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  • Writer's pictureMennonite Women USA

MW USA at Peace Action in DC

"Why are you here?" was asked and answered over and over by Mennonites in DC this past weekend. One woman at Peace School (the day of training before the events on Capitol Hill) said, “Our theology calls us to take powerful action to support a cultural shift to reclaim what it means to follow Jesus.” There were surely as many reasons for attending as there were people in attendance, but we were all, in the words of Sister Dana Cassell, "putting the full force of [our] religious formation to work, leveraging [our] generational inheritance of scriptural peacemaking and understanding of Jesus’ way in the world to speak out, powerfully, into the immediate realities of our American empire of violence."

 

Mennonite Women USA was honored to participate in the peace events of MLK weekend led by Mennonite Action. For our part, we were there to recognize stories of suffering and practice justice through supportive partnership. We did so by sponsoring a meal, sending participants to help serve it, and standing in solidarity with and recording witness of the peace action.  



There were four full days, full of activity and full of hope! Suzanne Ayer Lay, MW USA’s representative in attendance, was in the final day's group standing vigil outside in support of those risking arrest, she attended every day but one, and she got to bring her two children since the surprise snow caused school closures.  

 

Another woman who spoke of the weather during the event said some Native traditions believe that, "the snow represents the ancestors." She said, "This is a beautiful spirit.” It was beautiful, indeed, to be amidst so many loving spirits of all ages and from across the country united in the values of peace, justice, community, mutual aid, and service

 

Speaking of traditions, we all know Mennonites love to sing, but have you experienced singing in protest? If there is such a thing as weapons of peace, the gathered came armed with voices. The weekend was a constant refrain of song: to pray, to worship, to keep up our energy, and to practice for Tuesday’s action. Singing was both scheduled in and spontaneously called for. Singing was the main action comprising the civil disobedience, and participants continuously sang throughout arrest.



Our voices rang out in prose and spoken poetry too, as speakers were called from the gathered group to share their motivations and prayers in preparation. The voices lifted again outside at the vigil supporting the inside group, directly calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza, an end to weapons funding, a release of all hostages, and liberation for Palestine. The pictures attest to poignant messages held up on beautiful signs, many designed to look like quilts. And inside, while peacefully occupying the Cannon office building, a woman spoke with her hands and body, adding another, visual language of ASL to the chorus of voices.


In the Washington Post’s coverage, reporter Justin Wm. Moyer pulled this most appropriate statement from Mennonite Action’s website. “Mennonite Action is a movement of Mennonites bonded by a common belief that we have a responsibility to use our voices as powerfully as possible for the cause of peace and justice. We know that what’s happening right now in Israel and Palestine is unprecedented and tragic. We draw on our Mennonite history of opposing war and in providing aid and relief to Palestine and to the Middle East.” 


Timeline

 

The first day, Saturday, we spoke with our feet, joining American Muslims for Palestine, 350+ endorsing organizations, and hundreds of thousands of people in the DC March for Gaza. Mennonites met at the corner of the National Mall nearest the Washington Monument and the African-American History Museum. Sister Suzanne shared the following account on social media of her participation:


For MLK weekend we marched in DC with Palestinian peacemakers. There were several Jewish peacemakers there too. Bless them both!

 

"My older daughter and I took a pink heart balloon that was given to my younger daughter at our neighbor's 60th birthday party the night before. There were all adults at the party besides my two kids and one toddler, but even so, my six year-old said the party was "amazing!" I think it was because there was so much love and delicious international foods and genuine laughter on account of having to figure out what to talk about despite not knowing each other and most everyone having a different native language. I can list at least five different countries in which people were born and there were a bunch of other folks I didn't get to meet.


Saturday morning, the morning of the march, my younger daughter who was staying home said I should take the balloon to the "walk thing where we are saying it's not okay to hurt other people." And I couldn't have agreed more. 


We can't keep solving our problems with war and putting our faith in violence. Attacking civilians on October 7 or any of the 100 days since makes no point other than inhumanity is thriving. We can't bomb our neighbors in Yemen and pay for bombs to drop on our neighbors in Gaza and think we're getting anywhere good. We've got to treat our neighbors how we want to be treated. We've got to talk to each other creatively across cultures, honoring our differences as strengths. My six year-old likes jokes and riddles and asked me at the party what language we all speak. Then she said, "laughter!" We've got to lean into those common languages. We've got to use the tools of listening, truth and reconciliation. We can't think hurting and restricting each other's civil and human rights is going to solve anything. 

 

We need democracy, diplomacy, cooperation, mutual aid and amazing parties where six year-olds break the ice by asking what kind of bear doesn't have teeth? And did you know Dr. King would have been 95 today? We should still be living in his lifetime, instead of living in his incredible legacy already. But we can be a part of his legacy and do our part to support a JUST PEACE for Jews and Palestinians and every person. Some of us will need to turn off the war machines, some of us march, some of us cook delicious food for our neighbors, and some of us tell a room full of stumped strangers that it is gummy bears who have no teeth. And that is how we will burst into love and build beloved community, If we choose it." 


 

On Sunday, Hyattsville Mennonite Church generously hosted an art build, potluck and peace service for all attending. Suzanne lives on the other side of the beltway, so she joined back in on Monday for Peace School at the National City Christian Church, the day before the main event launched from Washington City Church of the Brethren on Tuesday.


At one of the many Peace School times dedicated to sharing our stories for attending, a mom explained, “I'm risking arrest because I love my children. I care about the children... I want all children to be safe and sending military aid to Israel will never keep children safe.” 


Another woman who worked in Gaza with Mennonite Central Committee spoke of the people she met there. “They have an incredible spirit of life.” she said. “I fear that that their spirit is being relentlessly pummeled these days.” She continued reading a text from friend in Gaza who, over the course of several messages, relayed losing more than a dozen direct family members. After a time, she asked how he was, and he only replied, “I’m so sad.” This woman said she was taking peace action, “so that my friends and their communities know they are not alone.” 



Another part of Peace School carefully and thoughtfully prepared those participating in civil disobedience with what to expect. Videos of Mennonites singing at December peace actions in district Congressional offices were followed by a step-by-step break down of video of a peaceful October protest for ceasefire in Gaza led by Jewish Voices for Peace. Whether simply for practical strategy, intentional symbolism, or both, the Mennonites followed the lead of Jewish peacemakers in circling up, singing, displaying aerial facing banners, peacefully complying with Capitol police, and even in selecting the same location in the Cannon office building rotunda.  


Monday evening of Peace School, MW USA sponsored and helped serve a meal for the movement. Mennonite Action leaders selected Falafel Inc., which is run by a Palestinian owner and serves recipes inspired by his mother's cooking. <3



Then there was Tuesday. Could you hear the voices?! Tuesday’s peace action inside the Cannon office building is best witnessed on Mennonite Action’s livestream or this shorter compilation video.


Outside, Suzanne and her children joined over 200 additional supporters on the Capitol lawn just across from Cannon. Her youngest climbed the nearby tree and her oldest was drawn as close to Cannon as our permit allowed as the singing echoed from the inside out. We sang outside too, in the cold winter air! We heard from pastors, children, and professional peacemakers. We prayed for the folks inside Cannon, and we prayed for those inside and displaced from Gaza. 


A mother and grandmother at the microphone prayed, "You are the God of peace and comfort. We come to you asking that this madness needs to stop. Soften the hearts of the leaders. Noone wins in war. It is destruction and violence. This is a church of peace, the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Brethren, they are known for justice and peace, and we call upon your name to bring about ceasefire. No more destruction of Gazan life. No more genocide. Free Palestine. And help us to serve you in Jesus' name. In your Spirit we ask. Amen."



There is still deep sorrow for all that is being lost, but the events of this weekend were a witness to the hope growing in energy for peaceful solutions. 


MW USA holds care and compassion for victims of all violent attacks in Israel and Palestine. We pray for the liberation and living preservation of Palestinian culture. We pray for the safety of Israelis and Palestinians. We are part of the chorus for ceasefire, an end to US military aid, and an immediate release of all hostages. We pray for the Palestinian and the Israeli peacemakers. We pray for so much better for our children. And we are deeply grateful to the young adult organizers of Mennonite Action who gathered us together this weekend to take action for these prayers.  

 

May God who connects us all hear our prayers, and may all God’s children respond with love.


Suzanne Ayer Lay for MW USA

MW USA Communications Director


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Mennonite Women USA values what all women have to say and Women's Voices blog is a space to honor their words. Posts are reviewed for tolerance and respect but don't necessarily reflect MW USA's official position.

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