Monthly Archives: July 2018

Civil Disobedience at 78: A Vocation Within a Vocation

By Benedictine Sister Barbara McCracken

There is a sickness of the soul in our political life, as the Poor People’s Campaign says, and it will take all of us to heal it.

The blessing that my religious community, Mount St. Scholastica, gave me and a long-time, hands-on involvement in justice issues led me to the Poor People’s Campaign in Topeka, KS, for my first-ever arrest. I drove to Topeka with a support person the first two Mondays of the campaign and on the second Monday, May 21, was arrested around noon for “occupying” a conference room at the office of Secretary of State Kris Kobach. 

Kobach is the architect of voter suppression in Kansas and, increasingly, in other states. Some 18,000 Kansans have been unable to register to vote at a motor vehicle bureau because Kobach’s regulations require showing a birth certificate or passport to register. Since 1990, from my work in Wyandotte County, I’ve been aware of Kobach’s distrust of the entire community of persons with a Spanish-speaking background in this country. 

On May 21, handcuffed with a thick plastic tie, my hands back to back, I was led from the conference room single file with the 17 others arrested, none of whom I knew, to a waiting bus. A good-sized crowd cheered us on. 

Eventually our information was taken down by hand by the Kansas Highway Patrol. The body search was quick but thorough. Only shoes and socks had to be removed. The fourteen of us women were put in a holding cell with a wooden bench on two sides that could hold 13 of us at a time. We took turns standing or sitting on the floor. After several hours during which we got to know each other a bit, a meal was served, but I chose to skip it.

Finally they started to call us for additional processing—photos, fingerprinting, questioning, and paperwork—during which we waited some more. We were released individually after processing. I hope my ten hours in detention will count as time served.

My civil disobedience became a vocation (a calling) within a vocation. There’s an element of mystery, a spiritual dimension, to why I did the action. Many great persons have spent time in jail: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Wangari Maathai (a college friend of mine who won the Nobel Prize in 2004 for the tree-planting movement in Kenya). 

The deportations going on right now, in the United States, divide family members. Parents are deported; children are put in juvenile detention centers and can’t get out. Recently, within two weeks, 600 children were separated from their families. This evil cries out for resistance.

People tend not to understand civil disobedience. It is elusive to define. It is done publicly. It is done nonviolently. And people who do it expect consequences from the law. I believe the Poor People’s Campaign, using civil disobedience, may be needed more now than when Martin Luther King began it in 1967.

—Sister Barbara McCracken of Atchison, KS, at age 78 was “by far the oldest resister” in Topeka May 21, she says. A long-time PeaceWorks-KC member, her work in Kansas City, KS, included teaching at Donnelly College; staffing Shalom Catholic Worker House for the homeless; ministering to prisoners; and being assistant director of Keeler Women’s Center. She still visits prisoners and helps keep her community’s investments aligned with its commitment to justice and peace.