Thursday, November 29, 2007


It's been over a month, now, and I realize I've been in denial about the post-traumatic stress response my body and spirit had to the arrest. I haven't wanted to see it because compared to what others suffered, and compared to what I've faced, and what so many others have faced, at other times in other places, this "wasn't so bad." We all carry so much bravado sometimes, such an awareness of how privileged we are compared to much of the world, it can be embarrassing to admit injury, even psychic. Those of you who saw me fall apart at the Copwatch video showing can perhaps see better than I that it had more of an impact on me than I wanted to admit.

In the six weeks since the arrest, I've found myself angry and tense, volatile, my body carrying stress in my shoulders and back, my patience with others grown thin. My wrists still hurt from the pain compliance holds. On the upside, I find myself speaking my mind more frequently, clearly, and immediately than I've ever done before in my life. On the downside, I've lost at least one friend and am probably alienating lots of people. I feel more alive. I also feel more outraged at what passes for human behavior in this society, outraged at what passes for pacifism, what passes for activism. Not outraged at us. Outraged at others, with whom I also identify.

I think when you find yourself engaged in protest or civil disobedience in response to injustice and oppression over a period of years, when you find your puny self surrounded by brave, even legendary non-violent warriors on a somewhat regular basis, your perspective on things can get weird. You forget that it's not normal or right for people to treat people cruelly, regardless of what kind of uniform the perpetrator wears. You forget that perpetrators exercising the freedom to choose how many degrees of evil they use against you don't deserve exculpatory self-flagelation ("it's not so bad for them to do this, when you consider they could have done that").

One's perspective about oneself can also get cloudy. Hence my breakdown at the Copwatch showing. I'm sorry I made it all about me. It's so not. Even feeling like I didn't do enough is a form of egocentrism. I wanted to be strong, or stronger, to be able to take the hits as hard as some of our other brave warriors did, and I wasn't, and I was ashamed. But that's all about ego, and ego doesn't move the struggle forward. It's a variation of survival guilt, and what moves us forward is a sense of responsibility for the future which we can change, not guilt about the past, which we cannot.

Monica said something to me that night, that really helped me realize how damaged I was (in a good way). She pointed out that what I was feeling was part of their colonization, part of how they hurt and weaken us, to make us think that we're weak because we can't withstand their brutality, that we're wrong because we're vulnerable, when in fact, no one should treat another person like this. And in non-violent struggle, our vulnerability is our strength, and we are not weak. We are human.

I mentioned to Glenn recently that one of the things I appreciate about non-violent action--and particularly an action like this--is how democratic it is. You don't have to be strong, or big, or tall, or male, or "able-bodied," or know how to use high-tech gadgetry or weapons. You just have to be true to yourself, your community, and your values. You have to have a little bit of courage, and a little bit of clarity.

I think of Rachel Corrie, a thin, 23 year old woman, lying under that Israeli bulldozer, saying "my back is broken"--the last words she ever said. She did what she was able to do. She gave her all, she gave her best, and I hope she left this world with no regrets. She wasn't defeated, because her courage and her clarity and spirit outlive her. She is one of our ancestors now, and I really believe she was with us that October day in the street.

A couple of years ago, my partner Mark and I visited Olympia, Washington, Rachel's home city. We tried to find someone who knew her, and wanted to find a place we could go to pay our respects to her. We were fortunate to speak with a woman who had known her, and she suggested we go down to a place where there was a pipe of water running into the sea, where a creek used to be. Because of it, the salmon couldn't get home anymore, and the friend said that always upset Rachel. She always had a very strong sense of the right to home--to go home, to be at home, safe.

We paid our respects to Rachel's spirit that day, at that place, and said a prayer for the salmon. And we paid our respects to her, and the salmon, in the street on October 6th. I have no regrets, now. I did what I was able to do. They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

And all of us engaged in struggle know that sometimes, even when they kill us, they make us more powerful than they can possibly imagine*. That's because our ancestors walk with us. They see only the bodies of the living, and so they don't fathom our numbers or our strength. Eduardo Galleano said, "When we fight and create, we say to our fallen companeros, `You didn't die when they killed you.'" In return, when we are injured, in body or spirit, our fallen comrades lift us up and hold us close, and help us prepare for next time. We must let them.

Trauma can build scar-tissue over your heart, and that's dangerous. We have to look at the wounds, and heal them properly. If the city's heart, the state's heart, the nation's heart, the parade organizers' hearts remain hardened to historical truth, to morality, to justice, there will be a next time. We will be ready, and we will be stronger. But only if we do the necessary work to heal, and that includes telling the truth--complete and unvarnished--about what they did to us.

Let us help each other. And let us tell the truth about what they did--to anyone who will listen.

*yes, I know I'm quoting Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he was right!

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