'Seattle 12' sentenced in protest at offices

As befits a peace protest on the brink of wartime, some people held flowers, some cried, some read poetry and almost all wore peace buttons.

But the crowd was small — six men and six women — and the audience was a federal judge about to sentence them for refusing to leave the offices of U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

The "Seattle Twelve," as they have come to be called, were convicted last week on charges of refusing to obey officers who told them to leave the Democratic senators' Jackson Federal Building offices in Seattle on Sept. 25. The activists had insisted on first speaking with the senators about a resolution authorizing the president to use force against Iraq.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Weinberg yesterday placed 10 of the protesters on six months of unsupervised probation during which they cannot break any local, state or federal laws. Two protesters with previous convictions were sentenced to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, one for seven days, the other for 20.

But before delivering his sentence, Weinberg gave protesters 10 minutes each to talk about themselves. The result was part heartfelt theater, part confessional, as some of the Seattle area's most seasoned activists gave a collective two hours of impassioned testimonial. The sentences seemed almost irrelevant; one protester even asked if she could have her sentence changed, from probation to jail time. Weinberg declined.

Scott Engelhard, a lawyer for the Rev. Anne Hall, University Baptist Church co-pastor and recipient of the seven-day jail sentence, said the protesters did what they did because they believed it was right, even if it meant incarceration. Moreover, he said, they felt they were not being heard, even when they sought answers to simple yes or no questions.

Senate staff members, he said, "were giving gobbledygook answers."

Cantwell met with activists after the protests and before voting in favor of the resolution, said her spokeswoman, Jennifer Crider.

Murray voted against the resolution, and Hall said she seemed to be quoting some of the points the protesters had made on Sept. 25.

The resolution, many protesters said, was an illegal abrogation of Congress' authority to wage war. They listed numerous other reasons to oppose military action against Iraq, including the risk to both Iraqi and U.S. lives.

Mike Yarrow, co-founder of the peace coalition Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War, or SNOW, held up a picture of three Iraqi girls, saying it "helps me to get in touch with the horror that we are about to unleash. Look at them: Wouldn't you be proud to have them as your daughters? They are your daughters."

Jean Buskin, a biochemist and another SNOW co-founder, read a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and asked for two minutes of silent contemplation afterward.

"The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive," she read as some of the 40 or so supporters in the audience listened with their eyes closed.

Some protesters were noncommittal when asked if they might violate their probation by another act of civil disobedience.

But John Repp, a former Boeing machinist and programmer, said he wouldn't mind six months' probation, figuring a war will still be going on when his sentence ends.

"I can wait six months to do this again," he said, "because I think it's going to be a long haul."

Eric Sorensen: 206-464-8253 or esorensen@seattletimes.com