Statement in Federal Court - Philadelphia, PA
Janeal Turnbull Ravndal
14 April 2004

Thank you, Judge Rapoport.

On the day when a hundred of us blocked the entrances of this Federal Building, I found myself feeling profoundly thankful to live in a country where the law protects me even when I choose to dissent. I was treated with much kindness. The officer who arrested me helped me up off the sidewalk, actually quite an undertaking at that point, and made friendly small talk to calm my fears as he took me away to be searched. The judge to whose courtroom I was taken spoke and listened with exemplary calm and serenity, when one of the demonstrators said "Peace be with you." answering easily, "and also with you." Then, when our short hours in the holding cells were over, we all went down the escalator to find that our friends had been allowed to come in out of the cold rain to welcome us - an extraordinary graciousness it seemed to me. After all, we had kept OUT the very people who were now letting our cheering supporters IN. It felt to me like the Federal Building had turned the other cheek!

I am still grateful for you, Judge Rapoport, and all the other good people working here. I know, as you of course know better, that our country’s justice system is imperfect, particularly in some places and for the POOR and still so often for African Americans, and certainly for the Indigenous Peoples who preceded us on this land. But on that day a year ago when I was in agony at the wrong I believed my country was doing, the experience here was, for me, a reminder of the good in our country. It was a BLESSING.

I’ve never committed civil disobedience or been arrested before. In the months before that day, as I wrote letters to President Bush and demonstrated here and in Washington against going to war on Iraq, I considered whether Civil Disobedience was the right thing for me to do if war did begin. I worried about the trouble I would cause people needing to get to work or wanting to take their children to daycare in this building. I even wrote a statement of apology and explanation to hand to anyone I inconvenienced. But what I found that day as I sat behind bars was a sense of personal peace. It felt as if I was doing, tiny, token action though it was, the best I could do for that day.

It seems a strange irony that I am now consenting to say I am guilty for what I did on a day when, more than any other day I can think of, I did NOT feel guilty.

I grew up, during World War II, in a family of Presbyterian ministers and missionaries who took literally the Biblical instruction to love their enemies. Actually, the thinking did not allow for enemies; ALL people were God’s beloved children. At age 5, experiencing war as blackouts, air raid drills, and the fears adults could not hide, I asked why countries couldn’t just settle things the way David and Goliath had. Adults’ assurances that war would not come HERE never made sense to me. For many years after we bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima I expected every plane I saw or heard to drop a bomb on me.

My mother, who was born and grew up in Egypt where her family narrowly escaped death during the First World War, helped me to see a little beyond the borders of The United States. She could speak Arabic and especially loved and suffered with, the people of the Middle East. My father was an early and lifetime member of The Fellowship of Reconciliation, and his mother, my grandmother, visited, in a Pittsburgh prison, a young man sentenced to serve time there because he refused to kill.

My faith, my study and practice in the field of social work, and my experience as a parent, join to instruct me that violence, whether by individuals or by national groups, can only MULTIPLY, not solve or lessen, problems. My work, for ten years now, at Delaware County’s domestic abuse safehouse, provides ongoing confirmation of this belief.

66 years of life persuade me that violence only generates more violence, that it increases destruction: within individuals, in our families and streets, and in the whole world. I am convinced war ALWAYS makes us ALL less safe. How could it be otherwise? "Muh-raid" Corrigan Maguire, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who I heard speak recently, remarked that deep-down people already really KNOW war is wrong. May it be so and may we dare to pour our personal and national energy and resources into learning how to make peace here at home and over the world.

It’s more than a year now since that day I sat on the sidewalk outside this building. The war still seems to me a tragic mistake with ongoing repercussions. WHEN will the dear children of one group stop obeying orders to demonize and kill the dear folk of another group? I try not to be a part of it. I want to live in a way that increases kindness and peace. Of course I know I often fail. I am selfish and mess up a lot, just as I did sixty years ago when my mother wrote a little verse about my sisters and me:

Seeing with what fiendish ease my children start a fight, Who am I to think world peace should blossom overnight?

I use much more than I need of the world’s resources. And, out of each paycheck I contribute to federal taxes, taxes that go, in large measure, toward war and preparations for war. In this I AM guilty. But I am thankful, Judge Rapoport, for my day of good conscience and civil disobedience a year ago, and for the opportunity to speak here today.

I choose not to pay my fine. I do not look forward to the embarrassments, discomfort, and lack of personal privacy in jail. More importantly, I dread being away a whole week from Chris, my husband of 46 years, who is presently in the midst of radiation treatments. It is hard to think of not even being able to call him. But not paying my fine seems to be the best I can do for today. The best I can do to go a bit out of my way in order to say: I object to my country going to war and I will NOT cooperate. And who knows, perhaps someone will notice that the world is more than a little topsy-turvy when a grandmother with her hair in a bun decides jail is preferable to paying a $250 fine.