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Activists Jailed

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Ann Arbor--At 8 am, Tuesday, July 22, U-M economics professor, W. H. Locke Anderson and Canterbury House worker, Jonathon Ellis reported to the Washtenaw County Jail for a three-day sentence.


Anderson and Ellis, along with 116 others were arrested during four days of protest in March, at Congressman Carl Pursell's office. The protest was a last ditch effort to influence Pursell's March 20 House vote in regard to aid to the contras. Pursell refused to meet with protesters and closed his Ann Arbor office after the first day. Protesters were arrested for refusing to leave the foyer outside Pursell's office.


In May, Anderson and Ellis pled guilty to the trespass charge and both refused to pay court costs. Monday, July 21, Judge George Alexander asked the two men if they wished to change their minds. Both told the judge they did not.


Nine people carrying signs showed up at the jail to lend moral support. J. K. Tolford said, "It is important that we protest contra aid whenever we can. And it's important that when people are willing to pay the price we have to pay to do this, that we all band together, and show solidarity with those who are willing to go to jail. I myself am one of the arrestees and I'm going to be tried this fall, I suppose. That action was a mass action, not a few individuals just doing what they want. It's a moral imperative that more and more people are joining in our actions."


Though not sure he will opt for jail in the fall, Tolford said he is seriously considering it an option.


Another supporter, Randy Metsch-Ampel said, "Especially now when it looks like that $100 million in aid is going to go through, I felt it was especially important to come out here. Just yesterday I was listening to N.P.R. and I think it was Colero [a contra leader] was saying that now with $100 million in aid they will be able to wage attacks all over Nicaragua. And there were other U.S. officials admitting that we won't be able to change anything in Nicaragua for several years. So it seems to me that all they want to do is make people suffer and that's totally unacceptable."


Anderson and Ellis wondered aloud whether there would be windows in their jail cells which would allow them some light. Despite their anxiety, they appeared in good spirits and exuded the confidence of people who know that what they're doing is right.


Agenda Staff (more on page 6)


Activists Jailed


Civil disobedience is an act of conscience, a willful breaking of the law. The consequences range from a simple fine to community service, and sometimes to a jail term. Few protesters choose to go to jail of their own accord. Here are two who did:


Jonathan Ellis


I am grateful for this opportunity to give some very personal reasons why I trespassed at Congressman Carl Pursell's office.


Eighteen years ago today I was with Senator Robert Kennedy on his presidential campaign staff. I know first-hand that the reason Robert Kennedy risked his life and ran for president that year was to stop the war in Vietnam. He had seen John Kennedy's intervention escalate into many thousands of American and Vietnamese deaths.


During the brief months of that campaign in 1968, I often heard Robert Kennedy repeat the following words. They are from a speech he first gave at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa to students protesting apartheid, and I last heard them spoken at Robert Kennedy's funeral:


"Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."


Robert Kennedy's campaign is still on my mind eighteen years later in part because it had been a personal test for me. As a child, I had polio and at first was completely paralyzed. By the age of 21, I had worked to the point where it was physically possible for me to keep the hard schedule of a nationwide campaign. However, my physical history kept my draft board from even trying to send me to Vietnam where many of my classmates were to be killed.


I feel a duty to the memory of Robert Kennedy, to the memory of my classmates who died, and to the memory of the people my classmates killed in Vietnam. This time, I will not wait for American bombs to start falling on Nicaraguan villages or for soldiers to come home in body bags again.


I am convinced that President Reagan will continue down the road to an American invasion of Nicaragua, if he thinks the American people will let him get away with it. I chose to commit this trespass to show Congressman Pursell, and the Reagan Administration he supports, that they will have to arrest many Americans if our military intervention in Nicaragua continues.


I regard this trespass as a small act of civil disobedience. At its best, civil disobedience is not an expression of physical force but of moral force. It does not claim that certain individuals are above the law, or that they should be able to disrupt any activity to which they object.


Rather, civil disobedience asserts that citizens have the right, and sometimes the obligation, to force their arrest only if two very particular conditions are present: first, when the activity to which they object is, in their belief, an especially serious wrong, a grave injustice to individuals, or the most dangerous threat to the community as a whole; and second, when other channels have been ineffective.


I believe that my actions at Congressman Pursell's office meet these criteria. We may soon be engaged in a very unjust war with Nicaragua and the votes of my Congressman, over significant and repeated public protests, are paving the way for it. So I chose to force my arrest at his office. In that act I was trying to send one tiny ripple of hope.


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