By: Tammy Hepps
TAMMY HEPPS (CENTER FRONT), STANDS WITH FELLOW PROTESTERS. SCREENSHOT FROM THE BEND THE ARC WEBSITE. BEND THE ARC’S POLITICAL ADVOCACY ARM HARNESSES THE COLLECTIVE POWER OF PROGRESSIVE AMERICAN JEWS TO CHANGE POLICY AND BUILD A MORE JUST AND EQUAL NATION.
EDITORS NOTE: ON OCTOBER 23, THIRTEEN JEWS AND ALLIES WERE ARRESTED WHILE BLOCKING ACCESS TO A TRUMP RALLY IN PITTSBURGH, IN PROTEST OF HIS RETURN TO THE CITY ONE YEAR AFTER THE SHOOTING AT THE TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE AND TO PROTEST HIS CONTINUED INCITEMENT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST JEWS, IMMIGRANTS, AND ALL COMMUNITIES TARGETED BY HIS WHITE NATIONALIST RHETORIC AND POLICIES.
THIS STATEMENT WAS PREPARED FOR A COURT HEARING BY ONE OF THE ARRESTED ACTIVISTS, TO ADDRESS THE JUDGE.
Your honor, I am Tammy Hepps, and I address you today on behalf of the thirteen of us, Jews and allies, who were arrested at a protest the morning of Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh just days before the one-year commemoration of the synagogue shooting that murdered eleven of our friends and neighbors. We were part of a much larger group that gathered that morning to remind our fellow Americans that the synagogue shooting in our city was the direct culmination of Trump’s influence, and to remind our fellow Americans that in the past year Trump’s continued lies and ugly rhetoric have incited increasing white nationalist violence.
Two evenings ago, I spoke with a Jewish friend who had watched the live-stream of our protest with his children. Like many of the Jewish children in our city and country, his kids have been terribly scarred by what happened a year ago. My friend wanted me to know what it meant for him to show his children that we Jews are not afraid and that we Jews, with the support of our neighbors, can still stand up for ourselves in a way we could not during the persecutions of the past. Your honor, if our conduct two weeks ago led to these charges, please understand that it was for the sake of the generations that came before us and the generations that will come after us.
We protested because we are not afraid to stand up for our own lives.
We protested because we are not afraid to stand up for the lives of other minorities.
We protested because our non-Jewish allies are not afraid to stand up with us.
At the point in our protest when it became clear that my arrest was imminent, I couldn’t help but reflect on what it meant that I, the descendant of immigrants who fled state-sponsored violence and the relative of those who were murdered because they could not flee, had made a choice, as a proud American and a proud Jew, that led to my being surrounded by dozens of police in full riot gear.
My ancestors came to this country so that their descendants could live without fear. As Donald Trump and his white nationalist followers now try to strip my community of its safety and frighten away our allies, we are mustering all our courage and all our privilege to fight, literally, to preserve our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in our home. We stand before you accused of misdemeanors, but for us the stakes could not be more extreme.
But we also recognize that we are not the only minority group targeted by white nationalism. We stood up two weeks ago because we have internalized the lessons of our own tragic history: as Jews, we will not be bystanders to the suffering of others as others were to ours. We honor the security our ancestors earned for us by using it to fight for others. As Jews we are obligated, and as Americans we have the means.
Your honor, we stand before you at a time when our democracy is under incredible strain. In your role as judge you have the power to act to preserve our democratic institutions. As you now consider the facts in our case, I would like to conclude by reading to you from the Prayer for Our Country, which we as Jews recite in synagogue every Sabbath, which our friends and neighbors at Tree of Life, New Light, and Dor Hadash congregations would have read on October 27, 2018, had they not been murdered within the first minutes of their Sabbath morning prayers:
“Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask Your blessings for our country, for its government, for its leaders and advisers, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights of Your [Scripture] that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst.
Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country…” (Translation: Siddur Sim Shalom)
Your honor, we pray that you exercise just and rightful authority, so that we, your Jewish neighbors, may continue to enjoy the unprecedented peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom of our American Jewish community; and that together we, citizens and leaders alike, can continue the sacred work of extending those values equally to all America’s residents.
Tammy Hepps is an activist with Bend the Arc.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 40 No. 10. December/January, 2019/2020. All rights reserved.