But that’s exactly what happened to Rick Ufford-Chase, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Former Moderator of the PCUSA, and 3 other Presbyterians on Monday, July II. At noon, a group of over 200 concerned US citizens, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to attend, held a rally in front of the White House to oppose the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Standing in heat that could only be called oppressive, we listened to speakers from the faith community, advocacy organizations, and labor unions, both from the US and from Colombia. Among the speakers were Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, our Director here at the Office of Public Witness, and afore mentioned Rick Ufford-Chase. The spoke to us words of prophecy in the face of injustice. They raised their voices on behalf of the trade unionists and human rights activists murdered, the indigenous communities forced off their land, the small farmers whose incomes will be reduced by as much as 70% when they are forced to compete with subsidized imports from the US. We as the crowd raised our voices in response – we yelled and sang, waved signs and coffins. Coffins? Yes indeed. Before the protest, members of the organizing groups constructed and painted 51 cardboard coffins to represent the 51 trade unionists killed in Colombia in 2010 (more than the combined number of trade unionists killed during the same period of time in the rest of the world).
After listening to the speakers, we formed a single-file procession, walking from the park where we’d gathered to the White House fence, where we laid our symbolic coffins down in the street as an act of civil disobedience. The police asked us to leave and remove the coffins. Most of the crowd stepped back to the other side of the street, behind the police line, but a brave remnant stayed refused to move. While the rest of us sang, encouraged them, and took Communion in the park, they held their signs and prayed until the police finally arrested them and carted them away in the back of their van.
And then it was over. After weeks of phone calls, planning, logistics, the protest was over. Was it successful? Did we “win?” A couple of news sources mentioned our story, but did people with the power, the people who make the decisions hear us? Our work and sacrifice through this protest, education, grassroots organizing, letters, calls, news stories, etc. – will it make them reconsider, or maybe even change their mind? Honestly, I don’t know. According to the news reports I’ve read, the considerations in the Obama Administration and Congress are almost exclusively political – inclusion of the Action Plan, the TAA, when the FTA will hit the House floor. The real human considerations often seem not even to be on the table. But that’s where we are, and that’s where we’re staying. That is our call as Christians and Presbyterians – to speak the truth to power with love. Click here to call your Representative and ask him/her vote no on the Colombia FTA. Join a great cloud of witnesses and be an advocate for justice, a member of the human family, and a follower of Christ.