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CodePink Hosts Pajama Party in Front of White House on Mother's Day

by Jo Freeman

CodePink, the colorful women's peace action group, sponsored a 24 hour Mother's Day vigil in Lafayette Square across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.  National Park Service rules prohibit sleeping or camping in the park so activities continued all night long.  A few people did manage to doze, unbothered by the U.S. Park Police who stood guard throughout the night. *

Roughly two to three hundred people were present at any given moment during the day; less than 50 stayed throughout the rather chilly night.  A handful of men joined in the vigil and more than a handful of children were also present, some dressed in variations of the trademark pink color.   Started in 2002 to protest the forthcoming US invasion of Iraq, CodePink took its name from the color alert system that supposedly signals terrorist threats.

Like CodePink, Mother's Day began as a protest against war.  Julia Ward Howe, famous for writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, proposed a Mother's Day for Peace in 1870 and wrote a poem as her Proclamation. She was appalled at the carnage of the recent US Civil War and the threat of more with the impending Franco-Prussian War.  Several cities celebrated a Mother's Day for Peace in the Nineteenth Century.  The official, commercial version didn't begin until the early Twentieth Century; in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother's Day.

The vigil began at 3:00 Saturday afternoon with a procession to the Ellipse to spell out the words "Mom Says No to War," in a frame of cardboard coffins dressed in American flags. This was followed by teach-ins and a concert.  Throughout the night CodePink ran activist trainings, a scavenger hunt, yoga, and other activities.  At dawn, a delegation delivered hundreds of roses to the mothers visiting their injured children at Walter Reed military hospital.

Throughout Sunday, healing ceremonies, processions, and meditations alternated with rallies, speeches and protesting in front of the White House.  Letters to Laura Bush were read from the stage in Lafayette Square.  Perennial protestor Cindy Sheehan was joined by Susan Sarandon and Patch Adams as well as lesser celebrities, some military moms and mothers from Iraq.  Comedian and long-time activist Dick Gregory made an unplanned appearance.  On hearing about the White House protest that morning while at home in Massachusetts, Gregory canceled his plans and flew to DC.  He was quietly standing in the crowd watching a rally when an African-American participant pointed him out to CodePink founder Medea Benjamin; he was promptly invited to speak.  Gregory had come only with the intention of participating in the civil disobedience planned for the end of the vigil.  As a veteran of 175 DC arrests, he knew the drill.

However, Mother Nature vetoed plans to get arrested.

Getting permits for events like this is complicated because jurisdiction is shared by the National Park Service and the DC police department.  In addition, the Secret Service has a say in anything in front of the White House.  While protests take place in front of the White House fence all the time, protestors are required to keep moving.  If they pause for very long they are subject to arrest.   By the same token, sitting down on the sidewalk in front of the fence is the easiest way to commit civil disobedience.  Most such actions are orchestrated — planned in advance with police co-operation, not spontaneous.

After the final rally at 3:00 p.m. a hundred participants took hundreds of roses from the vases lining the stage and sat down in front of the White House fence.  After more singing and chanting, roses were interlaced with the iron spokes and most people dispersed. Around 3:45 about 15 people gathered to get arrested.

Rain, which had been threatening all day, began to fall in large drops.   Pink umbrellas were hastily opened, while the police only removed the roses from the fence.  They told CodePink that no paddy wagons would be available for several hours to take the protestors to jail. After some hasty consultations, it was decided that civil disobedience could wait for another day. 

Mother Nature had declared that Mother's Day was not the right day to go to jail, even for peace.

*Editor's Note: Jo's pictures can be seen at these two URLs: and


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