Hillary: white lady to white lady

Dear Hillary,

We’re both nice white ladies, liberals who love the Children’s Defense Fund. When a friend suggest that I address you directly, I was hesitant. But after watching (a video of) the speech you shared in our community yesterday, I feel like we need to talk.

You spent a fair amount of your words talking as a Christian white woman, invoking scriptural images and using theologically potent concepts. As a white lady Christian pastor, I appreciated the attempt but also felt the chaff.

Jesus’ teaching does include the infamous “70×7” forgiveness challenge, and it is also true that many deeply devout Black Christians offered words of forgiveness in the throes of grief after the massacre at Emanual AME. But when you or I, white women, pick up those words and hold them up as an expectation to a people bent over with sorrow, there is no balm. In fact, the taking and using of those words and images is an appropriation which serves to salt the very wound you would bandage.


Quite frankly, as white women, even as white women who’s mother’s knew hard times, we don’t get to pretend that we understand what a Black mother’s grief looks like. We just don’t. We don’t know and it is the essence of erasure to pretend that we do.

And because we cannot understand the pain and the loss that confronts Black women in America on a daily basis, we cannot stand in judgement. To nod approvingly, as you did so graciously, is no less judgmental than a scowl of disapproval; the offense of judgement isn’t simply to be found wanting, the offense is in the assumption of power and privilege by the one offering judgement. You assumed a seat of power and privilege as you favorably judged the actions of the grieving community in Charleston. Witness to the insult was that though you had much support during the speech, no one clapped as you heaped praise on the forgivers; the room silently waited as you heaped insult on injury.


Much has already been written by Black women that I trust about the failed rush to forgiveness. While spiritual warriors are often able to detangle themselves from revenge, Jesus also suggested that we are to be not only as gentle as doves but also as wise as serpents. True forgiveness is a process which takes time and one that requires accountability, forgiveness is not a blank slate and a new beginning.

Desmond Tutu offered the prayer that you echoed with your “love is stronger than hate” phrase. He is also an architect of South Africa’s powerful Truth and Reconciliation work. When we do our homework, we learn that this work could not be done until Apartheid was over. The new Jim Crow is not yet over, any rush to forgiveness in America is premature. The other key piece we learn from Tutu’s work is that reconciliation comes only with the speaking of truth; for this too we wait.

Clearly you meant well. You are a politician with ambition, you are also a nice white lady, a liberal like me with good intentions. I understand, all to well, what you meant. But your message failed, and it was, for many of us, deeply offensive. I write in hopes that as nice white ladies, we might learn from one another because, quite literally, Black lives are on the line, now.

Most sincerely,



Anne Braden Portrait by Robert Shetterly

white mothers, we need to talk…

when human lives are reduced to hashtags,
every mother’s heart should weep
every mother’s womb should convulse.

but some mother’s son
was on the other side of the hashtag
pulling the trigger
cursing the dying man’s last breath
pounding his skull into the pavement
as life left his body.

and this is the problem for a mother’s soul:
not which side are you on,
for mother’s are always on the side of life
complicated and messy, yes, but

but what is life when you have to ask
where you will find your son;
was your son the hashtag
or the one creating the hashtag,
the one with position and power
or the one crying out.

because we raise our sons,
we all do,
to rise to their greatest heights;
but what then do we do
when their heights are positions of power
with weapons
in the machinery of the ‪#‎newjimcrow‬?
do we love them less?
or do we shield our heart from the hashtags?

and in that moment
that Sophie’s choice
that impossible place
white supremacy triumphs
and our souls begin their descent
into hell.

white mothers of white sons,
we must talk.

photography @deray

#BlackChurch and white ladies

Last Easter we were buying baskets with dolls for the two little girls who came into our lives on Easter Monday. While Mike Brown was lying in the street on a hot August Saturday, I was braiding Iah’s hair one last time before they were taken from us and placed in a more “culturally appropriate” home. Our time together was too brief, but plenty long to become fully disillusioned with the system and painfully familiar with the destructiveness of nice white ladies.

Sure, the challenges with the children were significant.

While we were elated to be welcoming two young ones into our home, they were traumatized by the move. Their social worker went to their school on Monday morning, announced that she was moving them, unenrolled them, and dropped them off at our home an hour later with (quite literally) only the clothes on their backs. Though the move had planned for more than a week, the girls had not been informed. They had not been given a chance to bring anything (not even their Easter baskets!) from their family’s home. As long as I live, I will never forget the look of terror in their eyes as they walked through the front door the first time.

They had stories that leaked out over our time together, stories that would make your heart stop, stories that gave explanation if not excuse for any number of challenging behaviors, stories of children of children for whom life had been simply too hopeless and too hard. Our world was at best a mystery, at worst a threat, and never was it easy.

Our relief when the girls were taken, however, had little to do with the children. What was stunningly unmanageable in our lives were the hired professionals who were the children’s legal guardians, the “case manager” and “counselor” and their boss. In retrospect, the “tension in the team” (bosses report to court) was likely a result of two privileged white women expecting too much from a system designed to do as little as possible. We wanted services, the system wanted us to be quiet. And so it went, for a long painful summer.

#BlackChurch photography @deray

photography @deray

As I scan the horizon in the rearview mirror, with the perspective of #Ferguson, I am aware that the entire scene was macabre and racist as hell. Every one of the social workers were young white women, well intentioned but totally insensitive to the needs of the children entrusted to their care.

As the trio of white women were preparing to remove the girls, the first round of tear gas was being thrown at protestors in Ferguson. Not on the front lines yet, I was cooking dinner as I listened to the white women cluck in our living room about “them” in Ferguson. My body still shakes as I remember that blatant burst of unexamined racist rhetoric that filled the air in my home. My dear one told them to leave, and they did. But with their racism laid bare, the tragedy of the failed placement became clear.

#BlackChurch  photography @deray

photography @deray

Today we are empty nesting and using our time to be on the streets in Ferguson and beyond. Instead of buying Easter baskets this year we joined a group of (mostly) Black queer and trans folks to reach out to the #BlackChurch. As I watched beautiful children dancing into church on a sunny Easter morning, I missed the girls and deeply. But as I paused for a bit of nostalgia, the bitter lessons from the nice white ladies came flooding back. I tried to type them, but the micro (and not so) aggressions are probably best left to obscurity.

What is worthy to note is the love that I felt in the gathered circle this morning, empowering and at the same time challenging. As I stood in the circle, basking in the love made manifest, I was also keenly aware of my whiteness. It’s complicated, being a white woman in the movement. The relationship between Black women and white women is especially messy owning to the systems of white supremacy that white women rarely challenge.

And why would we? Until we’re parenting children of color. And we begin to see how charity is just another word for oppression.

Worse, we see white women unmasked for the role that is ours where brown skinned children are segregated from birth and groomed not for the halls of power but rather for the #newjimcrow. White women rarely see this; we raise our white sons to carry the guns, we teach the classrooms that fuel the pipeline, we work endlessly to make it all look and (please God) sound nice.

Let me be clear, I am not ashamed of the melanin (or lack thereof) in my skin or the straightness of my hair. In fact it is not shame that I feel at all these days. What I am aware of is a heightened sense of disgust, disdain, and even anger. This isn’t personal, this isn’t about good or bad people. What galls me about whiteness isn’t personal, it’s the systems that are specifically (if covertly) designed to advantage one group (whiteness) and discredit another. Where I experience disdain is in conversations designed to ignore or (worse) deny what is so blatant in our midst. I am not crying or fragile, I am angry and finding my power.

#BlackChurch  photography @deray

photography @deray

The sun begins it’s descent and I consider the routines that shifted since I last smelled the lilies. I offer a quiet prayer for two precious children as I give thanks for the incredible women that have come into my life this year… Black women and white, queer, trans, lesbian and straight… an audacious and vivacious cloud of witnesses. I can’t help but think that this too is #Resurrection.






photo from

Protest Lessons: Youth on the Loop

It’s curious for a pacifist to read the headlines that link my activities with violence.

To be sure, I’ve become accustomed to the violence of the police. In yesterday’s earlier march we, a totally peaceful group, approached the Ferguson police station’s front door (in broad daylight) and were met with police in riot gear. Police shaking their batons at me, bringing out the dogs and the pepper spray, attempting to intimidate with state sponsored violence – this is common place. Tragically common.

Last night was very different and very important.

The protestors (as a group, a family, trained and dedicated) had not even arrived on the Delmar Loop when the police were executing a capricious curfew ordinance. It’s rumored that the action was a response to a (single) fight somewhere on the multi-block strip. Maybe so. What I witnessed as we happened onto the scene for our unrelated (or not so) gathering was a racially specific sweep. The kids that were being rounded up and removed were chatting with one another happily, shopping at the convenience store, and causing no harm whatsoever. Nor were they accused of doing anything wrong. They were being evicted solely (we were told) because of their age.

Of course there were others not evicted. It’s the not even hidden in plain sight truth. Young people who were dressed a certain way, holding certain skin privilege, and/or hanging out with others that had privilege were NOT evicted. Not only were they evicted, the violence with which they were removed (having committed NO CRIME) was unconscionable. Dogs, handcuffs, taken to the station, terror.

What happened next is sadly predicable and gratefully no one was seriously hurt.


Photo from

The protest which would have been slight suddenly grew. Protestors weary from the events earlier in the day came out. Youth that had been evicted returned through the side streets and joined the protestors. Middle aged white folk enjoying their dinners left their tables and went to the streets. The streets belong to the people and the people took them back.

Enough is enough.

And apparently some of the kids (not from the protest group) did have a fight, apparently one had a gun. Let me be clear: no one wants kids to fight, no one wants kids to have revolvers. But for either of these tragedies to be the headline only undergirds the compounded tragedy that the mainstream media are missing the story entirely. What the youth need is not more violence (state or otherwise), they need respect, justice, and a safe place to gather.

Violence begets violence. If we insist on state sponsored violence, the results are predictable.

Photo from

Photo from

Leaving Church: Praying with My Feet

Enjoying the early morning quiet of a Sunday morning in an empty nest, I am aware of sadness for the losses. The gift of life’s second half is perspective, the curse is the pile of losses that make possible the view. My journey may have more or less than yours, but all of us have stories to tell.

In this sacred space, with the sound of my dear one sleeping, the birds singing of coming spring, and warm coffee with milk, I am also aware of healing as life unfolds on a path quite unexpected. Despite our best laments, the sun rises and time marches on. It’s been more than two years since I left the church, and I realize that grief has been replaced by wistfulness. After a quarter century of Sundays dominating the week, I savor this moment of quiet and take note of that which no longer catches my breath.

Curious is the role of justice work, indeed civil disobedience, that preceded my time in seminary and has come back into my daily routines. Throughout my seminary days, I fancied that my call was to prophetic witness and in my ordination even chose the text from Luke’s gospel quoting Isaiah. But almost immediately I became a servant of the church, my bread and butter about filling pews, organizing potlucks, making flyers, and meetings.

In my last years in the church, I was passionate about expressing a theological frame that was itself progressive. Often we find socially liberal churches with traditional theology (or the reverse). I suspect this is somewhat inevitable for white folk in America because the texts and traditions that we have adopted were written by and for communities oppressed. There is a dissonance inherent in our reading and a need to do critical (self reflective work) unless we flatten them (read: impose tradition). I was jazzed about working to articulate a theology that was relevant, challenging, and empowering. The path was pretty much unchartered and at points contentious, but worth the effort. And it was great fun, until it wasn’t.

The point of parting is still painful. The words spoken, the letters shared, the allegations levied; these haunt. Cruel, but without which I would not have released my grip. Perhaps I grieve the necessity (my grip) as much as I grieve the series of events themselves.

As I sit on this quiet Sunday morning drinking coffee, the sun now full in the sky, I see the path that is mine today.

Prayer Vigil in Ferguson. Photo by

Prayer Vigil in Ferguson. Photo by

While my gratitude has many layers and covers a wide berth of life experiences, as I ponder that which is sacred this morning I am mindful of all that I’ve seen and heard and felt on the streets in #Ferguson. I’ve learned more of what it means to be white, and the importance of #whitefolkwork if we really care about justice. I’ve met Jesus in any number of incarnations, Black of course, and often queer and usually a woman. As I’ve prayed with my feet, I’ve learned that my words get in the way and I’ve had incredible opportunities to listen. The veil is lifted as the sacred dances in the street.

The early morning light is now gone and the busyness of the day calls. There are lesson plans to gather, laundry to start, and a protest to attend (#BlackBrunch).

Church, like prayer, comes in many forms.


a POTUS miss

As Obama declares that, though we have much to do, race relations are clearly better than they were 50 years ago, I am struck by the two Americas in which we live.

Clearly some aspects have improved, and dramatically, as Obama’s election bears witness. Diversity is in vogue, and everyone (except the hardcore racists) want a sprinkle of diversity in our otherwise white lives. Anecdotes abound about the “hard working” Black man that made it in corporate America, allowing the myth of meritocracy to reign. To be sure there are opportunities that did not exist 50 years ago for some Americans but the systems that privilege white lives (at the expense of others) are perhaps even stronger than they were on Bloody Sunday.

The baseline struggle for a Black child born in America is stunningly unchanged. Poverty is crushing, malnutrition is high and healthcare scarce. While childhood poverty crosses lines of race, our public school resources do not appear to be so color blind. The disparities in funding are immoral and so too the disparities in punishments (suspensions). Given that suspensions literally remove children from the classroom, the loss of education based on race is underscored. To be sure there are children of color at the fancy private schools, like the ones where Obama’s daughters attended, but this is NOT the norm for children of color in America. Our public schools are actually MORE segregated than they were 50 years ago.

While the years since Bloody Sunday brought us our first Black president, these same years also provided a cloak for the “war on drugs” and the “prison industrial complex” and any number of euphemism that have created the #newjimcrow. Not only do we have an incarceration rate that is utterly ridiculous, it is quite literally the highest in the world. Do we really believe that Americans are more dangerous or are we simply more vengeful or (my personal hunch) we’ve become dependent upon the prison-industrial economy. And in this unconscionable system, we fill our prisons with Black and brown skinned boys (who become men behind bars). Not only do we charge and imprison dramatically differently along lines of race, we have also created an elaborate system to ensure that even upon release “convicts” are stripped of economic and civic privileges, denied their human rights.

And, of course, our schools function as a pipeline to the prison system… the whole damn system is guilty as hell.

I have deep respect and true appreciation for our President. But I am equally disappointed in his failure to act at this pivotal place in history. Appealing to the American dream when children are quite literally being gunned down the streets is as morally bankrupt as the revivalist’s promise of an afterlife to the child who is hungry.


Nonviolence as a Weapon

“Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong.” – Mahatma Ghandi

After years cloistered in church life, talking and reading and preaching about nonviolence, I find myself pushed to the limits (and beyond) of my pacifist ideals.

By day I work with troubled children, many of whom seek exterior physical boundaries to feel safe. By night I am with protest family facing off with police who are the face of white supremacy’s defense in America.

Whereas during the first half of my life I clung to a belief in nonviolence in fear and loathing of violence, I find myself at strange peace with the violence that is now in my face.

frontline faceoff SLMPDIn recent months, at school and on the streets, I’ve been verbally assaulted and physically accosted by both children and grown men. (Curiously only boys and men, always white; which is itself a worthy place to reflect.) I’ve also been threatened by militarized police in riot gear, tear gassed and pepper sprayed, and handcuffed and hauled off to jail. In a strange twist of fate, violence has become part of my daily life.

And I will admit that I have considered the option. I’ve toyed with the potential of violence to quell the children’s drama and the seed the revolution. To my horror, I have found myself contemplating an eye for an eye.

The protests have been remarkably nonviolent. In the six months since Michael Brown was murdered, I’ve been on the streets for five and I’ve witnessed remarkable militant nonviolent action. Yes, there is this one white guy (or is it two?) that occasionally appears in our midst and throws water bottles at the police; it’s happened on at least three occasions and *every* time he is stopped and challenged by someone in the protest family. And while there was certainly much destruction following the non indictment announcement, I’ve heard nothing that even remotely connects that night’s fires with protestor activity. In fact it was the militarized squashing of protestors on S. Florrisant that preceded the fires on West Florrisant. Considering the sheer number of hours and volume of feet, the movement has been an awe inspiring feat of nonviolent resistance.

After an LEO (law enforcement) rally where I had been verbally accosted by white supremacists, I was feeling particularly over the nonviolent approach. A wise woman pulled me aside and said, “Don’t let them take your peace.” She is a grandmother, she has lost a son to police violence, and she took the time to school and comfort me. She is wise and I am grateful.End Mass Incarceration March

Nonviolent militant action is rooted not in fear of violence or naiveté but rather in a position of strength. Rev. Osagyefo Seku names it the place of “deep abiding love” and I believe him. When a child is threatening me, my response can come not from fear but from a grounded (not candy coated) place of steely (and abiding) love. When a police officer is shaking his baton at me, I own the fear that is real but simultaneously note the ground that holds me and find my strength therein. When an angry white man pulls back his arm to punch, I feel my vulnerability but look full into his face as his arm falls slack.

B93U8ZECMAEazj0.jpg-largeOf course happy endings are not ours, not yet, maybe not ever. The truth is that many in the movement have been physically and emotionally wounded, deeply, already.  Just this week we’ve witnessed arrests for using sidewalk chalk at the Ferguson PD and during a #TransLivesMatter march in the CWE (moving *immediately* to the sidewalk when asked). Nonviolence is no panacea, no protection from the storm.  For this I grieve, and deeply. All the more I am filled with gratitude for the witness that has been offered by the hundreds, thousands, of protest family (across the country) who have practiced direct and militant nonviolent action in pursuit of justice.

Watching the incredible strength of the movement, I see Ghandi’s truth. Nonviolence is a weapon, our weapon. And it is a weapon of the strong.


Another Straight White Man

By week’s end, I was queasy in stomach as well as heart, cold and clammy. The parallel dramas in my life (struggling teens by day, facing off with the police state at night) had reached a crescendo this week.

Monday night’s chalking, my contribution…

I laid on the couch and missed the *fabulous* activist action at the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball. I love the creativity of the movement!

This morning I awake slowly and take stock of the world. I let the cats out into the cold February morning, I read the NYT headlines, I scan the FB world. I realize that I am feeling out of step, particularly as I process the news of the UCC’s new president.

My present life, empty nesting with a precious wife and a job teaching math with troubled teens, is a dramatic shift from the ‘married-to-a-man with kids while pastoring a suburban church life’ that I had for literally decades. Much of the transition unfolded with grace and dignity, but the parts that didn’t still haunt me. I am reminded of the snake shedding an entire body of skin, and the burn that happens when skin that is not lose is torn off prematurely, by accident or intent. There are wounds, some that simply are still very deep. So I sit in awareness of the pain, doing my best to drop the story line and allow the pain to move through.

What I am aware of this precious Saturday morning is the shift of my FB feed. Once my FB world was local church members and friends and potential members, with a few clergy and a family members to round it out. FB was a place where I groomed an image, a tool used for crafting a story of community, for building church. All of that is different now. Many of my friends and acquaintances from the movement are the voices that wake me in the morning, reminding me that ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ isn’t just a weekend poster but a daily plea for life. No longer a hypothetical, I see a little boy (14 years old) who was chalking with me in the Ferguson PD on Monday night now charged with felony assault as he ran in terror from police that were clearly out of control.

A firefighter and a CO from Ferguson assist officers to arrest a 14 year old … for using sidewalk chalk!

This nightmare, the one where children are snatched and lives are destroyed with impunity, is not one from which a mother of black sons ever wakes. This is terror, home grown in America.

Meanwhile the remanent FB world from my old life is dancing with glee about the new UCC president. I know him, I have deep respect for him, I would love to talk with him again. But while all I read all of the congratulatory posts and listen to the prideful back slapping, I can’t let go of the fact that ONCE AGAIN we’ve chosen a straight white man to lead a denomination that wants to be known as progressive. There is NOTHING progressive about the demographic. To be sure, this particular man has been a consistent ally for the LGBTQ community and I suspect the same can and will be said for his alliance across lines of race. But the implication that the most “qualified” candidate is (once again) straight and white and male reinforces the very white supremacist structure that the denomination claims to abhor. Perhaps I should have been less surprised when the conference minster, serving our area when I sought counsel 2 1/2 years ago, suggested that I leave the denomination. Maybe he was right.

A church worthy of our support is not silent as the ‪#‎newjimcrow‬devastates the lives of black men and women and children. The prison industrial complex, that includes the insane municipal court system so endemic to our St. Louis area communities, is a dragon that isn’t even hidden; it is fed with our tax dollars and protected as many ‘good white folk’ work in and around the system. Quite frankly, as I work in a ‘therapeutic day treatment’ school, I’m aware that I too am a cog in the system. So a church worthy of our support is one that helps us name this evil and stand in opposition, not another institution that attempts to put lipstick on the pig, asks us to be nice, and woos us with promises of justice in a mythic neverland. A church worthy of our support embodies intersectionality, reflects the justice that we would seek, and holds the bar for justice and compassion higher than simply what is culturally acceptable.B9c90VYCAAATqw8.jpg-large

It is the dissonance between the promise of the church and the harsh reality of the institution that hold my heart and mind captive as I struggle to make sense of the world that has come into view.

Could it be that in this very dissonance the sacred dances?

NYPD’s Gift for the New Year: Non-Action

Today I am grateful for NYPDs unintended gift of non-action as I ponder the incredible excesses we’ve encountered with law enforcement in recent weeks.

On every step of the way leading up to the non-indictment announcements and (more so) afterwards, the ones with uniforms and the charge of “keeping the peace” have been the instigators of violent action. After the (police) violence, the mainstream media reports share stories that suggest the object of the violence is the perpetrator. To be sure the protests have been disruptive; there may be individual protestors who have misstepped, but the actions have been and continue to be militant, direct, and non-violent.

The pattern is painfully predictable. Always there are guns and chemical weapons and batons, always in the hands of the ‘peace keepers’ who are facing off with a crowd of unarmed civilians. WalMart Thanksgiving 2

…On the night of the no-bill announcement in Ferguson, a mother’s wails were still in the air and McCulloch still droning on the speaker when the uniformed officers were replaced with fully weaponized riot gear teams. The physical declaration of war we witnessed still stops my breath.

…The absurdity was vivid as we 50 of us stood with candles in prayer at the basilica on Christmas Eve while 70 fully weaponized riot-gear-clad soldiers behind us to guard … what? ‘War toys for the Prince of Peace’ was no longer a peacenik taunt but a virtual reality in a city gone mad.

…On NYE, the “storm” at the SLMP was only a “storm” because some of the officers were trying to pull people in the doors while other officers where pushing people out (read: pushing and shoving by police, NOT protestors). As I reflect on the event (having both lived it and watched the videos), I am appalled not by the citizens trying to (lawfully) enter a public building but by the total disarray and subsequent aggression of the officers. Yes, it was a mess; but whose?

…As I stood in the street later that afternoon, linked with a group of unarmed women, we watched a swarm of now armored soldiers march towards us. Armed to the teeth (quite literally) because a group of civilians (12 women, 6 men) were standing in a line on an otherwise quiet city street. We sat down, making clear our non-threatening posture. frontline faceoff SLMPDThey continued to advance, some beating their batons, others caressing their sticks. Macabre. We laid down. They walked over us, surrounded us, but their weapons were so ridiculously over powering that they could do nothing. Other officers, less militarized, moved in to arrest us.

…The offense with which we were charged on NYE was city infraction (‘impeding’ traffic), essentially a parking ticket. But in a breach of routine protocol we were not only handcuffed, arrested, and taken downtown, we were fully printed (mug shots and all) and kept on 24 hour holds (some of us had family who were able to get us out after 10 hours with@$150). Even the staff admitted that it was a confusing stray from standard procedure. Why?

Tragically, what I’ve experienced in these recent weeks may be new to me but is business as usual for millions of Americans. In other words, if you have skin privilege (I do), these excesses in law enforcement are new and perhaps unbelievable. Tragically what I, as a protester, have encountered is what millions of Black and Brown skinned Americans have been experiencing on a daily basis now for decades. For people with skin privilege, like me, this is the season to listen.

More than a decade ago, the writers of “The Wire” attempted to draw our attention to the atrocity of the “drug war” and the systemic criminalization of the poor (and people of color); in The New Jim Crow (, Michelle Alexander offers a painfully clear analysis. With public policy and tax dollars, we have instituted a “whole damn system, guilty as sin” that is, quite simply, codified white supremacy.

The atrocities in “law enforcement” that I’ve witnessed in these weeks trouble my sleep but steel my resolve. My protest is not about bad/good cops (I know many ‘good’ ones), but about a system that is fundamentally flawed, a system that is built on a faulty foundation that must be exposed before it can be safely rebuilt.

As we enter this new year, this is a time to follow the (albeit unintended) lead of the NYPD. This is the season to pause and listen, really listen, to the cries of the people.

New Year, New Resolve

A New Year’s kiss with my dear one at the elevator leaving the St. Louis City Jail was the most precious moment of the evening, with the sight of adult-children posting bail a close runner up. Not quite sure how we reached such a dramatic conclusion from an otherwise ordinary day, I pause to recount the order of events.

Early in the day we had joined up with a march at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis (remember: Dred Scott) that culminated at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD). The action included a group inside the SLMPD that was serving a symbolic eviction notice with very real (and quite reasonable) demands for justice. The planned action included a 4 1/2 hour ‘occupation’ (sit in).

at the door SLMPD

Denied access to a public building during business hours.

As the marchers reached the police headquarters we discovered the doors (to the public building) were locked. At some point the doors appeared to open and several of us attempted to enter; simultaneously those on the inside were (quite literally) being pushed outside and the two groups met at the doorway. If there was clear direction, I didn’t hear it. If there was an officer in charge, it was not apparent. What was clear was that I was in a place in between and I practiced breathing. At some point I became aware that an officer had thrown my dear one out of the front doorway and I saw her land sprawled on the sidewalk. As I was taking that in, I felt myself airborne and landed on top of her. Another young woman landed on me, and another on her. Before we had managed to get up from the pile we heard screams, “pepper spray!”. Keeping our backs to the officers, we scrambled up and ran.  When I turned around, I saw an officer who still had his can pointed at the crowd and I saw him spray (again) in a wide arc. I spun around and (thankfully) caught the spray on my backside. Others were not so lucky. Medics scrambled as people fell to the ground crying out in agony. As water and milk of magnesia was poured into people’s eyes, it became apparent that the unannounced and indiscriminate spray hit protestors and reporters alike. It was an ugly way to begin the day.

(Note: The is a restraining order currently in effect banning the police from using chemical weapons on protestors without clear warning and reasonable time to vacate. Neither were offered.)

The action was intended to share 4 1/2 hours of occupation, in remembrance of the 4 1/2 hours that Mike Brown was left lying on the street. As people recovered from the spray, the action continued with the crowd gathered in front of the police department for several hours, singing, dancing, strategizing, and eating pizza. When we began to shiver, the cold-weather chant began: “Brr, it’s cold out here. There must be oppression in the atmosphere!” It was a time of connections and centering with the police blocking the roads on either side of the gathering.

frontline at SLMPD

The guys in riot gear were advancing, the unarmed women linked arms.

Near the end of the time, we got word that scores of police in riot gear were headed toward the location. Once again SWAT style commandos were being sent to face off with unarmed civilians. Why? The event had been clearly announced as a 4 1/2 hour event, it was coming to a close, and there was absolutely no inappropriate or disturbing behaviors. Admittedly I was more than a bit annoyed having already been man-handled by the police and pepper sprayed, and I wasn’t in the mood to cower. So I chose to stay, and pray.

frontline faceoff SLMPD

As the armed militia approached, the unarmed women sat down.

The scene is macabre as the riot gear line approaches peaceful protestors who are literally lying in the street. Their shields are ridiculously useless and all they can do is step over the bodies. The excesses of their violence has rendered them impotent. One by one the protestors in the street are rolled over, handcuffed, and placed in the awaiting police wagons by more sensibly clad officers. 12 women and 6 men were arrested in this sweep. And so it was that our New Year’s Eve celebration at the St. Louis City Jail began.

This was not my first foray in jail doing civil disobedience, but my prior experiences had been decades ago and with a police force that was not the object of the protests. These are tense times and civil disobedience in this context is much more dangerous on many levels. Although the charge (“impeding”) is a city infraction, we were held on 24 hour holds, fully mugged and printed, and given every opportunity to be searched, scolded, and humiliated. Dehydration was real, but so too was the camaraderie. As several hours passed, the 12 women shared laughter and stories and occasionally burst out in song.

Women who hold the line and share jail-cell solidarity. Love.

When the shift changed late in the evening, the new guard introduced herself by letting us know that if we weren’t quiet she would “spray us”; after a particularly artful song pleading for more toilet paper (raucous and fun), the warden came in threatened us with a 48 hour hold. Then they split the group, taking several of the women to an undisclosed location.

It was nearing midnight when an officer came to get my dear one and I. Hours earlier he had told us that someone had posted our bail and so ours was a hopeful walk from the cell. Soon we began the gauntlet of the out-processing which is long and also intentionally intimidating. At the stroke of midnight, we were standing on the free side of the door waiting for the elevator. Relieved, empowered, humbled, humored, and very much in love. (Her story here.)

As we came out of the elevator, we passed through the jail support folk who had spent their New Year’s Eve working to get everyone out. This is an incredibly important group in the movement that are always in need in both money and volunteers. As we went around one more corner, our eldest and her dear hubbie met us with hugs and love and laughter.

The New Year begins with family. Family of origin and families of choice. And it is very good.