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The story of my White House Arrest
The story of my White House Arrest
Edited on Fri Sep-30-05 06:47 PM by meganmonkey
I'll start my story on Sunday, the day before the arrest. The weekend thus far had been a blast - I had fun partying with DUers, marching, yelling, celebrating the solidarity of the movement. But Sunday, I woke up in a very different state of mind. I went into the city at around noon, and my first stop was Camp Casey. As soon as I got there I started weeping. It was as if I finally remembered why I was there in the first place, and it hit me that every one of those crosses in the field represented not only a soldier, but also hundreds of Iraqi citizens, and I wept. A very kind stranger approached me and held me and said 'You are too young to feel this way' and wept with me. That moment has stayed in my heart since then - I am typing through tears now and I am only on my first paragraph. This is going to be a long story....but this is my personal permanent record of it, so forgive me.
I went to the United for Peace and Justice encampment where the training was being held. I had attended a general training before on peaceful civil disobedience before, so I skipped that part, and arrived in time for a couple speakers from Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq, a group which would be playing a crucial role in Monday's action. I only want to point out one thing, which I found extremely interesting. A Christian minister gave an interpretation of the whole 'turn another cheek' thing, which for centuries has been used to make battered wives or abused children silent in their pain. He explained in great detail the norms of the time it was written, and showed that it was really a subversive act, not a submissive one. Due to rules about how a man could only use his right hand to hit someone (because the left hand was used to wipe one's ass and so could not even be used to gesture, let alone touch someone) and how a master can only hit a servant with an open hand, not a fist (because only equals can punch each other with a fist), turning the other cheek meant that the servant was forcing a situation in which the master had to back down, or treat him as an equal. With that in mind, I had a new perspective on Civil Disobedience.
Next was the legal briefing by a member of a legal collective in DC that defends the rights of protestors and represents them in court. While the attorney couldn't guarantee our same-day release, or that we wouldn't have to come back for a court date, he was very reassuring. Everyone had a million questions for him, one of the most important points he made was if you have any open warrants or anything, DO NOT participate. My record was clean, in fact I have made it to age 30 without ever getting arrested (and believe me, I probably deserved it once or twice) so I figured this would be a perfect chance to try something new. The best part of the legal briefing was when this cute rosy-cheeked curly-haired kid asked if minors could participate and what would the legal results be, and everyone went 'Aaaawwww' and someone told him to bring a note from his mom saying he was allowed to do it. He was such a sweet kid, and I know he went through with it, I saw him and another teenager get taken into a back room at the jail.
Then it was time to split up into 'affinity groups'. Most people who do this show up with a group of people to get arrested with, and each group includes at least one person who isn't getting arrested and will follow up to be sure everyone gets out of jail, and can call people's family etc. Well, I was among the 20 or so freaks who showed up to do this alone, so we formed our own groups. I actually knew one of the other people in my new group, I had met her years ago at a rainbow gathering, so I had affinity with her and her boyfriend who were both from Ann Arbor, like me. At first it was a little odd, because we were all strangers who needed to be able to trust each other and rely on each other, but it didn't take long before we had a good rapport. We all wanted very much to keep it peaceful, and I think the fact that we all showed up for this with enough faith and trust to do it alone - well, that was our affinity in and of itself. We were all determined to participate. A very kind woman named Katie, who was from the DC area, offered to be our main support person, and 2 others who had questionable arrest records also chose to be support. So we had 6 getting arrested. We needed a name and one member said "Revolutionary Affinity" and we all liked it. I noticed that our initials were 'RA!' so that became our battle cry, if you will. It took a while but we got one very powerful 'RA!!!!' shout and decided we were ready We all parted ways and planned to meet at the church Monday morning.
Meanwhile, DUer Joan Alpern moved into my hotel room for Sunday and Monday night. She had done security at the Saturday march and was familiar with the process of Civil Disobedience, so she became my own personal support person. As well as a very good friend (I love you, Joani!!!). It was wonderful knowing that if I did get stuck in jail, she could clear out my hotel room, and she had my car keys and my parents' phone numbers. Monday morning we got ready to go, and I put on my Supergirl panties, which seemed appropriate . Joani handed me a fine-tipped sharpie to write her phone number and a few others on my thigh - she's a genius! I had been warned that while, in theory, I would get all my property back after the arrest, it was better not to bring much with me. So I had $100 cash, my ID, my hotel key, my cigarettes and lighter, a sweatshirt, a small bottle of water and an energy bar, and a bandanna. That was it. No cell phone, no lip balm, no jewelry or belt, no bag, just stuffed pockets. I felt naked after 3 days of traipsing around the capitol with every possible supply in a bag.
We ate a big breakfast at a cafe which is unusual for me - I am never hungry at 8am, but it was the best advice I ever followed. I was tempted to get a mimosa but I figured that even if it calmed my nerves a little I would regret it in the long run so I stuck with fresh-squeezed OJ. I barely even drank any coffee, which is unheard of for me, but y'all know what coffee can do to a girl, especially a girl whose stomach is already in knots!
We headed over to the church where everyone was meeting and getting a final briefing. The organizers had worked very closely with the police in planning the event and there was really only one detail that was uncertain, but it was a very important detail that could have ruined the whole thing. As many of you saw on Saturday, the sidewalk directly in front of the White House was barricaded for the Saturday march so people would stay on the street instead of the sidewalk. Those barricades were still up on Sunday, and the police said they would remove them Sunday night. But if they didn't, the whole plan was shot, because the specific rule we were planning break involved the sidewalk immediately in front of the WH, where the postcard-pretty view is. At the church they announced that the barricades were still there, but with an opening of about 50 feet. The police said that they would close the barricade at some point, the message being - you better have made up your mind because you only have one chance to cross the line from the street (legal) to the sidewalk (illegal). There were a few speakers at the church talking logistics and inspiration. There were small signs with the names of the dead - soldiers and civilians - for us to wear around our necks. Some of them had the ages of the civilians on them, including infants.
The most powerful moment in the church, to me, was when a woman took the mike and said she had just talked to her brother who is stationed in Iraq. He wanter her to tell us the WE were the ones fulfilling the Noble Cause. me weeping. again.
Then we gathered in front of the church and started marching toward the ellipse at about 11AM. We were probably about 400 people at that point (many others met us at the Ellipse and at Lafayette Park). Obviously we were much smaller than Saturday's march, but we were a force to be reckoned with. We were inspired and loud and purpose-driven, knowing what we would be doing later. Since it was Monday, the city was at work, and the police were stopping traffic for us as needed. People from all walks of like, from business suits to hotel doormen to cab drivers and bus riders were waving, cheering, flashing peace signs. We saw some people who were clearly not amused, but they were few and far between. It would really suck to be a Republican in that town, must be why they're so uptight. I knew for certain that I was doing the right thing when I saw the people in the windows of the Veterans Administration building clapping, waving, showing their support. We also seemed to have the support of the Washington Post building, I wish they expressed it more in their paper! At one point we went under an overpass and the cheering went crazy, echoing and drumbeats bouncing off the walls - that concentrated energy really intensified the mood. We got to the ellipse, and there were a couple short speeches there, although I didn't hear them. My affinity group just sort of used the time to bond some more, and that is when I got interviewed by the Truthout guys. I think they only put me in the video because when they offered me a business card I said 'Oh please, I don't need one of those, I have you bookmarked!' (I'm right at the beginning, saying "Hi mom - I'm almost in jail!" or something to that effect)
Click on the topless woman for video:
From the ellipse we split into 2 groups and went around the park on both parallel streets so we could fully surround the WH. We went to the far side of Lafayette Park and met up with the other side on the way into the park and walked through the park to face the WH. There were a few speakers there, but all they had were bullhorns for sound so it was hard to hear anything. At that point I realized Cindy Sheehan was there, but I didn't know if she was planning on getting arrested. I believe Joan Baez was there too but I may be wrong. It felt very chaotic when we got there, and I was starting to get nervous. I finished my water and ate my energy bar and gave Joani my cigarettes.
The lead group of clergy, Iraq vets and families, including Cindy, approached the guardhouse to request a meeting with the President. The goal was to present him with a list of the names of all the dead from the war - including the Iraqi civilians. Many of us had requested a meeting beforehand by fax or email. The theory was that if we had trouble and had to go to court it would work in our favor that we had tried to use a formal process to get a meeting and were ignored. Surprisingly, the meeting was NOT granted. There was TONS of press there, I think partly because Cindy participated, and I am very grateful for that. It was hard to tell what was going on, and we weren't sure when we supposed to move past the barriers onto the sidewalk, but I think most people were afraid of getting shut out so we all moved forward. People started hanging their neck signs of the names of the dead on the fence posts, along with the eviction notice and several other signs. In theory the police (who by now were all over the place) could have arrested people on the spot for that, but they let it slide. There were DC Park police and SWAT members on the street and sidewalk, and there were federal marshals (I think that's what they were) and secret service on the WH lawn, and snipers on the roof watching us through binoculars and the sights on their rifles.
Soon the barricades were moved by the police, and everyone who had wanted to cross over had done so. We had been told that there was a new law that the cops had to give us 3 warnings before actually arresting us. This is to avoid the sweeping arrests that have happened in the past where just being in the vicinity of illegal (or even not-so-illegal) activity can get you arrested at protests (think RNC convention). We were sort of a test case to see if they would follow the new rules. Meanwhile we are all on the sidewalk, mostly sitting, I was holding hands with my affinity group, and we were all taking our final sips of water, smoking a last cigarette, etc. Hundreds of voices singing and chanting...Sometimes we would be singing a mellow peaceful tune like 'This land is your land...' but they always got drowned out by more intense chants "Show me what a police state looks like - This is what a police state looks like", or, my personal favorite, the simple "LIAR, LIAR, LIAR" chant. Then our organizers would make us shut up so Mr. Policeman could announce that "In accordance with section blah blah blah of the blah blah blah, you are risking arrest. You will receive 3 warnings. This is your first warning". Then, the spontaneous things that are always better than anything planned ahead started working their magic and in one huge voice we started chanting "ARREST BUSH! ARREST BUSH!". It was awesome, simple, and it pointed out how absurd it is that we were about to be arrested for sitting on a sidewalk while Bushco gets away with destroying our country and others along with it...Perfect.
After 10 minutes or so, we got our second warning, and the same chant broke out again "ARREST BUSH!! ARREST BUSH!!!". And then the third warning.
There was no turning back. The cool thing was, I don't think any one of us had even thought about backing down. I spent 3 days practically talking myself out of this but when the time came there was NO QUESTION IN MY MIND about what I was going to do. I was going to get arrested. And I was really happy about it. How absurd!
Meanwhile, 3 paddy wagons pulled into the street between us on the sidewalk and the supporters and press in the park. This made it tough for the press to get a good view, but they managed. As you probably know, Cindy was the first to get arrested. She was grinning the whole time, and the cheering was monstrous. They handcuffed and processed her just like they would the rest of us (I'll get into the details soon) but she was put into a police car and driven away, rather than a paddywagon.
They announced that the males and females would be seperated, and my affinity group was 3 males and 3 females getting arrested, so we started talking about what we wanted to do. Patty from NYC and I wanted to get in there and get it over with, I guess, while Courtney, our other female, wanted to stick around on the sidewalk. Her theory was that they would cuff us and take us somewhere and we would all have to wait until everyone arrived before getting processed and let out. Patty and I figured the first people in would be the first people out, and we were ready to go. It was hot and sunny by this point, I could feel myself getting a little burned and I wanted out of the sun. It had been cloudy all weekend, but the sun started shining when we left the church way back when. I was sweating like mad and I wanted to conserve my water, since I didn't know when I'd get more. As a group, we determined that it was okay to split up, Courtney said she was comfortable with it. Patty and I hugged each of our affinity group members, I shed a couple more tears (I'm such a cheeseball), and we did a final 'RA!!!' Patty and I went to the curb where they were starting to take people. The first three paddy wagons were all for females, and there were cops at each one arresting people and getting them put inside. I stepped up and an officer came and took me by the arm. I could have gone limp and made them carry me, but they were really being so cool about it, and I knew that they had probably been working overtime all weekend for us so why make it more difficult for them? So I walked forward.
They put me up against the paddy wagon, on display for the people on the sidewalk but hidden from the press and support protestors. They cuffed me immediately, and this was where I made my one mistake for the day. Someone had told me that if you flex your wrists when they put on the cuffs then you will get more slack. Makes sense, but the officer cuffing me didn't like that, and he made me go linp and pulled them extra tight. I didn't realize they were tighter than most people's cuffs until later, and I didn't want to be a whiner so I just dealt with it. Officer Laura pulled everything out of my pockets, including a cigarette butt. I apologized for having that in my pocket, and said "I just didn't want to get arrested for littering today". Officer Laura laughed, I laughed, good times...good times...She was actually very nice. She put my cash back into my pocket, took everything else, and another cop took a polaroid of me to put in the bag with my stuff as added ID for when I got my property back. I was asked for information - name, address, birthdate, SS#, etc. By this time, my pants were falling down a little (damn low riders) and I really couldn't do a thing about it with the cuffs on. Good thing I put on my Supergirl panties!
Officer Dillon walked me around to the back of the paddywagon and helped me climb in. The crowd was cheering for me, cameras were clicking, videotapes were rolling - I really hope I find a picture of my ass getting on the wagon! It's got to be out there somewhere. I was greeted with "Welcome sister!" by my paddy wagon mates. I was the 5th person to get arrested on that wagon, so probably about the 15th overall. By this time it was about 1:45pm. We had a great time back there - we were still in pretty good shape, although it was incredibly hot and stuffy in the back of the wagon. Officer Dillon told us that if we felt faint or sick to tell him. He was so very kind, and kind of adorable (can you say 'Stockholm Syndrome'?). In the back of the wagon we sang songs, chanted, and they left the back door open so we could yell at the crowd and they could yell back...It took another 30 minutes or so for the paddywagon to get full with 16 women, meanwhile we were sweating our asses off and starting to get uncomfortable. My shoulders were spasming a little from the position the cuffs put me in. But we were still in good spirits, that's for sure. When Officers Laura and Dillon brought in the last woman I said "Hey - weren't you supposed to bring the margaritas?". We all laughed, and Officer Laura started calling me 'Margarita girl' after that. Hee hee. Finally the wagons started moving and the crowd outside went wild. It was awesome.
Took about 15 minutes to get to the Anacostia holding facility. (Time was hard to follow, so I am estimating). When we got there, the backdoor of the wagon was opened but we weren't allowed to get out for a while. Apparently we were waiting until a previous group was done processing. It was still really hot, we were parked in some sort of garage. A 2 paddy-wagon garage, to be precise, although I didn't know that until they let us out. After awhile, maybe 20 minutes, we were let out of the wagon, and there was a huge industrial-sized fan which felt GREAT. We stood at a table and had to give our information again to a different officer, we were shown our property and had to verify it was ours and then it was put in a box. The garage was split in two with a cage-like structure, and another group of women - including some clergy - from one of the other paddy-wagons was in the other side. We had to hang out in the garage for quite some time, still cuffed, until the first paddy-wagon got processed. It seemed to take forever. It was then that I realized my cuffs were tighter than most people's since a few them had even been able to slip one or both of their hands out. There is no way I could have done that, even right at the beginning, and by now my hands were swelling a little. Ouch. But I kept in mind that my temporary discomort was a small sacrifice compared to what the soldiers and the Iraqis were suffering through, and that made it much easier. One woman in my group had MS and her hands were really swelling. As soon as she mentioned it to Officer Dillon he got her cuffs cut off. After awhile she offered to let them re-cuff her butOfficer Dillon said it was okay to leave her hands free. The cops really were very kind and gentle with us, aside from just a couple power-trippers with bad attitudes.
We spent another hour or so in the garage, and this was the only time when I felt like this could be bad, it could take forever - we were hot, dehydrated, uncomfortable, hungry, tired, and while the officers were nice they weren't really giving up any info. We didn't know how long it would take, or if we would even get released. But finally my group was let inside. There were 4 desks set up for the next step of processing. When it was my turn, I went to the desk and had to confirm my information one more time - address, SS#, etc. The officer filling out the paperwork used the previous paperwork - by this time I had an actual file folder with my name on it. The form he was filling out was a triplicate carbon form, and it was double sided so after filling out one side he had to flip all the carbons between the pages to fill out the other side. Meanwhile, some magic hands came up behind me and cut off my handcuffs. Free At Last! I couldn't turn around to see who it was but I said "I love you, whoever you are!" which would later come back to haunt me . My wrists were red all the way around. I still have a couple small bruises. It felt soooo good to move my arms around and stretch out. Aaaaahhh.
Then I was put into a cell with a few other women from my paddywagon. It seemed a little disorganized, there were so many steps to the processing and there was a lot of waiting in between. I peed in the little toilet in the jail cell. I don't remember the exact sequence of things, but I got called out of the cell to get my mug shot, and I hope I can get a copy of it somehow. I knew the end was near so I was just grinning from ear to ear, and I was holding the board with my name on it in front of my chest and with my left hand I was flashing a peace sign. Even the officer taking the picture laughed, and the other women standing in the room. The whole mood was pretty lighthearted again by this point now that we had our cuffs off and it really felt like we wouldn't be there much longer.
Then it was back into a cell for a while, and then it was time to get fingerprinted. Both hands, on two cards, there is just no fast way to do it. It took a while. At some point during all this I think they were running checks on all of us to see if we had outstanding warrants or anything. Then back in the cell, wondering what was next, wondering if we would be there forever or if it was almost done. Eventually I got called out again, and went through a door into a hallway where I could see outside, and there was a DC city bus outside full of males who had been arrested. An officer came through the door with the teenager who had asked a question at the legal breifing, and another young kid with him. As they went by me I said "I wish I had been as cool as you at your age!" They just sort of blushed, so sweet. And so sad that they have to lose their innocence so young... At this point I had to go over all my property and make sure it was all there, even the stupid cigarette butt that had been following me around all day. The officer also filled out my actual citation, and explained that it was a $50 fine with a $25 processing fee and I had 30 days to pay it or I could come back in November to fight it in court. I told him 'thank you' for everyone treating us so well and being patient with us, and I told him to tell Officer Dillon that there are 16 criminals out there with a crush on him. He said - "Wait a minute, I heard you say you loved the person who took off your cuffs!" I said "Oh, I do!" and he said "That was me!" I wanted to hug him but it didn't seem appropriate so I shook his hand and walked out the door. Walked out the door. Whew! This was around 6pm.
Once outside, the cops weren't so nice anymore. I had no idea which direction to walk, I just stood there for a second waving at the guys on the bus and telling them through the windows that it wasn't so bad. Then a cop started yelling 'You can't stand there! You must leave the premises! You can't stand there!". Dude, all I see is a parking lot - I haven't eaten or had water in hours, I can barely see, at least point me in the right fucking direction!!! Of course I didn't say that out loud. I just started walking and eventually saw a gate with a few people outside it so I went out there. Shortly after, Patty from my affinity group came out too, and we had a little reunion. I bummed a smoke, and I borrowed a cell phone to call Joani. I told her I'd make my way back to the room.
A group of us walked to the Metro station together, and it was a horrible neighborhood. Nasty dogs barking at us through fences, broken glass and trash everywhere. Yuck. But there were 7 or 8 of us, so we did just fine. I got on the train with a couple others I had walked with, but I got off soon after to transfer. So here I was on the Metro with fingerprint ink all over my hands, red wrists, and a police property bag. LOL - I wonder what the other people on the train thought of me?!
I splurged on a cab from the station to my hotel, and there was my angel Joani waiting for me! I smoked a cigarette (and to be perfectly honest I smoked a little something else in clebration ) I took a shower and poured a glass of wine and marvelled at how good I felt! Ate about 10 pounds of Thai beef and veggies and chicken satay and a bunch of hershey bars.
I was one happy criminal. And I slept like a baby that night.
I would like address the whole thing about people being held all night. I want to stress at this point that I do NOT believe that the cops deliberately made this process take long. Their system is sadly rudimentary and that is the ONLY reason it took all night to get everyone processed. They weren't stalling. While I was stuck on the paddywagon and in the garage I wondered if they were making it take longer, but once I got inside and saw what they had to work with I understood. It really took that long to process people. They didn't have computers, and like any city police force they are underfunded and overworked, and they were doing their best. I truly believe that. The people weren't being held on the buses just to make them suffer, they were being held on buses because there was no place else to put them. I am guessing that's why they took the paddy wagons first, because relatively speaking we weren't on them for long and the buses are much more comfortable than the paddy wagons. I was shocked at the conyersblog stuff - it seemed to describe something far different than I experienced. I just got an update from my affinity group leader this morning and she says that everyone in my group feels the same way as I do. As someone who is active in Election Reform, Conyers has always been a hero of mine. I am very disappointed in what he wrote and I plan to let him know that. I was glad that I made that decision to get it over with, because I got out relatively quickly - but processing 370 people cannot be done quickly, not with the resources the park police had to work with. Even as the 3rd paddywagon it took us over 4 hours from arrest to release. Once it started to back up at Anacosta...well...I truly believe they did their best. I know for a fact that if people told the cops they had medical concerns they were processed immediately - one of the men in my affinity group had been injured a few days before and had stitches and was taking antibiotics. I found out the next day that he was pushed quickly through the system because of that. I also know that one of my affinity group members who didn't get out until the morning said that yes, it was uncomfortable, but that is what he signed up for. That is what we all signed up for. He referred to the pleasant rapport with the cops as 'surreal', given our general dislike with authority. No one I know of had a bad experience.
Would I do this again? Absolutely. As long as I am able to get time off work, I will participate in more civil disobedience. What happened last Monday was really a best-case scenario. Easy for me to say, since I got out after 4 hours, I guess. But the cops were really nice, things went as planned, and keep in mind that everyone who volunteered for this event did it knowing that they could be held longer, that things could go wrong. And we were lucky because nothing went wrong, it just went slow. And the fact that it took so long is a testament to its success - 370 people got arrested! If I do this again, will I be so lucky? Maybe, maybe not. But I am willing to take the chance. As I said before, it is a small sacrifice to make compared to what it is we are fighting against. Shit, I would retire next week and do this full time if I could afford it! And it makes me wonder, too, can we afford NOT to do things like this? There was one cop who seemed amazed that I took a vacation from work to get arrested, you know, he said 'Don't you have something better to do for a vacation? Why don't you just go see a movie, a lot of good movies came out this weekend'...seriously. Some people just don't get it. Something better to do? There was NOTHING I would have rather been doing that day. Those of us who DO get it, we need to keep vigilant. We can't let this momentum fade. It is too important. THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE WON'T STOP!!!!
Anyway, it is a long story, and again I apologize for being so detailed but this is my only diary of what happened, and I want to remember all the details. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.
Here's me, post-arrest (thanks to Joan for taking the picture!):