PHILADELPHIA — Lillian Willoughby, a Deptford Quaker who will turn 90 in January, went to jail Wednesday to protest the war on Iraq.
Shortly before noon, Willoughby rose from her wheelchair, gave her husband of 64 years, George, a hug and a kiss, and disappeared into the federal detention center at Seventh and Arch streets here.
Reporting with her were five other peace activists, including a young couple from Camden, Cassie Haw, 22, and her husband, Chris, 23. All were convicted of obstructing the entrance to the federal building in Philadelphia on March 20, 2003, the day the United States invaded Iraq.
Lillian Willoughby, a Deptford Quaker who will turn 90 in January, is helped by George, her husband of 64 years, as she prepares to go to jail Wednesday in Philadelphia for obstructing the entrance to the city’s federal building during an anti-war protest last year. (Courier-Post Photo/Richard Pearsall)
Given a choice between a $250 fine and a seven-day jail term, the six chose jail.
“I don’t believe supporting the war in any way,” Willoughby said Wednesday.
Addressing a group of about 50 supporters who gathered a block away, Willoughby said nonviolence isn’t something that just happens.
“You have to learn to do it,” she said, “to train for change,” whether it’s dealing with violence on the street or violence between nations.
Marion Brown, 59, of Northeast Philadelphia, one of those who would go to jail with Willoughby a few minutes later, recalled how she told the federal judge who sentenced them that she’d pay the fine if “you can use the money to provide clean drinking water to children in Iraq or to lessen our grandchildren’s tax burden for paying for this war.”
“He said, `No,’ ” Brown said. “He said he didn’t think I was in any position to negotiate.”
Willoughby, a native Iowan who has been active in anti-war and civil rights campaigns since the start of World War II, said Wednesday she was not nervous as she prepared to enter jail for the first time, although she confessed to being nervous at times since her sentencing last month.
She expects to be in solitary confinement, with only an hour a day outside her cell.
“I’ll do yoga and exercises and prayer and some writing on my experiences there,” she said.
The people who gathered, many of them Quakers, most of them veterans of anti-war protests, were on hand to support all six going to jail, but mainly Willoughby.
“I’ve never been photographed so much in my life,” Willoughby said as she sat in a wheelchair but appeared and sounded fit.
A young Marine from North Philadelphia came to speak with Willoughby.
“I wanted to thank her for resisting this war,” said Lance Cpl. Elliot Ruiz, 19, who spent 5 1/2 months in Iraq before he was wounded when a car ran a checkpoint he was guarding near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
“It tore the back of my leg open,” said Ruiz, who had two decks of campaign ribbons, including a Purple Heart, on the chest of his blue, full dress uniform.
John Thompson, 21, of West Philadelphia, a member of the same Friends meeting as Willoughby, showed up to give Willoughby some tips as well as support.
Thompson, who belongs to the Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting of Friends, spent 21 months in the federal detention center for conspiracy to distribute drugs.
“There’s a shower in the cell that you can turn on to get heat,” Thompson said. “It gets cold and the steam helps.”
No one at the detention center would comment.
Willoughby’s supporters gathered at Sixth and Market before making the two-block walk to the detention center.
“I don’t celebrate going to jail,” Chris Haw told the small crowd of supporters. “I don’t harbor hatred for those who are jailing us. I celebrate love.
“We cannot watch war be made and cease to act,” Haw said.
Willoughby talked about a booklet titled “52 stories of successful nonviolence” that she and others left in the courtroom where they were sentenced.
“There are skills,” she said. “Get informed. Do nonviolence.”
Bob Smith, head of the Brandywine Peace Community, based in Swarthmore, Pa., organized the group for the walk to the detention center.
Willoughby led the way, with Thompson pushing her chair.
As she and the others entered the building, Sylvia Metzler, 67, who stayed a week in the detention center for the same offense, predicted that Willoughby will “have a good effect on the guards,” many of whom are military veterans.
“First, there is her age,” Metzler said. “It’s hard to look at those gnarled and arthritic hands and have ill feelings.
“And when she opens her mouth, and speaks with so much knowledge and love, she’ll blow them away.” © Copyright 2004 Courier-Post