Just a week ago, members of Congress were celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., with lofty paeans to his methods of nonviolent protest. But these platitudes go out the window when it comes to protests within their own decorous halls of power. On Monday, a D.C. Superior Court judge, part of the federal system, sent 78-year-old Eve Tetaz to jail because her chosen form of dissent, while nonviolent, “demeaned the act of protest”–and because she has simply refused to stop.
Since 20005, Tetaz has been arrested 20 times and convicted 14 times for anti-war protests involving Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. Tetaz told the judge: “I believe that nonviolent protest against government policies will continue to be the only authentic form of individual political action.” But she has mounted most of her protests in a city that, since 9/11, has taken on the character of a moated fort. In our nation’s capital today, it is notoriously difficult to mount any sort of demonstration, and civil disobedience is not tolerated. As reported in Tuesday’s Washington Post:
On Monday, an obviously frustrated Judge Lynn Leibovitz sentenced Tetaz to 25 days in jail and placed her on probation for a year after a jury found her guilty of disorderly conduct in October. Prosecutors say Tetaz and at least three other people attended a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing May 21, stood up as Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) began to speak and yelled out: “No more blood money! Stop the war!” Police said Tetaz and the other protesters then threw dollar bills into the aisle of the Senate chamber. The money had been covered in Tetaz’s blood as well as the blood of the other demonstrators, drawn from each by a doctor friend.
Standing next to Jack Baringer, her court-appointed attorney, and wearing a T-shirt that read, “I’m not disturbing the peace, I’m disturbing the war,” Tetaz often smiled as Leibovitz criticized her decision to disrupt a Senate speech and pass out blood-tainted dollars. The move, Leibovitz said, “demeaned the action of protest” and bordered on assault. “Ms. Tetaz has repeatedly over time ignored court orders and our laws,” the judge added. She sentenced Tetaz to 75 days in jail but suspended 50 days — unless Tetaz is arrested again while on probation for 18 months.
Tetaz is the model of what I call a radical geezer, whose idea of “retirement” is having plenty of time to devote to the thing that matters to her most–her work with the group Witness Against Torture. Tetaz doesn’t let her “physical limitations” stop her, according to the Post:
She carries bags of medications for glaucoma and heart trouble. She also has leukemia, which doctors said they can treat with medication. Judges must speak loudly or she has to wear headphones to be able to hear the proceedings.
Widowed since 1995 and with no children, Tetaz says she’s the perfect demonstrator. She has no responsibilities. She is retired after spending 30 years teaching English in D.C. public schools including Eastern and Dunbar, as well as a brief time in 1948 when she taught school in Harlem, N.Y.
Protesting isn’t new to Tetaz. During the Vietnam War, she and other demonstrators were arrested on the steps of the Capitol. She spent three days in jail. “It’s often the poor, uneducated, inner-city kid who has no other recourse than the streets or the Army,” she said, days before Monday’s sentencing. “I’m fighting for him.”
Tetaz, like many of her fellow demonstrators, is spiritual. She often speaks of wanting to “follow Jesus” and lives a simple life in an Adams Morgan apartment with two cats and a bird. “In everything I do,” she said, flashing her large smile, “I want to be a reflection of my faith.”