2009/01/11:Peace activists head into federal court on a high note - Joy First

Peace activists head into federal court on a high note

Maisie Ramsay
Correspondent for The Capital Times
January 11, 2009

Though Sunday night's music fundraiser for the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice at the east side Harmony Bar and Grill was festive, the crowd was assembled for a more somber purpose: to explain why 13 peace activists expect to be fined $500, with possible jail time for nonpayment, before a federal judge in Madison on Monday.

The activists were participating in a 450-mile walk from Chicago to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., last August when the march took a turn past military training camp Fort McCoy, outside of Tomah.

According to the group, 13 of the activists attempted to enter the base with the intention to deliver an open letter to the thousands of military trainees stationed there. They didn't get past Fort McCoy's front gates.

"As soon as we entered the driveway, we were stopped and told we were subject to arrest if we didn't leave," said Jeff Leys, a Watertown native and one of the 13 who faces trespass charges in court tomorrow.

After being confronted by military personnel, the group refused to leave and were promptly arrested on a charge of trespassing, he said.

And tomorrow, they will be representing themselves before a federal judge. The group includes one Madison resident, Joy First.

Leys, a longtime social justice activist, said he has been through situations like this many times before and approaches the impending trial nonchalantly. He expects to be fined $500 for trespassing and expects a possible 90-day prison sentence for refusing to pay that fine.

His reasoning: Military officers are risking their lives; the least he can do is risk his freedom. "You need to at least risk your physical freedom as a minimal act of solidarity to those in the military trying to figure out how to react to the war," he said.

His sentiment was shared by other activists who will be on trial tomorrow.

"It's a small risk compared with the urgency of stopping this war, and it's a really small risk compared with the enormity of the moment," said Eileen Hanson, a Winona, Minn., resident who was arrested alongside Leys. She said she also is unlikely to pay the expected fine.