I’ve got to tell you something. Last night felt good. Not I-think-I’m-In-Love good. Not even Damn-That-Was-Good good. No, merely, I’m-Taking-Deliberate-Action-For-Something-Important good.
What deliberate action?
I took to the streets carrying a sign inked with my very own Sharpie declaring in bold letters, “Indefinitely Outraged”.
I held it in the air and thought about the people who have been in prisons (sanctioned by leaders I voted for, paid for with my very own tax dollars) since 2001. I thought about the people who may be rounded up at any time and also held indefinitely. I kept my facial expression set on outrage (except for when the cute bald guy in the great jacket offered me cookies, at which point, I smiled my declination before resuming indignation).
Where did this stern-faced sign carrying take place? At one of Occupy LA’s rallies against the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Unlike the time I joined the march to the Fed downtown, last night’s event was a protest over an issue I’ve been following.
As my favorite political writer, former Constitutional and civil rights litigator, Glenn Greenwald puts it, “while the powers [the 2012 NDAA] enshrines are indeed radical and dangerous, most of them already exist. That’s because first the Bush administration and now the Obama administration have aggressively argued that the original 2001 AUMF already empowers them to imprison people without charges, use force against even U.S. citizens without due process (Anwar Awlaki), and target not only members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban (as the law states) but also anyone who “substantially supports” those groups and/or “associated forces” (whatever those terms mean).”
So, if the new bill maintains the status quo, why protest it? Because the status quo is a repudiation of the rule of law. And also, how does that old quote go? “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist . . .”
Last night, I walked from one corner of the intersection to the next (and the next and the next) advancing each time the traffic light gave me the go-ahead, holding my sign the whole time. I did this repeatedly, forming countless squares, making eye contact with as many drivers as I could.
My fellow protesters asked the drivers through closed car windows, “Have you heard of the NDAA? GOOGLE IT.”
I learned, from the yells of those around me, that the Department of Justice considers someone a terrorist threat if they have more than 7 days of food stored.
I also learned that people missing fingers and those who pay for hotel rooms with cash are suspects. And suspects can be locked up indefinitely. Because this bill codifies preventive detention of those who are potentially belligerent.
I can imagine some readers thinking, “Better safe than sorry; this bill is designed to protect us.” Define “us”.
London police have already declared their Occupy movement as being among terrorist groups. The Occupy London camp’s response articulates a message Americans need to be reminded of:
“Activism is not a crime and the desire to participate in democratic decision-making should not be a cause for concern for the police in any free society.
“An institution that confuses active citizens with criminals and equates al-Qaida with efforts to re-imagine the City is an institution in grave danger of losing its way.”
One of the drivers I passed last night sat inside a vintage Rolls Royce. The license plate frame said, just as you might guess, “Beverly Hills”. I, already well aware that the particular cross-walk I traversed would allow an ample 55 seconds to go six meters, moved slowly, staring inside to see who was behind the wheel. He was a handsome white guy in his fifties, beautiful head of hair. He looked right at me. So I looked right back, thinking:
The nerve of him, Ruth, How can he be seen in that thing? Don’t judge.
I’m not so simple minded as to turn this into an Us vs. Them issue; I’m not. But I had a Code Pink “I [heart] the 99%” sticker on my vest for god’s sake. I held my sign right over his flying lady hood ornament and stared at his face as I walked. He crouched a little lower in his seat, truly, he did, and then he offered a thumbs up gesture with a smile. It didn’t appear sarcastic, either. So I mirrored his actions and kept moving.
I have no idea what he meant to communicate, but I enjoyed the encounter. That man knows a lot more about my values than I know about his. Perhaps he was driving his mother’s car home from the repair shop. Or perhaps he’s a shrewd business man who pays all of his taxes and donates tens of millions of dollars every year to Feed the Children. Or perhaps he’s an anglophile who bought the car on ebay for nineteen thousand dollars. And maybe he’s missing three fingers and has two weeks worth of lentil soup stored in a suspiciously large pantry.
Whoever he is, I don’t think having seen me and my sign-carrying-cohorts is going to change a damn thing about him. I don’t think having seen us will change any of the people who drove through the intersection last night.
So why did I do it? Why will I do it again (despite my father’s opinion that because I’m no longer a teenager, I ought to stop attending such gatherings)?
Because standing up for what I believe in changes me.
I’m not living in a tent for my ideals, but last night I was able to rest knowing that I did not accept defeat as I watched the United States of America legalize indefinite detention.
And this morning I got out of bed knowing that I’m the kind of woman who shows up, fully present, embracing her power — her responsibility — to say, ” . . . . .”
Well? Anything I want to.