water and my dad stood behind us with a sign to shade our faces from the sun until the police had given us the second warning. (The law requires the police to warn us three times to leave the area before they can arrest us for tresspassing.) An hour and three warnings later, the three of us were arrested and taken to the main processing center, Anacostia.
I was frisked, relieved of my shoelaces (so that I wouldn’t commit suicide, I guess!), and put in a cell at Anacostia. My cell had a metal chair not quite big enough to lie down on, a metal toilet and a camera in the corner. With very little to work with, I had ample time to reflect on the previous few hours and honestly, I began to doubt myself.
What example could I possibly be setting if I was locked up in a cell where no one could see me? Was it worth it? I spent an hour out on the concrete where I could’ve sworn I had gotten third degree burns and now I had to wait around until they let me out? Who in their right mind would do this? My dad is crazy to have done this so many times before. He once stayed in jail for eleven months, while I couldn’t even last three hours.
A very slim, balding woman came to talk to me and had me call my mom. This was the first instance where I actually felt like a prisoner. She talked down to me more than any other adult had before, seemingly trying to intimidate me. She asked if my dad made me risk arrest, and after having no luck getting through to anyone at home, she sent me back to my cell while she tried some more. She returned later confirming that my dad hadn’t abducted me and forced me to refuse the three warnings I was given. I wished I’d had someone to laugh with. I couldn’t believe she could possibly be serious, but apparently, she was.
The next time she came they took me out of my cell and put me back in handcuffs as she told me what was going to happen to me; walking through every step with wide eyes and a stern tone. I would be taken to a juvenile processing center where I would have to wait until I was fully put in the system She even threatened me with having to stay in for three weeks! However, the fact that other teenagers have been arrested for similar actions comforted me. I was sure I’d be out of there that night.
The policewoman transporting me from Anacostia to the juvenile center had an obvious dislike for my actions. During the entire ride, she talked about me to someone on the phone and at that point, I wasn’t afraid, I was angry. How could she be so disrespectful? How could she even disagree with what I had done? I should not be treated like a prisoner for going against the norm of the citizens in this country and trying to put and end to killing. Who do these people think they are? I was patted down again and fingerprinted twice before being left for thirteen hours in what may be the most insanity-provoking room imaginable. With its whitewashed walls and unbearably cold temperature, I began to feel like a mental patient more than a prisoner. There were two large windows which made it easy for them to see anything I did—not that there was much to do. I could hear them talking about me, asking each other what I was there for. After all, I was the only girl and for that matter, the only white girl in the whole facillity.
That night, fifteen other kids were arrested; all male. They were allowed to share rooms while I was by myself. At one point I was escorted to the bathroom and as I was coming back, I saw noses pressed up against the windows as though they had never seen a girl before. Was I in some kind of zoo? I regretted doing the action even more. As I was being let out, one officer posed a question that caught me so off guard, I didn’t know what to say: “So I guess you won’t be doing this again, huh?”
Would I? After all I had been through in those thirteen hours, hating it as much as I did, would I go through with it again?
The next morning, I met up with some friends of ours and headed off to court. They kept congratulating me and telling me how brave it was to have done that. They passed on messages to me from other people and asked me so many questions about the night before. Within an hour, my mind had changed about the entire experience. My action had the potential to influence someone else, just as my own dad’s actions have influenced me. If what I’d done could move just a few people to participate next time, they could get others to as well. Just think, all we need is a chain reaction to get going and before you know it, the whole country could be demanding peace! I might have made a difference in someone’s life that day, whether we were out there on that pavement for an hour or three days.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Now, there is no doubt in my mind that I’d be willing to risk arrest again. Just the fact that I followed what my conscience said and attempted to make people aware of injustices in the world made the whole trip worth while. Not only that, but it made an amazing story, and after relaying it to friends at school, I felt like I had finally done something that I was meant to do. I used this story for my college essay and I hope to be studying journalism this time next year. Perhaps by writing about the movement I can make a difference as well. I encourage everyone to join with the effort to raise issues and promote peace. By giving yourself to this, you can make it possible to end war and to attain social justice and equality everywhere.
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Keeley under arrest at the White House. August 9th, 2007