Monday, January 23, 2006

Melancholy Monday: An Activist's Guide to Beating the Blues

Act One: Blue Sunday

I woke up yesterday in a funk. It was raining, I hadn't done any good writing in days, and I was feeling a bit disoriented from a difficult conversation with a friend. I considered just staying in bed since, after all, it was Sunday. Aren't we suppose to take a day of rest? But, I knew better than to let my slightly depressed mind rationalize a day of hibernation, which would most likely lead to a full blown depressed state.

I used the excuse of my promise to publish a piece for the Roe anniversary as the appropriate instrument to push me out of bed and into the shower. After I wrote up my piece, feeling a bit less haggard, I forced myself to my local UU service to interact with my lefty, free-thinking, spiritual community. The service was a real downer, it really was. Two members of our community had lost parents and so our minister waxed on about how death is really a part of life and we need to confront death to live more fully. I wanted to just crawl back under the covers.

The chairs were pushed back to make way for the coffee and danishes and I contemplated bolting for the front door. A few friends, however, put themselves between me and my bed and boy, did the day take on a dramatically different hue.

"Are you going down the square for the Roe rally," friend #1 asks.

"We cancelled the rally because we police told us we couldn't a permit without liability insurance," I replied.

"I know," responded the other friend, "but we aren't going as a group anymore. We are going to exercise our free speech and celebrate a woman's right to choose."

"Can we do that?," I asked, very intrigued. "If I go with you, will we attract the cops or get in trouble."

"Well, we might," replied friend #2 (who is a lawyer).

I thought about it for 20 seconds and said: "Ok, let me get my sign and I will meet you there."

* * *
Act Two: Rally for Roe (20 minutes later with my "my body is not public property" sign in the town square.)

I pull up to a meter right in front of a group of 5 people, huddled together with their "No Alito," "Save Roe," "Honk for Choice," and "Dad 4 Choice" signs. I only knew two people there, but I was happy to be among the brave souls, willing to show up and stand up for Roe on a Sunday morning. We started to spread out and partner up (two to each corner), when another friend showed up with a car full of signs that she had just made up. Then, three women from church walked into the square and picked up signs and joined in. Before we knew it, about 15 of us were out there.

We knew that we could not have more than 19 people, without violating the borough code. But, none of us figured that would be a problem.

We were wrong.

A swarm of former students strutted into the square, on their way to the coffee shop to wake up after a long night of catching up with old friends. The minute they saw us there, they jumped right in and grabbed signs. At the high point of our little rally, we had probably 25 people.

We were starting to get some thumbs up, supportive honks and cheers from cars working their way through the traffic circle. My mood was really picking up.

I hoisted my sign high up in the air, stood tall, and looked directly into the eye of all drivers moving past.

Believe me, we got some sour puss faces too. One man, who was in the passenger seat of a truck was clinking his knife against the window to give us a clue into his position. I turned to my friend Yehudi to say: "Did you just see that?" He responded with a joke to try to ease my mind.

A few minutes later the cops showed up. The chief of police was yelling at an older couple, both over 65, bravely holding their signs. He looked really pissed off and was moving his hands wildly in the air.

The two ladies across from me looked for some direction. I assured them that a lawyer was to their right and that we still had our 1st Amendment rights. No sooner than I had uttered this, did a police officer cuff a nice man in front of his wife and children right across from me. The man tried to reach for his keys so that his wife could drive their children home, when the cop threw the cuffed man on his patrol hood. I then watched the cop shove him into the back seat and drive off.

Oh shit.

The chief of police sidled up to me and my two friends and started his intimidation tactics on us. My young student asked him to clarify why, exactly, we were being shut down, when the police threated to arrest him if he spoke another word.

Now I was pissed.

Another cop showed up, and before we knew it, we were all getting screamed at to leave.

We huddled on one corner together, with our signs down, and discussed what to do. That's when I realized that the reporters were there. And, that one of them had a photographer who had caught the cop shoving the nice married man into his backseat, in front of his kids, because he had dared to express his views openly.
* * *

Act Three: The Post Rally Reflection

Both our local papers covered the incident. The low quality, right-leaning one misreported key details and only quoted the chief, who accused us of willfully violating the law and disobeying the borough ordinance.

The other paper gave a much more balanced and interesting presentation of what happened, including further details of the arrest.

I was so damn proud of our effort and energized from the rally, that I allowed myself to be talked into heading down to D.C. to rally some more for Roe in front of the Supreme Court.

Before we left, a really militant and scary looking pro-lifer was walking up and down the street calling each of us murderers. I tuned him out. But, my well-meaning, earnest former students tried to have a civil dialogue. As expected, the conversation went nowhere. When they asked him a question, he responded by calling them murderers. He then whipped out his cell phone to call up his network. They assembled a few minutes later in front of the courthouse in town.

While we were driving to D.C. my students were reflecting on their encounter with Daniel, the pro-lifer. They were pretty dumbfounded by the experience of having hostile police screaming at them as well. They were seeking out some way of reconciling what had happened.

When they turned to me to ask what I thought, I snarkily summed up: "Well you see, Daniel is our version of the Taliban. The police, empowered by laws to prevent terrorism, have shut down our peaceful rally, and denied our free speech. But, thank goodness we are fighting that war in Iraq to preserve our freedoms from religious zealots."

We turned to other topics, enjoyed the drive, and I felt alive.