A Sacred Day in New York (12/10/02) 

Sumbitted to Portside by Chris Vaeth

Today the faith-based revolt against the impending war
in Iraq poured out of hallowed halls and into the
streets. Joining people in 120 other cities and towns
under the banner of United for Peace, New York's
religious leaders celebrated International Human Rights
Day by bearing witness to the poverty and suffering of
those both in Iraq and at home. Before the day's end,
the mass arrest of interfaith leadership marked the
arrival of still another dimension of the burgeoning
anti-war movement.

The stage seemed to be set by a full-page ad in The New
York Times on December 4, placed by the National
Council of Churches. President Bush was pictured with
his head bowed in prayer. The caption, reminding the
president of his lip service to his own faith
motivations, pleaded to him: "Jesus changed your
heart. Now let him change your mind."

While religious communities have long been at the
forefront of anti- war activism, they showed their
collective force today. Following an interfaith vigil
in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, more than 100 ministers,
imams, rabbis, nuns, lay leaders, seminarians, and
faith-based community organizers blocked the sidewalk
and were arrested in front of the U.S. Mission to the
United Nations.

The accused, after being divided by gender, were packed
into two holding cells at the NYPD's 17th Precinct.
Among the 60 men in our cage were Rev. Herbert Daughtry
(pastor of Brooklyn's House of the Lord Church), Rev.
Luis Barrios (liberation priest at St. Mary's and San
Romero), Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice
cream), Imam Faiz Khan (of the Asma Society), Rev.
Peter Laarman (minister of Judson Memorial Church), and
Daniel Ellsberg (publisher of the Pentagon Papers).
While it has so far been impossible to receive reports
from the women's side, it appeared that at least as
many women were arrested.

Among the women inside was the director of the
Kensington Welfare Rights Union, Cheri Honkala. She
arrived to town yesterday from a month-long, nationwide
bus caravan for economic human rights, to host a "Truth
Commission" on poverty in front of the United Nations.
The coordination of anti-war and anti-poverty protests
was fitting. After all, we were reminded, Saddam
Hussein isn't the one closing welfare centers and
cutting off unemployment benefits. The violence that
our government commits abroad is funded by the violence
of poverty at home.

Most in the men's cell wore clerical garb; many were
carrying sacred texts; one smuggled in the "Prison
Journals of a Priest Revolutionary" by Philip Berrigan.
Father Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who spent 11 years of
his life in prison for anti-war civil disobedience,
succumbed to cancer last week. His spirit seemed to
hover over the space as the jailed read his words

The holding cell became a forum for prayer,
storytelling, announcements, an impromptu teach-in,
planning for next steps, and loud singing and clapping.
An Episcopal archbishop stopped by the precinct to see
if the conditions inside were adequate. One of the
jailed ministers responded: "We're doing fine. The
problems are out there." Eager to return to daylight,
they were nevertheless experiencing a rare fellowship
forged of shared commitment.

The day was, in a sense, a reunion. Many of the
seasoned jailed clergy already knew each other, from
their work with Latin American liberation movements,
the Civil Rights Movement, the struggle in Vieques, the
Plowshares movement for disarmament, and more. It was
as if they were renewing their vows; they were
recommitting to an old, sacred struggle with some new
details, and welcoming the younger among them.

One of the "secular saints" inside, Daniel Ellsberg,
proudly introduced his 25 year old son, Michael, on
this occasion of his first arrest. He told a story of
25 years ago, when baby Michael was only 3 months old.
Back then, his father first presented him to some of
the same people in this very cell, saying: "I want you
to introduce you to your future co-conspirators."
After all that time, they were meeting again.

Of course, the day's action was not the first step in a
movement that is rapidly gaining momentum, but it was
among the first broad and active religious responses.
The protesters followed the lead of 2000 New York City
students, from middle-school to high school and college
age, who walked out of school last week to march
against the war. And it anticipates this Saturday's
Uptown March for Peace and Justice, to be led by youth
of color from Washington Heights, Harlem, and the

Prior to today's civil disobedience, Rev. James Lawson,
who was responsible for much of the training in
nonviolent resistance during the Civil Rights Movement,
addressed the participants. He admonished that the
severity of the impending war in Iraq will demand much
more than symbolic protest. It will require Americans,
especially people of faith, to render the war plans of
this administration literally unmanageable ... blocking
traffic in the streets, standing in front of government
agency doorways, sitting on the floors of congressional
offices, and choosing the rite of passage into the
nation's jails.

He was giving voice to a call that more and more people
of conscience, both within and outside religious
institutions, hear in their hearts. It is a call from
a creative force in the universe, of many names or no
name at all, to block this war machine with both their
spirits and their bodies. Today is a hopeful
indication that faith leaders, en masse, are answering.

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Tuesday December 17, 2002 

in the University Blackburn Center 
on the campus of Howard University 

from 7pm to 10pm 


Dorothy Lewis, National Co-chair N'COBRA, 

Dr. Gregory Carr, Professor, African American Studies, Howard

Mark A. Bolden, 
Graduate Student, Psychoeducational Studies, Howard University,

Miranda Booker, Graduate Student, History Department, Howard

For Information call 202 413 4575 or email us at HUNCOBRA@hotmail.com


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The Associated Press
Dec 9, 2002 : 12:26 am ET

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- North Carolina had one of the nation's most 
aggressive and longest running eugenics programs, sterilizing 7,600 people, 
the third most of any state, according to a newspaper report.

Until recently, few details were known about how the Eugenics Board of North 
Carolina operated or the nature of cases it handled.

The Winston-Salem Journal obtained and examined thousands of these 

It found:

-- More than 2,000 people aged 18 and younger were sterilized in many 
questionable cases, including a 10-year-old who was castrated. Children were 
sterilized over the objections of their parents, and the consent process was 
often a sham.

-- The program had been racially balanced in the early years, but by the 
late 1960s more than 60 percent of those sterilized were black, and 99 
percent were women.

-- Doctors performed sterilizations without authorization and the Eugenics 
Board backdated approval.

-- Major eugenics research at Wake Forest University was paid for by a 
patron who had a racial agenda that included a visit to a 1935 Nazi eugenics 
conference and extensive efforts to overturn key civil-rights legislation.

The Wake Forest University School of Medicine has already begun 
investigating its role in the eugenics movement in response to the 
newspaper's inquiries.

More than 30 states had sterilization programs, but North Carolina's 
expansion of the program after 1945, when most other states had rejected the 
science upon which the program was based, and targeting of blacks made it 
different than most, according to experts.

"That's quite astounding," said Steve Selden, professor at the University of 
Maryland and author of "Inheriting Shame: the Story of Eugenics & Racism in 
America." "It's simply a story that has not been told."

The program, which ran from 1929 to 1974, was run by the state eugenics 
board, a panel of five people who usually decided cases within a few 

Supporters of the eugenics movement claimed that sterilization could 
eliminate mental illness, genetic defects and social ills.

The system granted excessive power to social workers, browbeat women into 
being sterilized and had ineffective safeguards, the records show.

"They don't want to hear how I feel, or what's going on in my mind. You're 
pregnant -- you need to get sterilization," said Nial Cox Ramirez, recalling 
her sterilization in 1965 after having a child out of wedlock.

"And they had the nerve to tell me, 'That's what's best for you,'" Ramirez 
said recently.

Johanna Schoen, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, gave the 
Journal access to a set of 7,000 records that she copied more than 10 years 

Since that time, the N.C. State Archives have declined other requests, and 
the records are officially closed to the public.

"I think the problem is that there are cases where sterilization was the 
solution -- but sterilization authorized by the Eugenics Board is never the 
solution," Schoen said. "The very premise that the state had the right to do 
this was flawed."

Earlier this year, Virginia became the first state to issue a statement of 
regret for its sterilization program. The governor of Oregon apologized for 
a similar program last week.

California led the nation with more than 20,000 sterilizations; Virginia was 
second with about 8,000, and North Carolina third.

Many other states that had sterilization programs have lost the records, or, 
in Oregon's case, destroyed them.

North Carolina's eugenics law, passed in 1929 and rewritten in 1933, allowed 
three reasons for sterilization: epilepsy, sickness and feeble-mindedness. 
But the board almost routinely approved sterilizations for reasons from 
promiscuity to homosexuality.

Officials consistently led the public to believe that the program did not 
force or pressure people to have sterilizations, but the records show that 
those who objected did so in vain.

The Eugenics Board approved more than 90 percent of the petitions it 
reviewed. From beginning to end, the records are filled with casual 
comments, not serious medical discussions. "Pauper. Needs close supervision. 
Hypersexuality," reads part of a 1939 petition.

That was enough for the Eugenics Board to conclude she was feeble-minded.

In a case from 1962, a father suspected of incest asked the Eugenics Board 
to sterilize his daughter because he worried he may have impregnated her. 
The eugenics board approved the sterilization.

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