"Peacemaker of the Year" cleans DC streets

Sharon Wilson
25 February 2007

Reverend Diane Baker, the 2006 Dallas Peace Center "Peacemaker of the Year," was missing from the photo taken when the rest of her Texas delegation met in Washington, DC with Senator Cornyn on January 27th. Why?

The 60 year old grandmother was busy picking up trash from the Washington, DC streets in blustery 20-degree weather to fulfill her sentence garnered from her September 2006 infraction while attending the DC-based Camp Democracy.

During the September event, Baker, with a peace delegation consisting of various activist groups from all across Texas lobbied U.S. senators and congress people about de-funding the war. At the time, she saw a group of protesters, arrested for crossing a police line, sitting together on the steps of a congressional building, and she went to sit with them in solidarity. . Although she herself had not crossed the police line, Baker was also booked.

Baker is hospice chaplain and a minister at a United Church of Christ in Dallas. She is a small, fragile woman who suffers from myoclonic epilepsy, a degenerative muscle condition. However, Baker wants no concession for her physical condition, so she never mentioned it to the judge who sentenced her to eight-hours of community service, picking trash from the DC streets. Instead, she reports that she faced her sentencing with a smile, proud to stand up for her beliefs.

Baker's husband says the Reverend Baker's attorney, who communicated with the Attorney General's office on behalf of Baker, was well aware of her physical condition and offered a list of alternative forms of community service. However, also according to Baker's husband, the Attorney General ruled that Baker travel back to Washington D.C. to serve her community service and insisted on the street trash detail;these were the only terms acceptable to the U.S. Attorney.

Given Baker's resume and community service as a hospice counselor, service that involved ministering and comforting wounded soldiers, or passing out food in a homeless shelter might have made more sense, her supporters feel, but the U.S. District Attorney's office assigned her to picking up trash.

Baker has said that she believes in consequences: "There should be consequences, and these should extend to people in the Administration who have lied to and spied on the American people, maimed and tortured, violated international law, and disregarded the will of the American people, the Congress, and the Constitution." For this reason, she says, she chose to serve her sentence under the Attorney General's terms rather then go to trial.

The other members of the peace delegation from Texas were concerned. But as Leslie Harris, a member of the Dallas Peace Centers said, "However physically frail, Reverend Diane Baker is, she is definitely stronger-than-strong in spirit! She has medical issues, but she never, ever uses them as an excuse, and, indeed, she pushes herself right through them in order to go full-speed ahead with her mission of peace and justice."

With shaking hands, Baker struggled to sign her name and begin her community service just three days after the January 27th protest where approximately one hundred thousand people, including Baker, marched in Washington to demand withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In preparation for eight hours of service in the freezing weather, she wore ten protest t-shirts and her clerical stole with a dove carrying an olive branch sewn into the fabric. Over that, she wore a fluorescent red vest with "DC Superior Court Community Service" printed on it.

Baker assured her peace delegation fellows that she didn't mind the work and that she could handle it. They kept in contact with her by cell phones throughout the day as they met with their congress people and attended hearings on funding the war, lobbied for complete withdrawal from Iraq, reparations for the Iraqi people and funding for comprehensive VA benefits.

Diane was assigned to the professional D.C. street cleaning detail and, according to emails, as a long-time champion of worker's rights, she quickly made friends and worked with the crew as an equal. Baker feels that if the authorities thought that wearing a "Court Community Service" vest and picking up trash would humiliate her, it didn't. If they thought it would deter her from future protests, it won't.

"They like to use this as a system of shame," she said, crouching down to pick up a cigarette butt lodged in a crack in the sidewalk. "But I'm not ashamed to be an American."

Reverend Diane Baker, 2006 Dallas Peace Center "Peacemaker of the Year," recipient was missing from the photo taken with her fellow Texans and Senator Cornyn because she was out picking up garbage as punishment for sitting on the steps of a public building.

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The following is an email sent by Diane Baker.

Hi, XXX

I appreciate your interest in all of this. I believe we all have a vested interest in First Amendment issues.

The Judge didn't have anything to do with the community service. That was the determination of the U.S. Attorney, or the "prosecutor" in this case. The prosecutor was steadfast that I was to do community service right along with everyone else who was accused of civil disobedience that day, or I could go to trial. I didn't want to go to trial, because I was accused of something irrelevant to the issue of an illegal an immoral war. I was accused of crossing a police line (I didn't, but certainly would have had it been necessary) in order to sit on the Senate Steps to protest the Senate's vote to allow torture and suspension of Habeas Corpus rights. They chose to charge me with a criminal ordinance, crossing a police line, instead of a civil ordinance, such as protesting without a permit, in order to make this more of a painful experience for me and the other protestors. The prosecutors have much discretion in these matters. The Judge is irrelevant to all of this. In fact, as the case was being settled after I had done the community service, the Judge was quite pleasant & almost bemused at the silliness of the whole matter.

So the point in all of this isn't about me, or my illness, or the Judge, but instead about the Bush Administration's attempts to suppress dissent, and the blatant widespread corruption in Washington. It is true that I face my own physical challenges, but I am motivated by what I saw during my 13 years ministering in Germany. When I asked friends in the older generation who lived during the Holocaust, "How could you have stood by, watch, and let your country do what it did?" they would respond, "I was just one person, I was afraid; what could I do?" So, now as I watch my country launch illegal, immoral wars, torture, teach racial hatred, intolerance and fear, I know that although I may be just one person, but there will always be something I can do.

I will not allow the Bush Administration to tell me that I am powerless. The Constitution says quite the opposite. ~ Diane Baker

About the Author: Sharon Wilson is a single mother who lives in rural Wise County, Texas.  She is a member of Wise County Active Democrats , who are seeking to unite Wise County residents to lobby for the repeal of oil and gas exemptions to protect our groundwater. She blogs on Texas Kaos and Daily Kos

Image credit: Used with permission. Emily J. Reynolds COX WASHINGTON BUREAU

Other ePluribus Contributors and Fact Checkers: JBodicea, standingup, roxy, standingup, cho

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