“Building and Sustaining Nonviolent Communities” at Agape this Saturday

It’s time for the annual “Saint Francis Day” at the Agape Community in Ware, Massachusetts. This year the centerpiece is a talk on “Building and Sustaining Nonviolent Communities” by the great Mike Baxter.

Mike Baxter with an axe

Annual St. Francis Day at Agape Community: Saturday, October 3, 2015, 10am-evening * 2062 Greenwich Rd., Ware, MA 01082 * 413-967-9369

Please bring a brown-bag lunch and food to share for dinner.

Mike Baxter’s talk will be at 10:15am.

“Mike Baxter is a professor of Religious Studies at Regis University in Denver, CO. A co-founder of Catholic Worker houses in Phoenix, Arizona and South Bend, Indiana, Mr. Baxter also served as the national secretary of the Catholic Peace Fellowship.”

Facebook event

Transform Now Plowshares activists sentenced; and, the Worcester connection

Reuters, yesterday:

A U.S. judge sentenced an 84-year-old nun, Sister Megan Rice, on Tuesday to 35 months in prison for breaking into a Tennessee military facility used to store enriched uranium for nuclear bombs.

Two others accused in the case, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, were sentenced to 62 months in prison. The three were convicted of cutting fences and entering the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in July 2012, embarrassing U.S. officials and prompting security changes.

Tom LewisA fourth “participant” in the breakin was Worcester’s own Tom Lewis, the late artist-activist. As the Washington Post reported in an amazing article about this act of protest last spring:

They spray painted the building’s north wall, which was designed to withstand the impact of aircraft but not the words of the Book of Proverbs. They poured and splashed blood that had once been in the veins of a painter-activist named Tom Lewis, one of the Catonsville Nine who, on Hiroshima Day 1987, hammered on the bomb racks of an anti-submarine plane at the South Weymouth Naval Air Station near Boston. In 2008, Lewis died in his sleep, and his blood was frozen so that he might one day participate in one last Plowshares action.

In bright red rivulets, the last of Tom Lewis streaked down the concrete.

Making Guantanamo History

Justin Norman/Witness Against Torture

Saturday was the twelfth anniversary of the first detainees arriving at Guantanamo.

I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History with my crazy friends from Witness Against Torture.

One small group, dressed as detainees in black hoods and orange jumpsuits, formed a tableau in a second-floor atrium. Then more than 100 people (from WAT and other groups) entered the museum from outside and, mic-check style, explained to hundreds of surprised museum-goers what was going on with this “temporary exhibit” of recent American history. They went on like this for some time, mic-checking and singing about Guantanamo, indefinite detention, and torture. Two banners were briefly hung from the railings on the balcony above.


Shortly before that started, another group in jumpsuits entered an “America at war” exhibit on the floor above and tried to “install a temporary exhibit” there. Guards quickly cleared the area, sending a flood of tourists to the third-floor balcony overlooking the other tableau just as as the action in the atrium began.

Justin Norman/Witness Against Torture

Most of the group planned to be arrested for all this, but nobody was. For reasons none of us understand, after maybe 20 minutes (at which point the atrium group went silent), the war exhibit was reopened, and the upstairs demonstrators were able to establish a “temporary exhibit,” with one member giving a marathon teach-in about freedom and the War On Terror while others stood silently or chatted with tourists.

The downstairs “exhibit” remained for two hours, and the upstairs group for more than three, at which point the museum was about to close, and they left.

Some tourists loved this spectacle. Others hated it. In my role as videographer, I overheard a lot of conversations, not all of them supportive but all of them thoughtful.

It was a grand and weird experience.


Panhandling protest: the negative reactions


City Councilor Konnie Lukes, in Worcester Magazine:

It was clearly a publicity stunt geared to embarrass police and the city. I’ll leave it to [the police department’s] judgment as to how they handle it.

Police Chief Gemme:

We were made aware that there would be a peaceful protest focusing on poverty and the panhandling ordinance. Based on the communication that we received from Saint Francis & Therese Catholic Worker, we know that the protesters are well aware of the ordinance and we gave them latitude to peacefully conduct their protest.

Our approach to panhandling has been stated publicly. Our focus has been on education and gaining voluntary compliance. If enforcement action is necessary, we will take it . . . But we will not make arrests for the sake of making arrests.

Today, between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM there were 21 calls for service throughout the city. None of these calls were regarding panhandling. During this time period, we directed our limited resources where they were most needed. We used discretion to monitor the protest, and our decisions were made in the best interest of the entire community.

As much as I’d like to quibble with these words, I’m not going to do that, because the upshot of the city’s actions is so interesting.
Continue reading “Panhandling protest: the negative reactions”

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.

Ash Wednesday protest: Repeal Worcester’s anti-panhandling ordinance

On Ash Wednesday, February 13, from 1-2 pm, the Saints Francis & Thérèse Catholic Worker community will sponsor a protest at Lincoln Square in Worcester calling for the repeal of anti-panhandling regulations passed last week. Signs will be held and the attached leaflet will be distributed.

Robert Peters, a long-time practitioner of Buddhist mediation, will wear a monk’s attire and hold a beggar’s bowl.

Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, a one-time novice with the Capuchin-Franciscans, will wear a Franciscan habit and also carry a beggar’s bowl.

Robert will be on the sidewalk, while Scott will defy the anti-panhandling ordinance by begging on the median strip. Both of them hope to highlight the sacred place begging and giving to beggars has in all the world’s major religions.

The members of the Catholic Worker community have sent the attached letter to Worcester’s police chief, mayor, and all the city councilors describing their reasons for holding this protest. Any funds collected will be given directly to those who who continue to feel the need to appeal for help on the streets of Worcester. For more information, call Claire Schaeffer-Duffy 508 753-3588.
Continue reading “Ash Wednesday protest: Repeal Worcester’s anti-panhandling ordinance”

Why I am Hunger Striking at U.Va.

Dear Friends and Family:

Many of you may have heard that the 14 members of Living Wage Campaign at U.Va. have committed to a hunger strike on Saturday Feb. 18th.  I am among the 14.   Though I am no longer a student, I still feel very strongly about this cause and encourage you to get involved (see below).  We are entering day 5 of the strike (see an update of the day 4 here).   Moral is high, though we know that trying times are ahead.   See some press coverage here and here or read an article about it here or here.

The hunger strike decision did not come lightly nor easily.  After years of engaging the administration in more conventional ways, including two meetings with the President herself, we became convinced that we needed different tactics.  Read the our official announcement here.  We are part of a 14-year long effort to secure justice for our community. We have the support of Charlottesville City Council, churches, and many other local community groups.  Employees have also been voicing their support, though many are scared of retaliation.  We’ve collected some anonymous testimonies from U.Va. employees, and a new one is posted everyday on our blog.  Read one here.

We are asking that this institution becomes one that prioritizes human needs.  A “living wage” essentially is a wage that allows families to support themselves, based on the cost of living in an area.  The fact of the matter is that hundreds if not thousands of U.Va. employees do not make enough money to live in Charlottesville.  A recent survey showed that over 20% of Charlottesville families were below the poverty line.  U.Va. is the largest employer in the City and has more than enough money to make a dent in local poverty levels.  Employees are forced to work second or third jobs, go on government assistance, or make choices between healthcare and food.  At a rally today, a local doctor who works mainly with low-income populations in town said that “many of the people he sees do not have health insurance, and many of these work for subcontractors at U.Va.”  He supports us because he has seen the damage that below-living wages have caused.  All of this while U.Va. employs most of the highest-paid Virginia State employees, with salaries reaching above $600,000/year.

We are asking that the University pay at least $13.00/hr, including benefits, indexed to inflation (our full demands are online).  Currently, U.Va. contracts labor services with private companies that can pay as little as $7.50/hr with no benefits.  Direct U.Va. employees make more, about $10.65/hr with decent benefits, but that still puts them far beneath a living wage.  If you want to learn more about what a living wage is, how it is calculated, etc. read our research document entitled “Keeping Our Promises.”  It contains all the information that you need to know.

We will soon be in the season of Lent, which as many of you know, is a season of fasting and penance.  The connection between fasting and struggling for justice is as old as Christianity itself. St. Luke describes Jesus being “led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (Lk 4:1-2).  Then, immediately after this trial in the desert, Jesus returns to Nazarath and describes His mission “to proclaim good news to the poor./He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners/and recovery of sight for the blind,/to set the oppressed free,/to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”  (Lk. 4:18-19).  By quoting Isaiah and referencing the Jubilee as the manifesto of his earthly mission, Jesus unambiguously calls Christians to work for justice in the world. We pray that our own fast also awakens hearts to this call.

I am inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, which clearly calls for a living wage and the prioritization of human needs in business. I draw upon the history of working for justice that is part and parcel with the Catholic faith. I draw courage from the writings of Dorothy Day and others. I draw strength knowing that you my friends and family are praying for me. I feel blessed to have this opportunity to apply the teachings of the Church and of Christ to my life.

In the end, I decided to hunger strike because I believe that our institutions, especially ones of education, should be geared towards human needs and centered on the compassion of Christ. Jesus treated people’s needs as holy, and we should do the same.

How can you help?

1)  The Campaign will be maintaining a public presence outdoors, near Brooks Hall and the Rotunda. Come anytime between 10 and 7 and join us holding signs, passing out flyers, or just to keep us company (it can get lonely out there!).  Check out the full schedule here.
2) Come to our daily events:
12pm rally/march (we have a variety of speakers each day, ranging from church groups to the Mayor of Charlottesville, to U.Va. employees)
6pm vigil (reflections from strikers, cleaning up the site, hanging out)
7pm-8:30pm (Flash Seminars led by U.Va. professors, all in Brooks Hall on the topic of living wages)
3) Join the Living Wage mailing list for updates and action alerts.
5) Pray! Pray for the strikers, pray for a conversion of values among the administration, and pray for the hard-working families of Charlottesville.

As day 5 of the strike ends, I am filled with hope and look forwards to seeing you tomorrow and any other day this week. Feel free to forward this to any of your friends or family.

Thank you!

Hunter Link

Occupy Worcester, Lincoln Square, day one

After a long night experimenting with what the police will allow in Lincoln Square, Occupy Worcester began their first full day in this, their third encampment. (Though I prefer to think of it as the fourth.)

Some were able to sleep on the sidewalk last night, despite police discouragement; others were taking naps on the grass when I visited Lincoln Square this morning.


Worcesterites “marry” corporations at City Hall

On this rainy day outside Worcester’s City Hall, Occupy Worcester organized a series of satirical marriage ceremonies between local residents and corporations, to protest corporate personhood.

Here, Sarah stands with her groom, the Corrections Corporation of America.

Update: Because of the rain, these events were in/under the City Hall entryway. OW folks tell me the following. OW had an actual permit for the event. Police came and moved them to the Franklin St side. Some OW folks went to the City Manager’s office to ask why, when they had a permit, they were made to move. They were met inside by police, threatened with a trespassing charge, and told not to return. OW folks are meeting with the City Solicitor and perhaps the Mayor right now. A press release is forthcoming. From Facebook: “Occupy Worcester members illegally and forcefully evicted from City Hall during business hours! We could use some bodies at City Hall now.”

Congressman McGovern’s office is not far from City Hall, so some OW folks went to talk with him about this. Congressman McGovern is no stranger to civil disobedience himself.

Second Update: Here’s a post with the blow-by-blow. The upshot is that the permit was for “the Franklin St side of City Hall,” which the organizers and the police interpreted differently. Also potentially the permit was invalid because the organizers didn’t hire police officers to watch over the protest. The main ridiculous thing here is that people were threatened with arrest when they asked to talk to a city staffer about making an appointment with the City Manager. This post is quite funny and enthusiastic:

So we go to see our congressional representative, who keeps an office next to the world’s shadiest mini-mall.

While explaining ourselves to the secretary, who should walk by but none other than Congressman Jim McGovern! We talk about what happened, and the whole time he’s nodding sagely like some kind of Jedi master, like he’s peered into his crystal ball and foreseen the encroaching forces of Bullshit Repression and Jerkwad Authoritarians, and that now is the time to put counter-measures into place.

Right off the bat he blows our minds by revealing that he has been arrested 3 times for protesting the massacre in Darfur outside of embassies, which is the most badass place you can get arrested for protesting, second only to volcanos. He confirms that heinous bullshit had indeed transpired, and put a call in to the city manager while we were talking.

As we were shooting the breeze with an honest-to-God-Congressman like it was no big deal, I get a call from one of the other Occupiers who was there that night, saying that the Mayor has been informed, is pissed, and wants to meet with us and the city solicitor so as to sort out hand grenades from horseshoes when it comes to things like free speech and police nonsense.

So yeah, your average light conversation, you know?