Six Seattleites, myself included, will go to federal court this week, facing charges stemming from our arrest in Senator Maria Cantwell's office last August.
The supposed crimes we are charged with resulted from our repeated attempts to petition Cantwell to stop the very real crimes perpetrated by our government upon refugees and immigrants. If we live in a representative democracy, what other avenues do we have to stop the abuse and deaths of detainees, acts which would be considered war crimes if we were at war with these people. Since we are not at war, aren't these ongoing crimes even worse?
The six of us arrested by Cantwell were asking her to do what many in government and the media are failing to do: give the horrors visited upon immigrants today the coverage it deserves, coverage proportional to the ongoing horrors, and coverage that reflects the continuity and worsening of daily abuse, instead of the vagaries of the news cycle.
For five weeks last summer we asked Cantwell to visit the border camps, to regularly and publicly remind constituents of the crimes committed in our name, to hold a town hall, to use her bully-pulpit, etc. After many weeks of no response from Cantwell, and clear indications from her office staff that our concerns went nowhere, we waited patiently in her office last August for some form of response. Our arrest resulted not from our actions, but rather from Cantwell's inability to deal with this issue in any constructive way. There is nothing inherently illegal in staying in a senator's office after closing, as I myself have done numerous times in the past (most notably in Cantwell's office in 2006).
We are now witnessing the unimaginable horrors of people fleeing terror and violence in their countries only to find it intentionally—as the actions and writings of Stephen Miller, his supporters, and enablers make clear—visited upon them in our country or at our borders.
This is a cruelty and injustice unique in US history for the near total absence of ulterior motives: it is not done for profit (though a few companies do), for property, for land, for resources, or for the control of a labor force. We visit these horrors upon fellow humans simply for the sake of terrorizing people into fleeing the US or not wanting to come here. In this regard the pointless and cruel internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II may be a unique analogy which explains why so many Japanese Americans have become involved in fighting against the current injustices, and why the actor George Takei (who spent four years in the US internment camps) has repeatedly stated, "What's happening now is a new grotesque low."
It was Cantwell's Washington state director who called the police to have us removed, and another staff member who stated, just before our arrest, "No one will know what you did, no one will care." Is this true? Is it possible that a senator can be that insulated from her constituents and have such hubris?
The six people facing federal trial on January 30th did nothing courageous. We simply petitioned an elected representative in a manner proportional to the urgency and the moral crisis at stake. Future generations will be ashamed of a time when, as the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko cautions, "common integrity could look like courage."
What will Cantwell, and all of us living through this time, say when a future US president says, as President Ford said in 1976, concerning Japanese American internment during World War II, "We now know what we should have known then." And so, the inevitable question: why can't we avoid the moral obliviousness to what is in front of us and avoid all the regret later for the unimaginable pain we are causing right now?
Howard Gale is part of The Seattle Six, a life-long activist, and a research psychologist living in Seattle. He urges you to come to The Seattle Six's trial on January 30th (8:30 a.m. press conference, 9:30 a.m. trial) and to find out more at the pre-trail event at the University of Washington on January 29.