Ever had to wait in some professional's lobby while the minutes ticked slowly by? Add an unannounced visit, plus 15 friends singing in the lobby, and that's where some Spokane peace activists found themselves last week at Congressional Rep. George Nethercutt Jr.'s Spokane office in the downtown federal building.
They stayed about two hours, until federal police arrested the eight members of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane that remained. Nethercutt, escorted by armed guards, had walked past the gray-haired pacifist group (average age: around 50) crowding his lobby at one point. He offered to take their letters decrying U.S. militarism with him.
"He kind of turned around and said, 'Well, give me the letters,' " recalls Rusty Nelson, PJALS director and one of the eight arrested. "We said, 'Well, we don't want to give the letters unless we can have some give-and-take.' "
Unfettered by the letters, Nethercutt walked into his office. He had numerous appointments to keep, according to press secretary April Gentry. (Gentry gave an account of the interaction very similar to that of PJALS. The Congressman did not address The Inlander's queries directly or return a telephone message; he was busy with meetings.)
At about 4:58 pm, Wednesday afternoon, several agents of the Federal Protective Service warned the PJALS demonstrators they would have to leave at the 5 pm closing of the federal building, says Dick Williams, the regional FPS acting director. "So when they wouldn't leave, they were arrested."
The arrests were, by all accounts, no big deal. The federal agents photographed the eight men and women, and cited them for a petty offense called "failure to comply with a lawful order." They were released within the hour, says Williams. Nelson says the federal agents treated his group cordially. A court date has not yet been set.
There's perhaps little love lost between the peace activists, who oppose things like U.S. military training for Latin American soldiers and the current war in Afghanistan, and Nethercutt, who describes himself on his Congressional Web site as a "pragmatic and common-sense conservative." He's also a member of the Congressional National Security Subcommittee.
Nethercutt has heard the activists' concerns and seen their letters, says Gentry.
The problem, says PJALS, is that Nethercutt won't see them. (They concede that he once visited with local activist Paddy Inman in Washington D.C.)
The peace activists write letters (but complain that they receive nothing but form letters in response). Every Tuesday evening for the past several months, they have demonstrated against war outside the federal building on Monroe. Gentry says that some PJALS signs have, in times past, said that Nethercutt, given his backing of the U.S. Army's School of the Americas training program, supports rape. Inman confirms the bluntness of some demonstrators' signs. However, Inman says, PJALS activists locally have not previously caused any civil disturbances.
So, troubled by war abroad, and perhaps a bit feisty over not getting face-time with their congressman, Nelson, Inman and the others at PJALS decided to show up and wait out Nethercutt on Wednesday afternoon. They knew he was in town for the congressional Easter break, after all. Press secretary Gentry says PJALS didn't call for a meeting, and when they showed up were alerted that the "Congressman was busy." Nelson, of PJALS, says his group had called unsuccessfully for an appointment: "We were told he didn't have time. That's been the story of our relationship."
While a Camp Fire girl selling candy made it into Nethercutt's office, the pacifists never made it past the receptionist.
"We're constituents, we're voters. We feel strongly about the issues, and we feel disenfranchised," says Nelson.
Not that a little arrest will derail the group's efforts for a face-to-face dialogue with their representative: "We have already requested to meet with Congressman Nethercutt the next time he's in town."
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