No arrests in Worcester panhandling civil disobedience

In an act of civil disobedience against Worcester’s new anti-panhandling ordinances, three Worcester residents today begged for money on the median in Lincoln Square, directly across from police headquarters. The event was held on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which Christians mark with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.


Gordon Davis, a blind anti-discrimination advocate, held a bucket reading BLIND and represented the disabled. Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, a Catholic Worker who has housed the homeless in Worcester for decades, was dressed as St. Francis, himself a beggar. Robert Peters, a long-time Buddhist meditator, dressed in the robes he wears as a lay Buddhist.



At least four people called the police to complain. According to the supporters demonstrating legally on the nearby sidewalk, the only police response was one officer giving the thumbs-up when he drove by.

In a statement, Chief Gemme said that “Today, between 1 and 2 p.m. there were 21 calls for service throughout the city. None of these calls were regarding panhandling.” (I’m not sure what the difference is between a call for service and these calls. Maybe there were 21 911 issues?)


None of the beggars was arrested, cited, or warned. “This is a victory for Worcester,” said Schaeffer-Duffy.

Womag has more pix. The T&G reports “$14.68 collected,” all of which will go directly to those in need.

5 thoughts on “No arrests in Worcester panhandling civil disobedience”

  1. As someone who was on the sidewalk and saw it, I can definitely confirm that one of the two WPD officers headed west through Lincoln Square slowed down and gave the thumbs up towards the folks on the median.

    Also, I was hoping that someone caught the moment where a passenger in an eastbound car waiting at the light got out, walked up to Scott, put money in his bowl, asked for his hand and then shook it, and got back in the car he came from. That was really cool and I hope a photo or video emerges…

    Great job today as always by the folks from St. Francis and Thérèse Catholic Worker!

  2. I’m not at all impressed by this. I also find the many religious connotations implied as inspiration and justification for this civil disobedience to be especially disconcerting.

    One can protest/crusade against a law like this without breaking it. It’s disgusting that people feel they have the right to disobey the ordinance simply because they disagree with it. Apparently this lot is so righteous though that they feel they’re above reproach, even from the law.

    Whatever happened to the morality of actions and that the ends do not justify the means? I suppose these protesters and their supporters simply write and live by their own catechism…

  3. Joe, I think by alerting the police and being above-board about this whole thing, these protesters are expressly saying that they are not at all above the law, that they want it to apply to them, too.

  4. Excellent video, Mike!

    I love the short news segment format, and your editing nicely summarizes the protesters’ point of view in their own words. I rarely have the energy to watch your 30 minute talk shows, but I’ll watch a short like this every time.

  5. “It’s disgusting that people feel they have the right to disobey the ordinance simply because they disagree with it.”

    From the Boston Tea Party to the lunch counters of Birmingham and beyond, that’s the very nature of civil disobedience.

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