Sometimes Civil Disobedience is the Only Way to be Heard
Leah Bolger, a retired navy officer, talks about her arrest at Congress and plans for NATO protest
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.
In October 2011, Leah Bolger, a 20 year veteran of the U.S. Navy (retired) walked into the Supercommittee hearings in Congress about debt and deficit reduction and made a speech. Well, she wasn’t being called as a witness, so she was arrested. On Thursday she had her trial, Thursday of last week. And she now joins us to talk about all this. Leah, as I said, was in the U.S. Navy. She retired in 2000 at the rank of commander. And she’sâ€”recently she was elected as the first female president of Veterans for Peace. Thanks for joining us.
LEAH BOLGER, PRESIDENT, VETERANS FOR PEACE: It’s my pleasure.
JAY: So tell us first of all, quickly, what happened in court on Thursday, and then give us a little bit of the context of why you were there.
BOLGER: Well, in court on Thursday I pled guilty to the charge of unlawful conduct, disruption of Congress, and I decided to waive my right to a jury trial, because I admit what I did. I broke the law because the law says you can’t just speak out in committee hearings or a meeting of Congress. But I felt obligated to break the law, because that seems to be the only way that a regular citizen can be heard by Congress. And, in fact, I am the only person who was heard before the Supercommittee, and I had to break the law to do that.
JAY: You mean, the only person that was heard that wasn’t theâ€”what do you mean? There were other people that testified there [crosstalk]
BOLGER: There wasâ€”the only witness was Doug Elmendorf, who’s the director of the Congressional Budget Office. So, I mean, he’s part of the system. So nobodyâ€”no witnesses were there to testify on behalf of the American public.
JAY: Okay. Let’s just show a little clip of what happened that day.
BOLGER: Tax the rich and end the wars. That’s how we fix the deficit.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY, SUPERCOMMITTEE COCHAIR: The committee willâ€”committee will be in order, please.
BOLGER: And all this obfuscation with percentages of GDP, this is just trying to confuse the issue. The answer is very obvious.
MURRAY: The chair wishes to remind all of our guests thatâ€”.
BOLGER: The vast majority of the public wants you to tax the rich, end the wars. We spend more on war spending than the rest of the world combined.
MURRAY: I would request that the Capitol Police restore order.
BOLGER: And this history of this vast, grotesque spending on wars and the war machineâ€”
MURRAY: The committee shall recess until we are in order.
BOLGER: â€”has depleted the base of this economy. And we would have enough money for housing and health care and everything that we wanted if we stopped spending our money on this black hole of the military machine. It’s very obvious. I speak for the 99 percent. End the wars and tax the rich.
JAY: So when you went to court, the judge in theory could have given you more serious sentencing, but he didn’t. Did you get some sense that he somewhat sympathized with what you had done?
BOLGER: Absolutely. I mean, I really feel like the sentence was a huge victory. He could have given me six months in jail, and he didn’t have to suspend any of it. He could have given me six months in jail. He could have given me up to a $750 fine. But what he gave me was really quite minimal. And Iâ€”twice in the hearing, afterâ€”as he was imposing the sentence, twice he said, I sympathize with your criticism of the government. And, you know, the government also (the government meaning the prosecutors) asked for a stay away orderâ€”all of Capitol Hill they wanted to ban me from. And the judge did not agree to any stay away, and I think that was a very strong indication that he supports my activism andâ€”or any citizen that should not be prohibited from having access to his or her government.
JAY: So partâ€”one of the conditions of probation is that you can’t get arrested again, obviously. And so I know you’re planning to go with Veterans for Peace to Chicago where NATO is meeting. So what are you going to do there?
BOLGER: Well, absolutely I will be there. You know, I think the voices of veterans speaking out against NATO is very, very important. And, in fact, our organization, Veterans for Peace, plans to deliver a letter to the leadership of the NATO summit, and talking to them about our position on NATO and why it should be dissolved. And so I will be there.
And I hope that weâ€”the police allow us to exercise our First Amendment rights. I hope that nobody is arrested. I hope that there is no violence. There certainly won’t be any violence on the part of members of Veterans for Peace. But we hope to be there and to address these leaders. And if I’m arrested, then we’ll deal with that situation as it comes. But I’m not going to stay at home and be intimidated and hide away and be afraid of confronting the powers that be.
JAY: Now, you’re going to be doing this in the midst of an election campaign. President Obama certainly has said nothing that would make one think he’s going to change U.S. policy or its role in NATOâ€”quite the contrary, in terms of the war of Libya, and what’s being done by AFRICOM in Africa, and in Afghanistan and such. But how do you find where Veterans of Peace will position itself in this issue, given that I assume most of the people in Veterans for Peace would find the Republican foreign policy even more dangerous?
BOLGER: Well, Veterans for Peace is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and we do not support any particular party or candidate. What we do support is nonviolence. We oppose war. We oppose the machinery and the mechanisms of war. And our government is deeply entwined in the military. Military-industrial-governmental-banking-media complex is all one huge knot, and we oppose that. So we speak out in principle on what we oppose and what we support, and we’re vehemently opposed to war, killing, and militarism. And we don’t take any stand on candidates.
JAY: Both parties are talking about honoring America’s soldiers and treating them properly when they get home. What’s the reality of that?
BOLGER: Well, the reality is that our government does not budget enough money to take care of any of its people. And the soldiers, in my opinion, are important, but they’re no more important than the average citizen who doesn’t have health care or doesn’t have access to good education or doesn’t have housing. And the truth is that we would have enough money for every citizen to have health care and housing and education if we stopped pouring our money into the black hole of the war machine. So, you know, it’s really an easy answer.
Veterans for peace doesn’t necessarily advocate for veterans. What we do do is advocate for peace, and we advocate for human needs and uplifting the people. And that’s what we desperately want our government to do is to listen to the needs of the people, listen to our voices. And if they were truly listening and representing us, then they wouldn’t spend sixty cents out of every dollar on the war machine. They would spend it on our priorities, which are health care and education. And we’ve been saying that for years, years and years and years.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Leah.
BOLGER: My pleasure.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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