(Texas) - Texas Grandmother Sweeps Streets of
Washington as Punishment for Protest
Woman arrested last year for
crossing police line
by Gerry Smith
Diane Baker's voice was barely audible above the
rumble of the trash can she pushed down the sidewalk.
But her actions tended to speak louder, anyway.
Four months ago, Baker was one of 71 people
arrested during a protest in Washington for crossing
a police line to sit on the steps of a Senate office
Diane Baker, who has a degenerative muscle
condition, had to work 8 hours in freezing weather.
Photo:Emily J. Reynolds. COX WASHINGTON BUREAU As
punishment, the 60-year-old was sentenced to sweep
the streets of the nation's capital for eight cold,
blustery hours Tuesday.
"I'm a rather fragile, small woman," said Baker,
a hospice chaplain at United Church of Christ in
Dallas. "Being a minister, I offered to do
counseling, but this is what they gave me."
Baker, a mother of four and grandmother of two,
suffers from myoclonic epilepsy, a degenerative
muscle condition that causes her voice to quiver and
hands to shake. As she signed in to begin her
community service, she struggled to write her name.
With morning temperatures in Washington in the
high 20s, Baker prepared for the cold as if a
protest could start any minute.
She wore 10 multicolored T-shirts with messages
ranging from "End the War in Iraq" to "Shut Down
Guantanamo" and "Save Darfur." She also wore her
clerical stole with a dove carrying an olive branch
sewn into the fabric.
But on top of her layers of pacifism, Baker
donned a fluorescent red vest with bold letters to
remind her of why she was holding a dust bin and
broom: "DC Superior Court Community Service."
As she put it on, she said, "I think there are
better uses of my resources."
Her arrest in September was just another small
consequence in a lifetime of civil disobedience. She
has had handcuffs slapped on her wrists 25 times,
"But my arms are thin, so I usually get out of
them," she said with a mischievous smile.
She has shared a jail cell with the Rev. Jesse
Jackson and received a phone call on New Year's Eve
from anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.
Baker once walked 120 miles from Irving, near
Dallas, to meet Sheehan for a war protest outside
President Bush's ranch in Crawford.
Her community service came three days after tens
of thousands protesters, including Baker, gathered
in Washington to demand a withdrawal of U.S. troops
from Iraq. No arrests were made, according to police.
But as growing skepticism in Congress energizes
the anti-war movement, Baker served as a stark
reminder Tuesday of the limitations to freedom of
Fritz Mulhauser, a staff attorney for the ACLU in
Washington, said a D.C. statute was rewritten
recently to place greater limitations on police
during demonstrations, such as requiring them to
give loud, repeated warnings.
"That's going to benefit protesters," he said.
Briefed on the details of Baker's case, Mulhauser
said her arrest was probably justified. But, he
added, "handing out meals at a soup kitchen is also
a satisfying sentence."
As Baker slowly dragged her trash can down the
streets of downtown Washington, she acknowledged
that she had learned a lesson, albeit one on the "stupidity"
of the justice system in "a country built on freedom
"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."
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