Cash on the barrelhead

posted by Mike on April 4th, 2006

Got in a little trouble at the county seat
Lord they put me in the jailhouse, for loafing on the street
When the judge heard the verdict, I was a guilty man
He said forty-five dollars, or thirty days in the can

Said that’ll be cash on the barrelhead, son
You can take your choice if you’re twenty-one
No money down, no credit plan
No time to chase you, ’cause I’m a busy man
— “Cash on the Barrelhead,” Ira and Charlie Louvin

Why get arrested over the Darfur genocide?

Last week, nine of us took a couple days off work, protested the Darfur genocide at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington DC, blocked the entrance, got arrested, paid $50, and went home.

None of my friends asked me “Why?”, but my fellow protesters were asked this by their friends.

Here’s my answer: because the Sudanese government bought a $1 million ad last month in the New York Times. (PDF of ad, via Jeroen.)

As John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group says, “This is not the Taliban. Bashir is not Suddam Hussein. They make outrageous statements for a particular audience but their actions are of a regime that wants to play ball internationally, that wants to be included.” The Sudanese government don’t want to be cut off from the community of nations. And they care how they are perceived.

Getting arrested was my way of letting the Sudanese government know (thanks, Sudan Tribune) that one more American doesn’t buy their spin on Darfur.

I hope that as the Million Voices for Darfur campaign escalates throughout April, the arrest is one of a mounting series of events that make some official in Khartoum slightly more worried than he would otherwise be, and take a slightly less murderous attitude towards Darfur policy than he would otherwise take. And that would save lives, keep people from being raped, and bring the day we see peace in Darfur a little closer.

Ammon Hennacy used to say, “I may not change the world, but I will not let the world change me.” If I did nothing, the world would change me into a person who thinks genocide is inevitable, and working against it is a waste of time.

On the bunk in the cell that David Maher and I shared, people had scratched FREE DARFUR, FREE TIBET, and FREE ME.

Getting arrested may not have freed Darfur. But it freed me.

Seth Shames, Helen Goldkind, and Ken Hannaford-Ricardi at the Sudanese Embassy
Seth Shames, his grandmother Helen Goldkind (a Holocaust survivor), and Ken Hannaford-Ricardi demonstrate near the Sudanese Embassy as Secret Service agents observe them.

What about the lawn?

If you’ve read about our fast for Darfur at the Sudanese Embassy last August, you know that our group of Catholic Worker protesters made a substantial contribution to the re-landscaping of the embassy lawn.

When we arrived there for our most recent protest, a familiar embassy staffer in a suit was unloading topsoil from a minivan and stacking the bags on the lawn. The lawn looked just as we’d left it.

“Mr. Bashara!” I exclaimed. Scott Schaeffer-Duffy gave him a big hug.

It is one thing to say that you have love in your heart towards a government’s employees, while opposing the policies of that government. It is another thing, a great gift, to be able to express that love, and know it is not just empty words.

Scott & Mr. Bashara move a timber
August 2005: Demonstrator Scott Schaeffer-Duffy and embassy staffer Mr. Bashara move a timber.

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