On Monday morning, March 20, antiwar activists scrambled around Terry Shrunk Plaza—across the street from SW 3rd's Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building—trying to assemble a press conference. One activist attempted to corral reporters under a tree, while another fiddled with her cell phone and scanned the streets, impatiently waiting for a red minivan to pull up with their protest gear: antiwar banners, yellow T-shirts emblazoned with Gandhi's visage, and a table to hold Iraq War literature.
But the real action was happening upstairs, on the fifth floor of the federal building. Nineteen of the activists' cohorts—a coalition of people from Vets for Peace, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, religious leaders, and other "concerned Oregonians," a spokesperson said—were camped out in Senator Ron Wyden's office, demanding a meeting with the lawmaker. They had a pile of petitions, with 1,800 signatures, requesting legislation to "move the troops out in months, not years," one activist explained, and fund U.N.-monitored reconstruction of the country.
"We began lobbying for this particular petition in January," says the coalition's spokesperson, Joy Ellison. "There have been many meetings with Senator Wyden's staff, but not with the senator—which we've asked for repeatedly. They've declined to really speak seriously about this legislation, which is why we decided to take this action."
Wyden was not there, Ellison says. But the activists decided to stick around until they were forced to leave: "[Our] intention from the beginning was to either invite the senator to the press conference [downstairs], celebrating the fact that he was taking a principled stand for peace—or to say that we need to stay here until you're willing to listen to us," Ellison says. Meanwhile, guards locked down the building—"Senator Wyden's office is closed," one guard told other activists in the first-floor lobby.
At 5:30 pm, Federal Protective Services guards arrested the activists, cited them each with a count of failure to comply with a federal officer, and released them. The 19 are now due in court in June.
Monday's civil disobedience was the most direct antiwar action in a weekend of protests marking the third anniversary of the Iraq War. On Sunday, March 19, approximately 10,000 people snaked through downtown in a peace march and rallies on the waterfront.