Revolution#125, April 6, 2008

Chicago: Easter Protest by Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War

It was a routine Easter service in one of the most prestigious Catholic churches in Chicago. Moments into Cardinal George’s homily, voices called out, “The sixth commandment says thou shalt not kill…and yet more than a million Iraqis have been killed during the …invasion of Iraq.” In an aisle stood six young peace activists, who go under the name of Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War. Another activist shouted out, “On January 7, Cardinal George met for lunch with George W. Bush.” As they were quickly surrounded by ushers and church security, another protester let out a scream and collapsed to the floor in fake “blood,” beginning a very short-lived die-in on the church floor. They were quickly hustled out, chanting “even the pope calls for peace.” They were charged with felony destruction to property and battery, with possible jail time of up to 5 years if convicted. They are all currently out on bonds that range from $25,000 to $35,000, after funds were raised from those supporting the action.

The whole event lasted less than a minute. But as the protest was broadcast on the network news, it became a source of intense controversy in the city. The message coming through in the press was primarily a negative one. “It was shocking,” said a man whose pants and jacket had some spots of the fake blood used by the protesters. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” lectured one parishioner, while another accused the activists of scaring children. Cardinal George, who had first told the congregation that “we can be grateful to those who interrupted this holiday,” later denounced the action to the press as “an act of violence.” Even some anti-war activists considered the act well intentioned but counter-productive.

“Remarkable,” was how Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and activist with Catholic Worker Movement, described the action. She told Revolution, “I’m kind of humbled by it really. I’ve been part of different groupings of people who’ve been experimenting with 30-day fasts, and cross country walks, and assembling peace teams in the war zones as the bombs were falling in various parts of Iraq, and nothing I’ve ever seen has accomplished so much outreach, if you will, and discussion as this 50-second activity inside Holy Name Cathedral.…

“I think the reason that so many people have said anything is because this is clearly something that the corporate media decided to report on. And so it’s a story that’s gone far and wide. And I think that I’ve mainly been in touch with people who’ve taken it to heart, as an occasion for some thoughtful consideration, and to ask some real questions—why are people in our country so readily disturbed by stage blood that sullies clothing and carpets and yet, really not so readily disturbed by the reality of bodies broken because of bombing and bullets, and inadequate health care now in Iraq today? Terrific bloodletting and bloodshed and suffering and bereavement and misery and impoverishment has gone on, and it hasn’t really awakened so much emotion in people, as the fact of within 50 seconds of stage blood squeezed out of a tube…by young people who felt that they simply couldn’t sit by without trying to do something, and so had decided to use the time [of] Easter Sunday, when they knew Christians would be gathering and celebrating inside the cathedral, as a time to really ask people to take a closer look at what was happening in terms of blood being shed in Iraq.”

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