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Protest Method History

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Pro-choice demonstrators gather outside the house of US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 9, 2022. – The US Senate will vote on May 11 on a national abortion rights bill — a process likely doomed to fail — after a leaked draft decision signalled the Supreme Court’s readiness to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds / AFP) (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Taking protests to the homes of terrible humans is hardly a new tactic and it was an important moment in the history of legalizing protest:

Four decades ago, Phillip Schuller stumbled into history, joining a demonstration that involved an ex-priest, 10 pints of blood and Donald H. Rumsfeld’s front lawn.Schuller’s 1976 arrest ultimately upended Maryland’s law banning protests outside private residences. And it’s a key reason why, today, abortion rights activists can picket in front of the suburban Maryland homes of conservative Supreme Court justices.

“It’s correct to say that thanks to him, they’re not getting arrested,” said David Rocah, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.“

I was young and crazy then,” Schuller, now 68, reflected last week from his Pittsburgh home.In the spring of 1976, Schuller was an impetuous sociology major at Slippery Rock University in western Pennsylvania. He saw a bulletin-board flier about a nuclear proliferation protest near D.C., he recalled, “and I said that I’m going to that.”

He stayed up until 2 a.m. baking bread, boarded a bus to Maryland the next day with no expectations, and found himself at a Catholic Worker House with some of the Vietnam War era’s most iconic peace activists,including the former priest Philip Berrigan, fresh out of jail for digging a grave in the Pentagon lawn.

Schuller knew of Berrigan and his brother Daniel J. Berrigan, still in the priesthood, who together had shaped the era’s antiwar movement through colorful, high-profile activism. Schuller saw older boys get drafted, watched antiwar protests on TV and narrowly avoided the war himself: It ended after he went for his draft physical but before his number was called.“I was a little young to do much protesting against Vietnam, and I didn’t,” Schuller said. “But I was oriented and came of age during Vietnam.”

Ahead of the event at the Pentagon, the organizers held a four-day vigil outside Rumsfeld’s home, in the Maryland suburb of Bethesda. In a bulletin to supporters afterward, preserved today in the Berrigan Library Collection at DePaul University, organizers wrote that 40 people came, from Massachusetts, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

“As a paragon of power, Mr. Rumsfeld had to consider that his high position … does not exempt him from responsibility to our home family,” the bulletin said.

Schuller arrived midway through the last day of protests, he said, and wasn’t there long before the police showed up and said the activists had to leave. Most in the core group complied. Schuller did not.“I just felt it was a public street,” he said. “It was just a spur-of-the-moment decision. I didn’t really think it through.” Arrested and charged with illegally picketing a protest, he went to jail with a few others for the afternoon. The man who would change Maryland law was absent for the main protest.

What kills me inside is the liberal outrage over violations of supposed civility when these murderous awful people are even remotely confronted with their actions. No, can’t have that now. What would happen to the neighborhood?

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