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A Courageous Former Naval Officer Stands Trial for Speaking Up for the 99%

Leah Bolger, 54, could receive a six-month jail sentence for interrupting a congressional hearing with a message from the 99%: End the wars and tax the rich to fix the deficit.

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“There was a pair of army boots for every soldier that’s been killed [since the wars began in 2001] with tags on the boots showing their names and where they’re from, boots lined up in even straight rows,” she recalls. “It wasn’t just looking at American deaths, but Iraqis too, on large posters. I just remember it affecting me viscerally, the feeling in my stomach — it was a kick in the gut when I saw that. It really, really hit me.”

By then Bolger was a member of Veterans for Peace, the St. Louis, Mo.-based organization founded by 10 U.S. veterans in 1985, which today has more than 100 chapters nationwide. She initiated a chapter in her city of Corvalis and served as the president for three years before she was elected vice president of the national organization.

When the Occupy movement got underway last fall, Bolger moved into the peace activist camp at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. Then, on Oct. 26, at a public congressional hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — the unelected Super Committee that ultimately failed to produce any results for their labors — Bolger walked calmly to the front of the room where she denounced the hearing, and its “obfuscating” testimony from Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf, as unrepresentative of what the majority of Americans wants: to end the wars and tax the rich.

During the Super Committee hearings, Occupy D.C. and the October 2011 movement produced its own Occupied Super Committee hearing, which  aired on C-SPAN, revealing that cuts to military spending and increased taxes on the super-rich  would achieve President Obama’s and Congress’s 10-year deficit targets in two years, while funding a jobs program, forgiving student debt and securing vital social programs.

“We tell Congress, our representatives, ‘No, we don’t want our money spent that way,’ but they’re not listening to us. They’re only listening to their corporate lobbyists, to their campaign donors,” says Bolger. This is why, she believes, “it takes breaking the law, making a spectacle to interrupt a congressional hearing in order for some attention to be paid to the average person’s voice. So that’s what I did.”

Stepping outside the comfort zone

On Thursday, a press conference will be held at 8:30 a.m. in front of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, located at 500 Indiana Ave NW, Washington, D.C., prior to Bolger’s court appearance.

Aside from receiving media support from Michael Moore, Ben Cohen and Roseanne Barr, Bolger’s case has caught the attention of consumer advocate and former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. “Bolger showed what active citizens should be doing peacefully — confronting the corruption head on,” said Nader, “and making sure the public knows what is really going on.”

For Bolger, whether she gets charged criminally or not, it is the act of speaking up — challenging the belief that America’s corporate-controlled government can continue to indefinitely squander the nation’s human and economic capital — that she hopes to see replicated in others.

“We have to reclaim our voices, we have to demand to be heard,” she says. “The energy and the outrage and the righteousness of the Occupy movement [needs] to latch on to the war problem — for us to understand the connection and talk about it.” Bolger urges people to find “the motivation to step outside their comfort zone a little bit.”

“If they’re comfortable writing letters to the editor, maybe they can go stand at a protest. I know most people can’t take off work or fly to D.C. — they have children, responsibilities, they have to work. But I want to push people to find the courage and the strength to stand up and be a part of the resistance to our government. When I do something like this and I hear from thousands of people who write and say thank you, it makes me feel like I’m part of a big movement. We all are. We all have to amplify each other’s voices and find courage in each other’s voices.”

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