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NonViolent Action - Some Personal Notes

I wanted to take the time to write a few personal notes about what happened at the Syracuse Federal Building. The goal of the group is to demonstrate the use of NonViolent Action in bringing Family Law Reform -- and what happened last week should help us all learn as this "experiment" continues. This is a bit of a different narration (personal thoughts appear in "quotes"), and much more was said than appears here -- but hopefully it will give you a better idea of what "really happens" on the outside as well as inside: (For complete details check http://www.AKidsRight.Org/actionb_syr ):

1. Getting Ready ----------------

Last Tuesday at 6AM I had started the hour drive from my mother's house to my office. It's a good time to think and the thoughts were none to pleasant, "I wonder what is going to happen to me today ... Will I be coming home for dinner tonight or spending the night in jail ... Last night I had to tell my Mom I wasn't sure if I would be home for dinner the next day (a conversation we have had TOO many times) ... why does this have to happen to her ... I haven't heard from any one else who plans on coming today, maybe someone will show up by surprise ... I have the feeling there going to arrest me... Dom, I love you -- I love you Dom (my son), I love you ... The Judge gave them that Order of Protection a few weeks ago to keep me away -- its been thrown out in the past, but they might just try it again ... God are you hearing any of this ... It was great I could talk to Domenic on the phone yesterday, I mailed off the model he wanted Saturday, even if I end up in Jail for a week (I don't plan on making any bail), Dom will have something... How I love you little guy ... what is going to happen today ... we have an anniversery to go on Saturday. Mama won't go without me ... I wonder ..."

Got to the office, send out another News Release to our list, "here we go again, this has got be about the 30th one -- we had a nibble a few weeks ago from Channel 5, and a while back a big story was done ... you never know ...."

At 12:16PM I caught the bus from Baldwinsville to Syracuse (no point in driving when you may be spending the night). Downtown at about 1PM and a short walk to the Cathedral. Time for prayer before the 2PM show time. "God, god, god, god, god ... just help me out a bit here ... it still feels right, but things are so tricky at times -- when to push, when to stop ... you know me Lord ... what's going to happen today ... Please, just make the decisions easy ... I think its right, just guide me, keep me on the path ... so much at stake here. I really want to see Dom in a few weeks, I've got the plane tickets for me and mama, five hundred bucks .. hate to see that wasted ...please don't stop that. Please, just show me the path, I'm a block head at times, please take it slow..."

"Oh, and I almost forgot. Thanks for all you have done, we are so lucky. Dom and I had a great Christmas and we love each other. Mama is healthy, I am, and especially Dom -- just saw the pictures of kids/parents in Afghanistan with legs blown off due to mines -- God, thank you.... I hate to keep asking for a little bit more, but wow, I appreciate it all .. my cup overflows..."

A little before 2, the short walk to the Federal building. "Say hi to the guys at the metal detector (they could probably set their watch by when I arrive) ... maybe they'll just let me alone today ... great, here they come. I won't even make it upstairs..."

2. At the Building ------------------

Officer X & Y approach me (I know them both from before and we have talked a bit on prior occasions). X is the guy in charge, he tells me to follow them. I ask him if I am under arrest and he says no. "okay, so far, so good, I anticipated this .." I tell them sorry, I can't go with you. Officer X then says John you can walk out the front door, but we got orders to stop you from going up stairs ... he starts putting on some black leather gloves. "okay, now what. What the heck are the gloves floor, doesn't want to skin his knuckles with me? .. well, I guess I'll just try to go around him...keep the hands down and move nice and slow..." Officer Y blocks my path and I can't get to the elevators ... "Well, I don't think I'm going to touch them, should I just jump on the elevator opening behind me... don't really want to surprise the person coming out ... let's just wait and see what happens..."

Officer X asks me now what, he is willing to wait. "Well, I guess this is a good position. They don't seem to want to grab me.... Wait, no problem here. Waiting is easy... I'll just stay here in the lobby, that's going to tie up at last two/three of them to keep me from moving ... parade rest..." I tell them I'm ready to wait, that I can stay till 4pm, when the return bus leaves.

Officer Y asks me why leave at 4, WHAT KIND OF DEDICATION IS THAT? I laugh a bit. "Well, I've to pace myself. You know how long this has been going on -- one person can only do so much." He seems to understand that.

I see a woman walk by and ask one of the officers if they need any help. She looks like Clinton's regional rep. I don't initiate any conversation and the officers tell her they are doing fine.

Another Officer, Z, walks up with WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? I try to explain. "We had a meeting with the Senator's staff last spring. Since then we haven't heard a thing and we have written/called a lot of times. We'd like to get her help on this, know what she thinks about the issue. She represents us in Congress, we've got a right to know her views."

Officer Y then tells me that I'm going about it the wrong way, THAT THIS IS NOT ABOUT CIVIL RIGHTS, THAT FAMILY LAW IS A STATE GOVERNMENT ISSUE. He had been through a divorce, and it all happened in the state courts. I was in the wrong building. "This is it, the crux of the issue... amazing. This person who has been through it, just doesn't see being with your own children as a we go..." I tell the officer that if he was arrested for DWI in New York, the State has it's own Penal Code and procedures that are different from other states -- BUT, your biggest protections: the presumption you are innocent, the right to counsel, the right to a jury are all guaranteed to you by the U.S. Constitution. It really ought to be the same with Family Law. Right now every State is different -- they act like they "licensed" your children to you and can take them at any time. It's okay to have separate State Laws -- but as parents, we have a right to: equal access to our children, counsel, and the protection of a jury before the state can jump in...

[As I reviewed this I thought I should comment on the idea some might have that this dialog was contrived. That officers would not discuss "politics" with someone they were watching in the lobby of a Federal Building. But it did happen, and probably more so because we knew each other as people -- this was not some 'fanatic' they were maybe going to arrest, but someone who treated them with courtesy, even though committed to his ideals. They were not just 'cops' to me either.]

Officer X interjects with WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH here beside getting arrested? You are not helping your cause. No one is seeing this... I tell them we sent out some press releases. We really want Senator Clinton and the other Members of Congress to respond. You may be right about no one paying attention, but you never know. A while back I did something similar and we got two stories in the local paper and two different TV stations .... Right now they really seem to just be ignoring us and the issue, but you get a reporter in their office asking questions and that might change... All I can do is try by coming over here, what the media does I have no control over.

One of them asks, IF THIS IS SO IMPORTANT, WHERE IS EVERYBODY? I think a moment -- "Ouch, good question. I've been wondering about that part for quite a while, where is everybody? This would be a cake walk with 3 or 4 moms and dads ... but then it wouldn't be sacrifice would it? .... What's it going to take to get the ball rolling?" I tell them that risking jail is a pretty tough thing to do and that people have come to watch in the past. A lot of them just don't think anything they do will really matter.... but that might change with time. "I, I to have Faith..."

Officer Z appears with a copy of a page from our web site. "Now where the heck did she get that from .... oh, maybe the Senator's office." It's a copy of a letter Clinton sent us back in April of 2001 saying the appropriate people would look into the matter. We posted it at the site back then, it appeared to be pure form letter and never mentioned what we were there for -- and obviously, nothing at all had happened since then. I explain.

3. Resolution -------------

We talk for a while more, in all almost an hour had elapsed. In a surprise, Cathy Calhoun, the Senator's regional rep, suddenly appears in front me and says, John, what do you want? I tell her we want to continue the dialog, to get the Senator to examine the issue farther. She appears angry at times, accuses us of "Clinton bashing" and of having a hidden agenda with the web site. Says she won't talk to me, that we can't work together, that there is nothing to say here in Syracuse... "Wow, I didn't expect to see her here. Clinton bashing, site that doesn't really care about children ... man, we are just not communicating ... can't work together ... we don't even really know each other? I really don't understand this, but if I can just get that contact person, its something ... I'll just ignore the rest, maybe sort it out later with her or someone..."

She tells me to contact the Washington office. I tell her I'd really like to have the name of a specific person. She say's okay, I'll get that to you. I thank her and she leaves...

I tell the officers I will be going now. I think for a moment and tell them: You were all asking why I was here and would this work. Well, just take a look at what happened. We have been calling/writing letters for months with no response. Finally a little progress. Maybe it does work after all....