Tuesday, October 31, 2006

reassessing the concept of legal

Instead of posting about little, perhaps mundane things, I'm going to give over today's entry to my friend Eden, who joined Jonah House this year (see their website, www.jonahhouse.org, to learn what they're all about). When she's not working with goats, llamas, & other barnyard animals, or clearing brush, or getting herself dirty in a variety of ways, Eden has been writing dispatches about her experiences. Her latest missive, however, details why she may soon be incarcerated for nonviolent protest. Often we hear the phrase "radical activist" to refer to people like Eden, but it is of course the U.S. government that perpetrates radical actions every hour of the day. Since Eden's own words best tell the story, here she is:

I'm preparing for my trial this Friday. I'm hoping that you all will think good thoughts about me and keep me in your prayers, whatever form those prayers may take. If you want to go have a few stiff drinks for me, I totally accept and affirm that type of support. I know some of you are worried that I'm gonna go to jail. I won't say that I'm not worried--I mean, who wants to go to jail? No one I've ever met. I don't know if this will help, but here's what I'm thinking about the whole deal.

On August 9th, I was part of an action at the Pentagon. We were there to remember the victims of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki on that day in 1945, and to witness against the U.S.'s continued slaughter of people around the world. Instead of standing in the fenced-in area some call the free speech zone, five of us walked up onto a pedestrian bridge that Pentagon employees use to go in to work. We all did slightly different things--whatever we felt moved to do. I was holding an enlarged picture of the devastated city, and I knelt on the bridge in silent prayer. I was off to the side, not blocking traffic. I held up the picture so that people entering the Pentagon could see it and maybe give a thought to the real effects of war, while I asked forgiveness for the ways in which I am also responsible for economic violence and war. Because as an American, as one of the richest and most privileged folks in the world, I directly profit from the suffering and death of people in other countries as well as the suffering and death of poor people in my own country.

We were there about five or ten minutes before Pentagon police arrested us. They cuffed, searched, and detained us for several hours for processing. We were charged with "failure to obey a lawful order" (that order was "move"), and we'll appear in federal court on November 3rd to answer to those charges.

Others in our community have already been sentenced for similar actions at the Pentagon--basically all just holding signs, praying in silence, etc. Susan got thirty days; Betsy Lamb got twenty. It's hard to believe (even for me, and I'm pretty jaded about the state of democracy in the U.S.) that a person can get sent to jail for a month for a nonviolent protest. Nobody knows what the outcome of our trial will be. The maximum sentence for our charge is six months, so it's possible (though very very unlikely) that we'll get six months. Folks around here are guessing about ten days for me, though I could get more or less--or nothing at all. What it seems to depend on is how the judge is feeling about us personally that day.

It sucks that we've lost our basic First Amendment rights, though it's important to remember that most of us never really had them. Only the richest and whitest among us could ever claim those rights as our own. I don't want to go to jail, but I don't regret my presence at the Pentagon that day.I would do it again, and I will do it again. I live in a country where my government jails people who dissent. That sucks--but my response is not to be silent because my protest is illegal. I refuse to recognize these unjust laws.

Liz, who lives here at Jonah House, said this once in an interview: “You can make it legal, but you can never make it right. Slavery was legal, as was the genocide against native peoples in this country. It was all legal; the devastation of our earth for profit; it's all legal. The research, the development, the construction, deployment and use of weapons of mass destruction; it's all legal, as is the massacre of Iraq.
"So if they blow up the world, and when they cut down the last tree, it's all going to be legal. What does that say to our attitude toward the law? The more lawless this government becomes, the more it prosecutes lawbreakers and the longer it sends them away to worse and worse prison situations."

I'm not going to have a lawyer; my codefendants and I will represent ourselves. I plan to plead "no lo contendre," or "no contest." That means I neither accept nor deny the charges against me. I don't feel comfortable saying I'm "guilty" or "not guilty," because I'm not thinking in those terms. Yes, I knelt in front of the Pentagon on August 9th, holding a picture of a devastated Nagasaki. But that doesn't make me guilty of anything, and no one can force me to say it does. Some judges won't accept a nolo plea, and if my judge won't accept it I'll plead not guilty. People do and say different things during their trials; some remain silent in protest. I'm not really making any plans about it--I just want to go in feeling calm, strong, and willing to deal with the whole experience in a loving and honest way. The judges can be pretty nasty, I hear, so I want to be prepared for that and feel okay about it.

"The judge is gonna hurt your feelings," Susan told me. I was feeling brash at that moment, so I was all, "She can't hurt my feelings! I have to let her do that. She can say whatever she wants to me, but she can only hurt me if I let her." We'll see how that goes. I'm talking tough, but I fully expect to start crying when they start yelling at me. I'm kind of a wimp that way. Anyway, all bullying aside--I may be found guilty, and it's possible I could get sent to jail. I don't know what to expect about that, and I've been reeling back and forth between total panic and a creepy, zenlike calm. The other night I couldn't sleep and was staring at the calendar counting down days to the 3rd and freaking out about it. Finally, after worrying and worrying, practically in tears, I suddenly thought--So what? What's going to happen that's so bad? I'll go to court, and something will happen. I'll either go home and have a milkshake, or I'll get time. And if I get time, what will happen? The marshals will take me out of the courtroom, and then I'll be in jail. And then I'll just move through that time.

Yesterday afternoon I was stacking wood with Liz out by the new shed. The air was cold and sharp, leaves turning, the sky in and out all day between clear autumn blue and thick, heavy clouds. She asked me how I was feeling about jail, and I told her what I just told you. And she said this:

The first weekend is the worst. They take you to the basement and leave you there all Friday, Friday night, all Saturday and Saturday night, and into Sunday. You're sleeping on a mat on the floor, crowded in with everyone who's been sent to jail that day. You can ask for a book or a Bible, and maybe you'll get one, and maybe not. It's boring, and it's uncomfortable, and it's hard. And then you're put into a unit where you get a cell (which you share with one other person). There's books, a common area, and a gym with roof access. You play cards, watch tv, eat horrible food, run on the treadmill, fight over who gets to do the sudoku puzzle in the newspaper. For the most part the women will be welcoming and interested in your story. And remember, Liz said: These people are in pain. And you are there to be with them, hear their stories, be a good listener. "If you think about it that way," she said, "your time will be very different."

At the very least, I'm thinking, having to go to jail will make me understand in a very real way what so many people in this country have to live every day. Everyone's intense concern about me only underscores our privilege: we don't know people who go to jail, because we're rich and we're white and so that's not part of our lives. Maybe I can just be there, and be humble there, and try and be helpful if I can. Like I said, though, I don't know what's gonna happen. We could all be sent home, and then--well, we'll have a seriously hot party Friday night. Either way, I want to be prepared, and I hope I can carry your support and your love with me into the courtroom and wherever I might go from there.

I'll send out an update on Friday if I'm free; if you don't hear from me you can find out what happened on the website at www.jonahhouse.org. You can also get the address of the jail on that site, and if I'm in, I would seriously appreciate mail.

thanks and love,



Friday, October 27, 2006

an appreciation

I write today's communication from a beautiful old stone library on the North Fork of Long Island. And I'm tired in that good physical way from putting up a tongue-and-groove ceiling with my dad this afternoon. Sitting here with the glow of the lamps on the shelves of books & feeling the satisfaction of having made something happen with my hands. This "honest labor" has been the story of my summer this year, as I've spent most of it renovating a small cottage by the shore that I still can't quite believe I own. The season is winding down, & the cold weather a persistent guest rather than weekend visitor, so it's a good time to thank my parents for all the amazing help they've given me--they're the best.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

travels with myself & another

Reaching the end of a couple of fairly grueling weeks of working full shifts at two different companies. Like many people holed up in offices, I daydream of travel--of getting away to where life & beauty are happening. (OK, life is happening right here in these grey & black corporate hallways, but it's preferable not to think about that much.) Lucky to be a freelancer, because if I want to work a bunch all at once & then take off, well, I can. This setup has given me the chance to drive across the U.S. with another four times in recent years, taking different routes on each occasion but always holding to our philosophy of avoiding the freeways as much as possible in favor of small roads & towns. Never in possession of more than a general plan ("Let's check out the South" would be about the extent of it), we'd stop whenever something caught our interest (which, in my case, usually meant getting out a camera). Once the sun went down we'd keep our eyes out for motels with VACANCY signs. With that in mind, I'll start to put up some photographs from these journeys...& hope it won't be too long before it's time to get out the maps again.

Monday, October 23, 2006

two sides of a coin

Sunday, October 22, 2006

el reclamo de las bisagras

A blue jay is calling in the courtyard formed by the brick buildings behind mine; no matter what time of year it is, the sound always makes me think of fall. My spacey neighbor just interrupted, however, showing up with an ironing board & a fireplace screen someone gave her--then she did the very thing I dread about the former: opened it. Thereby releasing the hideous screeching that all of those treacherous devices seem to share. In order to calm down after this aural assault, I'm going to tell myself to be thankful that if there's an ironing-board mating season, I've unwittingly managed to avoid it so far.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

living with objects

The stash of photographs & artwork that have been patiently hanging out in my apartment are demanding a greater audience. They kind of won't shut up about it. So, I promised that starting a blog would guarantee them a dozen new fans. (Please don't tell them I'm wildly optimistic.) Here goes.