On February 22, 2010, Chris Gaunt began conducting a weekly sit-in at the local offices of her US Senators, Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, in Des Moines, Iowa, urging them to refuse any further funding for war. A number of other local peace activists joined Chris in conjunction with The Peaceable Assembly Campaign. As part of the sit-ins, which took place during office hours, Chris made a point of connecting with the office staff, person to person, while she endeavored to educate them on the dire urgency of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite these efforts, it was clear that the senators themselves were not willing to seriously consider voting against war funding or even listen to the rationale that Chris and others were offering. Chris recognized that, to be taken seriously, more had to be done.
On March 11, 2010, Chris changed the weekly peaceful sit-in to a peaceful die-in. She lay down on the floor as if she were dead, with a note explaining that she would remain there until she could get a straight answer from the senator about cutting off funds for the wars. The office staff called on the police to physically remove and arrest her. She and others have returned to conduct die-ins nearly every week, a total of 11 times since. Speaking of the results, Chris describes the opportunities she has had to interact with a variety of people, including Senate staffers at all levels, both in Iowa and DC, Federal Building security officers, police officers, prosecutors and, now, judges.
Below is a poem Chris wrote about her experience as well as an excerpt from a letter to Senators Grassley and Harkin and their staffs:
Dying to End the Wars
Dying-In, I should say.
Dying in the Federal Building in Des Moines, Iowa, seventh floor.
Dying in the offices of Senators Grassley and Harkin.
Dying to stay until my senator starts voting NO on continuing to fund these wars.
Staying dead past 5 PM closing time? … YES.
Return to die again the next Wednesday.
Get to know the office staff before you die.
Let them get to know who you are and what you want.
Come in a spirit of resistance.
Arm yourself only with LOVE.
Care to join me?
Dare to raise your voice by using your body.
Speak loudly in the dead silence.
Come, die-in with me to end these damn wars.
Pick your day.
Choose your own way to simply say:
NO MORE $$$ FOR WAR.
From a June 17, 2010 letter to Senators Grassley and Harkin and to staffers Nick Podsiadly, Kurt Kovarik, Tom Buttry, Rosemary Guiterrez, Aaron McKay, Derek Miller and Rob Barron:
The message I have been bringing to your Iowa offices since last February is:
NO MORE $$$ FOR WAR.
I am asking our two long-serving and hard-working Iowa Senators to vote NO on war spending bills AS A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE. I was proud of Senator Harkin’s vote for the Feingold amendment to the supplemental war spending bill because it sent a strong message that 20% of the Senate say it is time for an exit strategy in Afghanistan. A much larger majority of the people out here are sick and tired of these wars that continue to drain our treasury at a time when we need to be addressing pressing concerns here at home. President Obama’s 30,000 troop surge in Afghanistan costs us $1 million per troop per year, while the average annual income of people living in Afghanistan is $300.
Congress holds the purse strings, and thus the decision to continue or END these illegal occupations is in your hands. I refuse to give up on either Senator.
The American people and the world will be proud of our two fine Iowa Senators for doing the right thing and voting to end these wars.
Chris Gaunt (GAUNT@grinnell.edu) is a vegan hog farmer from Grinnell Iowa.