March 27, 2003
Not in Our Names
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
Civil disobedience and prayer service make statement on war with Iraq
Binghamton — When people arrived at the Federal Building on Henry Street just before 8 a.m. on March 20, they were unable to go inside. They were greeted with a large sign reading “Closed. The business of war is not in our names.” A dozen opponents of the war on Iraq held that sign, blocking the doors, refusing to move. It was an organized event of civil disobedience involving people from a variety of backgrounds, including several from Southern Region parishes.
Binghamton police were called to make arrests. Each of the demonstrators was placed in plastic handcuffs, photographed and led to a waiting sheriff’s department van. Father Timothy Taugher, diocesan director of Social Action Ministry, was among those charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor violation. Father Taugher said he had made several public witness efforts in the months leading up to the war, including vigils at the Federal Building. He wrote letters and made phone calls to federal representatives. During a visit to Washington, Father Taugher spoke personally to U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton about the prospect of war.
“I never believed that this is a moral war. [I] disagreed with the policy that’s underwritten this war. I just had to make a statement personally that it’s not going to be done in my name. I’m not going to subscribe to this or support it,“ Father Taugher said. So he felt it was time to respond in a different way, and risk arrest. “People say, ‘What are you going to get out of it? What is it going to do?’ I said nothing, but I needed to do it. It’s also the reality that there are people over there who are in far greater danger than I am. And to be in front of the Federal Building blocking a door was small compared to what they’re doing, people in Iraq,” he added.
James Clune of St. James Parish in Johnson City was also arrested at the demonstration. “We were making it absolutely clear that this was not in our names. We’ve withdrawn our consent,” Clune said. “We made it clear that public opinion said that this is illegitimate. This war is illegitimate, it’s illegal, it’s immoral, it’s totally unjustified. The way of dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein can be done in many other means, primarily through honest use of the UN.” Clune has first-hand experience of the conditions in Iraq. He visited the country in 1999 with the group Voices in the Wilderness. “I saw a lot of sick kids who were sick because of the water system that we shot up in the first Gulf War. I’d like to see the water system fixed. We collapsed their economy because of the embargo. I saw a lot of kids sick with cancers because of depleted uranium that we used, the same kind of cancers that Gulf War veterans’ children have been suffering here,” he said. “We haven’t cleaned up our mess from the first time around and we haven’t been honest about that. And when we talk about weapons of mass destruction, we need to be clear that whatever weapons of mass destruction that the Iraqi government may have, we have a lot more,” Clune noted.
“Jesus renounced violence. Jesus called for justice for all. Jesus was willing to upset a lot of apple carts to do that. He was willing to be quite dramatic and he was willing to say no to all the death dealers and all those who collaborate with them in his time. And we need to do that in our time,” he said. Father Taugher saw the civil disobedience and arrest as part of his Lenten journey. “This was my Lenten call. I had to give up what was comfortable to me. I’ve been arrested before,” he said. “Detained at Fort Benning. But it was different to do it here at home where there’s more attention. But there’s more that comes with it that makes it uncomfortable. But I couldn’t let that be factor. I had to move beyond that.”
Also among those arrested was Jack Gilroy of St. Ambrose Parish in Endicott. Gilroy spent six months in jail for a protest at the former School of the Americas, now named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC). By midday, the group of 12 had been processed at the police station and arraigned before a Binghamton City Court Judge. The demonstrators pleaded not guilty. Each will be getting a letter from the Broome County District Attorney detailing their next court appearance which will eventually lead to a trial. After being released from custody, Father Taugher and others arrested returned to the Federal Building to continue their demonstration against the war on Iraq. More than 200 people later joined an interfaith prayer service for peace at Blessed Sacrament Church in Johnson City which Father Taugher helped organize.