Thomas Brubeck glanced past the barricades that blocked off Lafayette Park in front of the White House. The 78-year-old gentleman had planned to join the group of 67 nonviolent war protesters who had already crossed the barricades, but he lacked a couple of inches as he tried to swing his legs up and over. A police officer was now rushing straight toward him, so he backed off and walked along the fencing until he found the little gap that allowed him to scoot through and join the others in a circle of prayer.
That's my dad! It didn't surprise me to hear that he'd gotten arrested last month since he has a record of several arrests from the days when he organized against U.S. involvement in El Salvador. After he was arrested then with a group of people who chained themselves to the White House fence, he reported to a parole officer for months (imagine my delight in giving him hell for that). But that was the '80s, and he's a decade and change older now, and a lot less flexible.
"Dad, did the cop hurt you?" I asked over the phone, a lump rising in my throat as I imagined hips and shoulders being wrenched out of place. No one was injured, since all of the protesters accepted the application of plastic handcuffs behind their backs without resistance. My dad wasn't allowed to use the Monopoly card that my sister sent him in case he needed to get out of jail free--it was confiscated along with his belt and shoelaces. As he tells it, though, he was in stellar company for the afternoon and evening until everyone was released. A rabbi, a Catholic bishop, a Methodist bishop, two Nobel Peace Prize laureates (sounds like a corny joke), former Defense Department official Daniel Ellsberg, members of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Pax Christi-USA shared stories and became friends as they waited to get processed. Summing up the day, my dad said, "Working for peace, you meet some good people. You really do."
My father has been a freelance troublemaker for years. During the exciting early days of the civil rights movement, he marched in D.C. and traveled south to stay with African-Americans in their homes. He protested the Vietnam war, wars in Latin America in the '80s, and military spending and the School of the Americas in the '90s. How does a soul born in 1924 find the stamina for yet another fight and at the same time manage to maintain a gentle, kind heart at the turn of this new century? My dad was a bombardier in the 8th Air Force, and I wonder why some vets just relax and retell old combat stories, and some don't. He won't call World War II "the Good War"--he rarely talks about it at all. What he does say is that he resents a handful of rich people running off with our money, trashing the U.N. and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, talking about democracy while siding with fascists.
He's an old vet who thinks that we are at a turning point for our nation, that these times feel as exciting as the civil rights era did, with our newly activated American public. Right this very minute, the Ella & Satchmo CD that my dad sent me last week is on the track: They Can't Take That Away From Me. In his great ability to play long distance jokes, my dad reminds me that his hope is rooted deep. With his progeny scattered from Seattle to Norway, new seeds of resistance are bound to sprout all over.