Opening Statement

©2005 L.Timmel Duchamp

We defendants are being tried here today for "Failure to Disperse," a charge that rests upon the contention that our exercise of free speech endangered public safety or property.

But you will hear in this trial that just as those of us who participated in the January 23rd protest are strongly committed to human rights and peace in El Salvador, we are also committed to human rights and peace here in Seattle. You, the jury, will learn that, with the intent to focus attention on the issue of how our tax dollars are used to violate human rights in El Salvador, a demonstration was organized for the opening day of Congress well in advance of the event, precisely so that we ourselves as well as the police could adequately prepare for it. The evidence will show that the organizers and participants of the event took great care that it be peaceable and that its circumstances not endanger public safety. To this end the organizers notified the police two weeks in advance of the event and held nonviolence training sessions and appointed and trained Peacekeepers who undertook to monitor the demonstration and to intervene should it become necessary for preserving the peace.

You will hear that the protest and action were peaceful, and that neither rioting nor damage to public or private property occurred. And you will learn that at the time of our arrests, though some of us were told we were blocking traffic, none were warned that we constituted a danger to public safety.

The evidence will show that the sponsoring organization, NO MAS, a coalition of more than 20 local religious and political groups, recognizes that confrontation is possible wherever there is a gathering of people expressing an opinion on a controversial issue. For this reason, NO MAS advocated nonviolence training both in their meetings and in their mailings prior to the event. Further, in their telephone recruitment and newsletters, groups within NO MAS such as CISPES and Pledge of Resistance urged potential participants to undertake nonviolence training. The evidence will show, in fact, that almost all of us being tried here today have participated in noviolence training workshops, and one of us has been conducting such workshops for years.

The evidence will show that during nonviolence training, participants studied the use of peaceable means to effect political change. You will learn that workshop participants formally agreed that they would not block aid cars should they need to pass. You will see a written handout used in the nonviolence training workshops which requests that participants "use humor... and love," and that they "respect all life." You will learn that the working assumptions of nonviolence insist that "Nonviolence is the constant awareness of the dignity and humanity of oneself and others... it renounces violence both in method and in attitude."

The evidence will show that organizers further ensured a peaceable event by recuriting Peacekeepers, people specially trained to monitor and intervene to keep the peace. The evidence will show that there were numerous Peacekeepers at the protest, all easily identifiable by the yellow armbands they wore. You will learn here today that the action on January 23 was in every respect a nonviolent demonstration, that it was, in fact, as safe to the public as the dozens of rallies, demonstrations and parades that routinely block Seattle's traffic. You will learn that there was neither intent nor activity on the part of the defendants leading to damage to property or persons, but rather a strong commitment to inform the public of recent events in El Salvador, including the murder of 2,048 civilians in the last 45 days of 1989, among whom were numbered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. And finally, the evidence will show that the police issued no public safety order to us, nor told us that the safety of the public was endangered, nor displayed any sense of urgency to any of the protestors or the media.

In conclusion, you will learn that the demonstration was orderly, that protestors heard no public safety order, that no threat to public safety occurred, that participants in this action did everything possible to ensure a peaceful demonstration, and that the demonstration did indeed prove to be peaceful and orderly. And so, members of the jury, we will ask you, when you have heard all the evidence in the case, to find us defendants Not Guilty.

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