In my opinion Adele Bourne, speaking in front of the Senate Judiciary committee on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee in opposition to Senator Leo Raptakis‘ bill to make blocking the highway during a political protest a felony, has put the last nail in the coffin of this ill considered legislative overreach.
“I would have a rap sheet a mile long if this were taking place in Webster Groves, Missouri in 1953,” said Bourne, who was a senior in high school at the time, “There were good reasons. I’m not a wild eyed pacifist or liberal but in 1953 in Webster Groves, Missouri, our religious leaders and our wonderful school teacher… black and white, they got us all together, the kids, and we got rid of a corrupt mayor. We opened up a new pool and recreation area, paid for by everybody, used only by whites: we changed that. So when school desegregation came three years later there was no problem whatsoever.”
Bourne spoke directly to the danger of passing laws that run contrary to civil rights, saying, “At the time there were real problems and my ministers and my teachers and I would have been put in jail because we had to cross a highway at one point or another.”
Webster Groves is only 14 miles from Ferguson.
Bourne brought up the case of Father Michael Doyle, a New Jersey priest arrested in 1971 as part of the Camden 28 for breaking into a draft office as part of a protest against the Vietnam War. “I’m old enough that I have been able to know some of the leading people for political change and social change in this country. That’s one advantage of being so ancient. Father Michael Doyle of Camden, New Jersey would be behind bars under mandatory sentencing.”
Instead, Father Michael Doyle has spent that last four decades, “feeding, housing, and educating the poor.”
It’s important to remember that the people blocking the highways today are the Adele Bournes and Michael Doyles of the future. We cannot let ourselves become so fearful of change that we criminalize our best and brightest.
You can view the rest of last night’s testimony on the Raptakis’ highway bill here.