Please note that this is a sensitive topic and needs to be discussed with care. Please reference my guidelines for sensitive topic discussion.
When I was younger, I was less afraid. I did clinic defense in Atlantic City, I protested the RNC when it was in Philly, I marched for Matthew Shepard, I went to rallies in Trenton, I organized rallies for my college, I worked for NOW in the state office, a suit always ready to go in case we needed to do a press conference. I’ve been on the news, I’ve had cameras in my face when I was crying and all I could do was stand as still as possible because if having my space violated meant my issue would get into the newspaper then that’s what I was going to do. At the RNC, we could see every side street lined with paddy wagons and horses and we knew that we might not go home that day.
I was afraid to be arrested, of course. What that could mean for my permanent record and my future careers. But I wasn’t afraid for my safety, not really. It was a different world, even post-9/11. Maybe especially post-9/11 for the first five years. We were all a little more afraid in the metro area and we all held each other a little tighter. Our rights started to feel sturdier. My lesbian friends weren’t getting beat down for holding hands, there seemed to be less murders for being gay. Here in the metro area (NJ/NY/CT), you could wear your pentacle most places without fear. In the last few years, women’s rights in our area appeared to be improving and not declining and all the reasons for rallying, marching and civil disobedience started to seem more abstract.
It didn’t last.
It keeps getting scarier and uglier here in the U.S. First it was “neighborhood watch” George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin, who was an unarmed African-American teenaged boy and now another unarmed teenaged African-American boy, Michael Brown has been shot to death, only this time by the police. When there were demonstrations about Michael Brown’s death, a SWAT team came and roughed up and arrested reporters. It’s gotten so bad that for the first time ever, Amnesty International has sent observers to Ferguson who were then shut out of after-curfew locations.
My friend John is beside himself. He told me today that he doesn’t want to die like that and doesn’t want one of his kids to die like that either. I feel sick to my heart because . . .what do you say to that? Thoughts and prayers and candles are nice, but they’re not terribly useful when our country has become a terrifying police state. I can’t tell him that will never happen, because I don’t know that. Not after George Zimmerman was found not guilty. The odds of the police officers who shot Michael Brown getting convicted are even slimmer. If the details of the shooting remain under wraps and the police officers are either never brought to trial or not convicted, what will happen in our country? If there are no checks and balances that our police officers have to be accountable for, if there are no jobs for our citizens to support themselves from and all this rage, classism and racism keeps building, what will become of us?
I don’t know.
Instead, I ask, what will you do if there isn’t justice? Because as an activist, the one thing I have learned is that there is a good chance there won’t be justice. So you need to prepare for that instance and what you’ll be prepared to do if there’s not. He said, I don’t know. Protest, I guess.
I’m afraid to protest for the first time in my life because I’m afraid I won’t come home. Ever. I’m afraid in a way that I’ve never been afraid before. I was born in 1979, protest up until very recently meant maybe a trip to jail for a couple of days. Not anymore. Every step we took forward as a country from the Civil Rights Movement and the adjacent Feminist Movement is being erased so fast that I don’t even know how to process it. I don’t know how to move past this fear into action. I try to think of places that might be safe to attend protests. But I don’t feel safe anywhere. I can’t even read Facebook and Twitter right now, it makes me so sick inside. I keep pinning on Pinterest because everything is pretty and nothing hurts there. If I think about avocados and gift wrap organization, I don’t have to face the incredibly frightening reality of my country that’s coming closer and closer to my home. But I can’t just keep sitting on my hands. So I asked John about local actions. I want to go with him, partly because all of this appalls me and partly because I think that maybe I can keep him safe if I’m there because they’ll think twice before shooting a white girl and I can shield him with my body. I don’t know how we got here and just thinking about having to protect the boy who always protected me at clubs, at cons and in cities makes me cry because it’s so fucked up. It’s just so fucked up.
But I can put all my years of activism to some use at least.
Things You Can Do and Things You Should Know When the World Gets Turned Upside Down
1. Find an established organization to do your action with. An established organization like The Red Cross, NOW, Amnesty International, the NAACP, PETA, the Humane Society, Greenpeace, etc. will have experience, money, lawyers and clout to have a well organized, well publicized action. The better organized/publicized an action is, the lesser your chance is to be shot, tear gassed or lost in the prison system. Their lawyers will also help to make sure you aren’t imprisoned without charges for more than a few days.
2. Make sure you have a lawyer of your own. Sometimes an action is so big that your organization’s lawyers are too overwhelmed to be able to help you. It’s best to make sure you have your bases covered. Memorize that phone number.
3. If you are too afraid to attend an action, you can still help. The best ways to help is to volunteer for an organization supporting your cause in areas they may need help with such as fund raising, data entry, web support, legal services and other logistical areas that often need assistance. You can also help by donating to an organization that does actions and spreading the word about actions. Amnesty International is a good organization to donate to for Michael Brown. Your own action through attending events or donating your time are the best ways to help.
4. If you are attending an action where you think there might be tear gas and you don’t have a gas mask, bring a ziplock with a bandana soaked in apple cider vinegar and put it over your face if there’s gas. That will help lessen the effects of the tear gas until you get to safety. Bring tight fitting swimming goggles to help protect your eyes and lessen the effect. Don’t wear contacts, make up or moisturizer that day.
5. Wear running shoes, jeans and a long sleeve shirt to protect your body. Don’t wear anything valuable. Carry your id, two dollars worth of quarters, a twenty, rubber gloves (in case there are toxins), any medication you might need for 48-72 hours, a fully charged cell phone (to check twitter for action updates, take pictures and be able to call/text your support person), bottled water and an energy bar. Do not carry anything unnecessary on your person and don’t carry a purse.
6. Always have a support person. Your support person needs to be near by (under an hour away from the action by car), know the exact address of your action, the date and time your action takes place, your lawyer’s name and phone number and have cash ready in case you need to be bailed out of prison. Your support person needs to know a general time frame you should arrive back home so if you don’t, she can call your lawyer and/or your organization.
7. If the action looks like it’s starting to get heated, don’t be a hero. Run out of there. Find a public safe place at least a mile from the action. Call your support person to come get you if you can’t get to your car fast enough. Have an escape route planned. If you’re with others, make sure they know the plan too. If you get separated, try to keep in contact with the others you know at the action to make sure they’re safe.
8. If being arrested is unavoidable, don’t resist arrest. Put your hands on your head and use your hands and arms to protect your head. Once you are arrested, your body becomes property of the state. Comply with all physical requests they ask of you. If you are questioned, don’t give any information past your name, date of birth, residence, and social security number. Calmly but firmly request legal counsel. Don’t give any information past the basics without a lawyer present. You will be searched. Your phone will be searched (so be sure to upload pictures to twitter as they happen, erase anything you wouldn’t want found). At every contact point during your arrest, calmly but firmly request a lawyer and a phone call.
9. If you have a serious medical condition such as a heart condition, cancer, HIV/AIDS or diabetes, don’t attend an action. If you are arrested, you could wind up with serious medical ramifications because you could be denied medical care. Use your energy instead to assist an organization away from the front lines.