I looked at him with his short haircut and his particular stance. His iphone was trained on my face. Undercover someone was taking my picture. "Hello, police" I mouthed and when he looked at me, I knew it was true. That's not a good feeling.
I'm like most people. I want a calm, quiet life. I want to change things from the inside. I walk arm in arm with a friend. She's an attorney who does in fact, work on changing the world through normal channels and yet, here we are, marching in support. Some people take to the streets and not the sidewalks, the reprisals are swift and the tension mounts in seconds, in heartbeats.
We make our way around City Hall and we chant slogans saying "Another world is possible." I know it is. I know I want it to be. I know a voice of the people is growing. I don't think a lot about what I'd do or what I wouldn't. I just go with this tide and step and chant and keep away from those few who seem to be very, very angry. I am not angry. I am a believer in rights. I believe the public space belongs to me just as much as it does to Coca-Cola and Bloomberg; all those who can afford a billboard.
My friends and I get separated from each other here and there and in fact, we don't really practice civil disobedience. We practice Public Assembly. But when a cop starts to throw someone down I scream "Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect" from the top of my lungs. Words are powerful and the power to manipulate words is partially why I'm here. Civil disobedience? It is obedient to the idea of civility to voice a concern, openly and with vigor, if necessary. Civilized society requires that before we slide any further into habits of inequality and silence that those of us who truly believe in ideals of justice and liberty say something. "If you see something, say something" is what the New York MTA drills into every commuter's brain since 9/11. I believe they've gone so far as to copyright it. I'm opposed on both levels. One I oppose the ownership of such instructive statements. Two, I oppose their constant intrusion on my commute. I paid my fare, now let me think in peace.
Civil disobedience is the term we have but as Slavoj Zizek has pointed out, we've lived passed some of our terms. We need new ones. As we find those new words and build a new paradigm I look at this moment as one full of fortune. We can reform our ways. We can reimagine our system without the blood and pains of revolution. We can reform to evolve and therefore revolutionize our world. Or, of course, we can wait until things get so bad that everyone will either literally or figuratively, lose our heads. I learned this by listening to Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi speak earlier this year at a Peace in Education Summit in Newark, NJ. Ms. Ebadi can not live in her home country for what she says. Her work for peace and human rights put her in exile. I do not relish her loss.
Words are troubling me now and I think as writers I want us to engage as we can in a type of civil disobedience to our own structures of mind, our own internal police force of conditioning. When Oakland police slam a protester to the ground is he a protester or a veteran? Is he a protestor or is he a citizen? How he is defined determines so much about whether or not you'd have the guts like one woman I witnessed; to storm through the crowd, with her dry cleaning on her back, screaming at us that we were just a bunch of "Deadbeats!" How exactly does she reconcile inflation and a jobless recovery with the idea of deadbeats? It's all very easy when you've still got work, I guess. But still, easy does not mean it's true. And inconvenience is part of living.
The Civil Rights Movement of the US required us to look at basic human rights and see where we were failing. The Occupation Movement also requires us to look at the human rights thrown aside by inequitable and unsustainable economic pratices and policies. Like one friend I know said, "At the GA, I'm a fiscal conservative!" Yes, he occupies and picks up trash in between working two jobs and he doesn't believe in spending each dime just because the donations are rushing in; you see, it takes all kinds. What are your rights in this world today? I don't know ever since the Patriot Act.
I know that Bush signed it and Obama re-signed it and ever since then I've been nervous because the Patriot Act can be interpreted to place me in jail, ignoring my basic rights under the Constitution...just for writing this. Now, I don't think I'll be perceived as a threat or a domestic terrorist, but I can't forget that undercover's eyes and I can't forget the sneer on that annoyed woman. In some people eyes, yes, even I am threatening. What we need now is compassion and if I have to do some things I'd rather not, risk some part of my safety to get there, then I'm going to, because that's how we reform and that's how we avoid moving into a world I don't want to see. I still believe I am free. And for now I'm going to act like I'm free, not because I am or am not a patriot; or because I am or am not any particular thing other than human. Human rights are civil rights and it's time, for all of us, to take one day, maybe just one march, to make it our own and to feel the tensions and to face the power. If you're even a little scared when you consider this option then, well, you know I'm right.