Sharon Crozier guest writes today
Congressman Rick Larsen has (so far) successfully avoided the process server who is waiting to hand him a subpoena to appear in the trial of war protester Ellen Murphy of Bellingham. Whether or not Larsen is intentionally avoiding service is not known at this time as he is not returning phone calls.
Bellingham attorney Joe Pemberton made the unusual move of subpoenaing a member of Congress in an effort to determine who was responsible for the arrest and banning of Murphy from the building where Larsen’s office is located. Pemberton suggests that Larsen, the Bellingham Police Department and, possibly, the City of Bellingham - have all violated Murphy’s civil rights.
Last October, Murphy and several of Larsen’s constituents went to Larsen’s Bellingham office, seeking answers regarding his stand on the Iraqi War. No answers were offered, and Larsen refused to make an appointment to talk with the group either in person or by telephone. To emphasize their demand for dialogue, a few activists remained after 5pm; and each day they did that, those who remained were arrested. But Ellen Murphy was not among them.
Murphy always accompanied the other activists, but always left when people got arrested. However, on October 13, Murphy remained - as usual - to support those activists who stayed and was swept up in the arrests. She and two others were given a written “Notice of Trespass,” which banned them from entering Larsen’s office through the end of 2006. A Notice of Trespass is extrajudicial and doesn’t require any process. Such orders can be appealed through the courts.
On the afternoon of Oct. 20, several citizens (including Murphy and parents of soldiers serving in Iraq) again returned to Larsen’s office, bringing their questions with them. Upon finding the office door locked, the group held a vigil in the hallway, reading aloud the names of American soldiers who had died in Iraq. While they were reading the names, Larsen aide Luke Loeffler entered the hallway through a rear door, spotted Murphy and said, “Well, hello Ellen.” He called the police and told them that Murphy had violated the restraining order by returning to the building.
“I had no desire to be arrested again; I had already been arrested once without intending to and I was very careful to stay absolutely away from Larsen’s office door,” Murphy said.
The police were informed by Murphy that the ban only applied to entering Larsen’s office, not the entire Federal Building. Loeffler insisted she had broken the law and, after the officers called someone for instructions, they arrested Murphy. At that time, the police gave her a second Notice of Trespass that banned her from the building for the rest of her life.
Prosecutors have since dropped the second charge and, after some public pressure, someone has lifted Murphy’s “banned for life” order. Now all parties involved are waiting for Larsen to show himself so he can be subpoenaed.
At a hearing on March 19, the parties involved will learn whether or not the prosecution’s effort to disallow Murphy - through a Motion in Limine - the Constitutional arguments of free speech and the right to redress grievances. Murphy’s jury trial begins on March 20.
Historically, purposeful acts of civil disobedience are intended to draw official and public attention to a problem after all other channels have failed. Concerned people exhaust their options and - in considered desperation - take the only step that is left to them: they trade their safety and freedom for hope and, sometimes, are triumphant in righting a wrong. Civil disobedience actions have a proud history that predates Gandhi and M.L. King. Common people the world over have many times reached a point where only their very body could make a powerful enough impact on those with power.
These days they call it, “Speaking truth to power.” It is honorable, necessary and difficult. Yet, for some people there is no choice but to stand up to power - even if all they can do is stand in its way. Most of us haven’t and never will, reach a point of commitment where such a sacrifice seems viable.
For some “reason,” it doesn’t seem “reasonable.”
So Ellen Murphy did it for us - even though we didn’t ask her to, and many insist she was wrong. I believe that many more believe she’s a hero - a true patriot - along with others who were arrested that week: Margie White, Brad Grower, Al and Dotty Dale, Stephanie Kountouros and Lisa Marcus.
...and Mr. Larsen…
- Joe Pemberton wants to know who initiated the order to issue the two Notices of Trespass?
- Whom did the police officers call that decided that “banned from the office” meant banned from the building?
- What City lawyer saw the discrepancy on Ellen’s first Notice of Trespass and decided to prosecute it anyway?
- To whom are all of these people accountable?
- And Ellen Murphy still wants to know why Rick Larsen has vociferously defended this war for four years; a war that he had originally said was wrong.
- Why, if he thinks the war is wrong, he refuses to support legislative efforts to improve the situation?
- People are amazed that a prosecution motion can ask that the Constitution be ruled inapplicable to court proceedings.
- Many of us want to know how a congressman can now say this war isn’t working, yet continue to press charges against someone who has been trying to tell him that for years.
Most of us knew going into Iraq was wrong - even illegal - long before Larsen had his big post-election “awakening.” And we weren’t privy to any inside scoop that he had in DC. We’re just ‘hamsters, but we knew.
So, Mr. Larsen, you were brave enough (or smart enough) to change your position on the Iraqi War. Now integrate that thinking into the rest of your life; recognize those arrested for their effort to move you in that direction…and free Ellen Murphy.