Greeting Donald Trump as he entered Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as witnessed by Max Obuszewski
Members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance [NCNR] decided to embark on an action code-named Healthcare Not Warfare in November 2017. A petition was crafted to be delivered to Captain Mark A. Kobelja, director of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. NCNR also gathered signatures on the petition. Members of the group were then prepared to risk arrest by trying to deliver the letter to Captain Kobelja.
Unfortunately, though, there was a development which caused the group to delay the action. After some discussion, it was noted that the ongoing war waged by Saudi Arabia against the people of Yemen needed to be challenged. So it was decided to undertake two days of action.
On January 11 the group would visit the office of Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer to urge him to re-evaluate his record on supporting Saudi Arabia; and on January 12 some NCNR members would go to Walter Reed with the message Healthcare Not Warfare.
It is unconscionable that the U.S. military is supporting the Saudi assault on Yemen, as this beleaguered country is dealing with war, famine and epidemics. To call attention to the atrocities committed against the people of Yemen, a petition to Rep. Steny Hoyer was drafted by NCNR and signed by many concerned citizens. On January 11, the petition was delivered to Rep. Hoyer’s office, 1705 Longworth House Office Building, and seven advocates were arrested after refusing to leave. The advocates were denied a meeting with a member of Hoyer’s staff so they refused to leave the office, and will go on trial in D.C. Superior Court possibly in March, facing charges of unlawful entry and trespass.
As planned, the visit to Walter Reed was scheduled for 11 AM. It was serendipitous that much later we found out that Donald Trump was to be at Walter Reed for his physical on January 12. This was an additional reason to be there to shout out Healthcare Not Warfare at this National Military Medical Center.
Rockville Pike is a major artery going north out of Washington, D.C. heading into the Maryland suburbs. There is a Metro stop at the National Institute of Health [NIH], which is directly across the street from a gate to Walter Reed. The sprawling Walter Reed complex has many gates, but this one seemed most convenient so this is where we held our vigil. For whatever reason, the gate was closed off to traffic, and lots of police officers and members of the military were present. Nevertheless, our signs calling for better healthcare, and condemning the madness of militarism and Trump’s policies garnered a lot of attention from the people in the vehicles heading north and south.
Seven members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance went to Walter Reed with the petition to Captain Kobelja. Marilyn Carlisle and Max Obuszewski traveled from Baltimore for the demonstration. Three of the people who were arrested in Hoyer’s office, Phil Runkel from Milwaukee, Janice Sevre-Duszynska from Baltimore and Alice Sutter from New York City, also recognized the urgency behind the slogan of Healthcare Not Warfare. Finally, Don Cunning and Manijeh Saba from New Jersey joined us at Walter Reed.
The day before, Saba was arrested outside the White House with four others as part of a demonstration calling for the closure of the Guantanamo prison complex. After the vigil at Walter Reed, she took the Metro to appear that afternoon in Superior Court in Washington, D.C. for an arraignment. Later that day, we were informed that the case against her and the other Witness Against Torture activists was dismissed.
Our petition to Captain Kobelja included a request for a meeting, and raised two issues: “First, we believe that healthcare is a right, and second we object strenuously to giving the military complex some 50% of the discretionary budget. Sadly, Donald Trump and many legislators are intent on cutting back on spending for healthcare, while increasing an already-out-of-control military budget.”
Trump’s policies have contributed to making these times very desperate, especially for immigrants, Muslims and the dreamers. And the Republican tax bill will only exacerbate the economic situation for the middle class, and be devastating for the poor. The petition made this request: “As the commander of a world-class hospital, we are petitioning you to first recognize the validity of our concerns and then to speak out that the people need healthcare not warfare.”
Last September, as the Trump administration was aiming to make major cuts in the healthcare budget, many people around the country were fearful that Republican legislators would take away what healthcare they have. So citizens were being arrested on Capitol Hill on a daily basis for speaking out in an attempt to save their healthcare.
At a moment when our government is trying to cut back severely on spending for healthcare, while pushing for massive increases in Pentagon funding, we need to listen to one of the most powerful moral voices of our time: Reverend William Barber. During the healthcare demonstrations, he was arrested in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office to protest the repeal of Obamacare, and said this: “There are times when silence is no longer an option and you must engage in the dangerous ministry of truth telling. I'm standing with millions across America today to say the fight for healthcare is a fight for the soul of America.”
While many activists fail to make the connection between military spending and cut-backs in social services, Rev. Barber is quite clear in railing against politicians who want to “steal from the poor to give budget increases to a bloated military.” “What will make us safer,” Rev. Barber asks, “$54 billion dollars more to a war machine or jobs, education, healthcare, and infrastructure? $54 billion could provide healthcare to 22 million low-income children. What would make fewer people around the world hate us—lifting up the world or bombing and invading? It’s not that we don’t have the money, it’s that our moral priorities are wrong.”
We believe the Reverend’s call to action is prophetic. We must combat systemic poverty and racism, war mongering, economic injustice, voter suppression, and other attacks on the most vulnerable. We need a long term, sustained movement led by the people who are directly impacted by this extremism. Let us take inspiration from his leadership, his actions and his words. Let us be clear that Rev. Barber pointed out we need universal healthcare for all. This means we want healthcare legislation that is an improvement on Medicare.
Besides the support we received from many of the drivers, we also had people passing by on the sidewalk who appreciated our message. One person who joined us was a lawyer whose family was from Iran. Another was a mother who told us her daughter got a call from the FBI after she set up a web site while in high school challenging government policies.
Eventually, four of us tried to walk to the guard station to deliver the letter to the commandant. We were intercepted after a mere two feet. Now even the Secret Service was there concerned about our presence. Of course, we tried to question these authorities. Manijeh and Janice were most vocal is making a case for freedom of speech. Manijeh is from Iran, and always carries a copy of the U.S. Constitution. And of course, she brought it out to bolster her First Amendment argument. By this time, there was a towering police officer not too interested in our constitutional arguments. But it was dramatic to watch and listen to these two women who were just over five feet tall confronting this very tall officer. Of course, despite our best and most eloquent arguments, we lost the debate.
We were even unsuccessful in getting anyone else to take the letter to the guard station. The officer in charge informed us that we could be moved across the street. This was a light-bulb moment. We had no idea if Trump was already inside Walter Reed, and if so what gate or helicopter pad was used. Now we knew for sure that Trump had yet to arrive.
Soon we were moved across Rockville Pike, and it was obvious that Trump was coming. Rockville Pike was closed off in both directions, and the officer in charge moved a police vehicle in front of us. Another police officer tried to move us further back, but she backed down when we patiently explained we have the right to be in this area where Trump’s entourage would soon pass by.
It was like watching Moses part the Red Sea as this Trumpian fossil-fueled motorcade headed south towards us. Numerous motorcycles, some trucks, and several SUVS, one of which carried the president, rolled through the gate where we had earlier gathered. Our timing was impeccable. We can only speculate if Trump saw any of our signs, including one calling for his impeachment. One could presume that someone in the Trump entourage did see our messages. There was a camera-person present, presumably for a local or national news station. But he ignored our demonstration. This write-up might be the only record that the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance was present to challenge the 45th president of the United States on January 12, 2018 and condemn his policies which favor warfare, rather than healthcare.
After that misbegotten motorcade entered the hospital grounds, the police allowed the people to leave the area by the Metro stop to cross Rockville Pike. Irene Rodriguez, an independent journalist, now joined us. So we went back across the road so that Irene could film us, and then do some interviews. Again we tried to walk with our petition to the guard station, but we were met with a quick rebuff. We appealed to members of the military and the police to take the petition. That same female police officer with which we had an encounter on the NIH side of Rockville Pike finally said she would take the petition. She folded it up and placed in her pocket. As peace and justice activists, we claimed this as a moral victory. I doubt the petition ever reached the commander’s office. But we did mail a copy as well to Captain Kobelja. We are still waiting for his response.
As we were heading to the Red Line Metro stop, we came upon a majestic hawk. It was able to jump, but for whatever reason did not or could not fly away. We did not observe any discernable injury, but Janice appealed to people walking by to try to get some assistance for the bird. This hawk was no more than five feet away from us, and its eyes were locked on mine as I said good bye. We then hurried to get on Metro in order to get to Baltimore to attend the Close All U.S. Foreign Bases conference.
Looking at the situation with some imagination, I wondered if the hawk might be some kind of symbol, and was it emblematic of the situation we were protesting? Our government has this majestic war-fighting machine, which has contributed to death and destruction around the globe. However, despite the trillions of tax dollars wasted on U.S. militarism, the Pentagon has a dismal record in regards to achieving “victories.” The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the two most glaring examples of recent military fiascoes. Was this bird who couldn’t fly there to send us a message? Was it informing us that we have to do more to convince the populace and especially the legislators that U.S. warmongering must cease, and that tax dollars must be re-allocated to properly fund social services? Who knows? Nevertheless, I am hoping that hawk is now flying in the Maryland skies, and that the entire Trump administration will decide to resign. Yes, I am a dreamer.
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs