Speaker profile: Jail-time for nonviolent crime

By Sarah Malik

To apply Tom Hastings’ terminology, he’s no passive bovine. Hastings has built a career out of standing up for the underdog and demanding responsible governance, even if it means a criminal record and jail-time.

A nonviolent activist, author and peace studies professor, Hastings’ causes have included protesting an unpopular thermonuclear facility in Wisconsin and successfully fighting for Native treaty rights.

Hastings was at the University of Calgary for the International Peace Research Association Conference on July 1, to talk about an unexpected face of terrorism: the “terrorism” he said America is carrying out in Iraq, resulting in massive civilian deaths.

“The American citizenry doesn’t really understand that the rest of the world is looking at America and saying, ‘why isn’t it civilized?’” he asked. “If the world’s view was only based on [the actions of] the American government, there’d be a 9/11 every month.”

On Mar. 20 he and 18 others nonviolently occupied Oregon senator Ron Wyden’s office to protest Wyden’s backbench stance on America’s war in Iraq.

This occurred the day after a 15,000-strong peace rally in Portland, Oregon that marked the war’s third anniversary, and after several attempts by Hastings and others to initiate talks with the Senator, said Hastings.

“See how they like [occupation],” Hastings wrote about the invasion of Wyden’s office. As a result, Hastings and the others were promptly arrested by U.S. Homeland Security and punished with 10 hours of community service.

Hastings said his victory was well-worth the hours of community service. Wyden took a new antiwar stance on the Senate floor when he voted for a definite date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He was one of only 13 out of the 100 U.S. senators to do so.

But, Hastings has not always gotten off so easily for his actions. In the mid-’90s he caused $7,500 worth of damage to a nuclear facility he felt had become a “criminal instrument” and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was on parole while he taught peace studies.

“I teach people how to make trouble,” he said.

Hastings said he is not afraid to get arrested again. If nonviolent protests to urge the U.S. government to pull out of Iraq aren’t successful, Hastings and his supporters will occupy other officials’ offices in September.

“When I think about the inconvenience of getting arrested, and when I think of the little Iraqi girl who will never have an arm because of an American bomb, the price of [arrest] is insignificant,” said Hastings.

“Nonviolence is about rooting for the underdog and getting our emotional buttons pressed by watching vulnerable people being oppressed,” he said.

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