Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Trying To Live the Life I Talk About

I've been a little quiet here for several days because I went through a profound experience this past weekend that is taking a lot of energy working through.

On Saturday, I participated in a protest here in Denver. A group of us from Iliff joined the Transform Columbus Day Alliance, a primarily Indian group with allies including Italian-Americans, in protesting the local Columbus Day parade.

You might be thinking, why Columbus Day? Well, first there's the fact that he was a slave trader, and was directly responsible for the of deaths millions of indigenous people in the Caribbean, among other things. Also, and perhaps more importantly, is the legacy of conquest, domination, oppression, violence, genocide, patriarchy, colonialism, and environmental destruction that Columbus inaugurated with his "discovery" and which has wreaked havoc -- and continues to wreak havoc -- not only on this continent but around the world (see here for more).

The local parade is put on by a small group of Italian-Americans, the name of which I will neither offer nor link to, as their site, as I understand, contains links to white supremacist sites. This parade is ostensibly a "let's be proud to be Italian on Columbus Day" parade; however, the parade celebrates Columbus, not Italian heritage, consistently mocks Native Americans, celebrates their conquest (last year the cavalry that historically was responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado led the parade), and even has included homophobia and misogyny.

I could not really tell you what this year's parade was like, because I was handcuffed on a police bus.

I was one of many who took the street to block the parade from starting. Our affinity group, which several others joined, ended up at the very front, right in front of the police line. We sat in a circle, linked arms, prayed and sang hymns.

We were the last group to be approached by the riot police. The police resorted to violence quickly, almost, it seemed to me, instantly. We watched and sang as the people around us were carried away in pain-compliance stress positions, wrists and arms twisted, hair pulled, nightsticks used to twist elbows and arms and knees. Finally, they came for us.

I can't get out of my head the images of my friends being choked by the police, being screamed at in foul language, being threatened with the breaking of bones, having arms and wrists and necks twisted. Let me be clear -- this was the police's first interaction with us, to just reach into our non-violent, peaceful singing circle and grab and twist and choke. Few actually asked if we were willing to go. Maybe only one ("my" officer -- and I went, and did not suffer the treatment the others did -- but again, let me be clear: they were never given the chance).

We were taken to the police bus, handcuffed, and sat and waited there to see if there would be any more arrests. My cuffs were too tight, my thumbs went numb; my right thumb is still numb. My shoulders and arms and back are still sore from the stressful position I was in for around 2 hours.

We were first taken to the court house, processed. Then we were taken to the jail. We were told we'd have to post bond. There were many, shall we say, irregularities in the booking and processing and bond-posting. A mess. I ended up being jailed for nearly 36 hours. I fought off loneliness and fear with prayer, meditation, singing hymns in my head, and remembering that my cielo was with me and praying for me and waiting for me as soon as I got out.

The thing is, I was booked about 6pm (I was arrested about 10:30am or so...). They saw I had enough cash to pay my bail and I told them to take it. "Pay it!" I said. They said they would. But early in the morning, before sunrise, my cielo was told I had refused to pay bail. She demanded they search through the pile of credit/debit cards until they found mine, and made them run it. It was still 4-6 hours later that I was released.

Sweet release. My cielo was waiting outside the jail for me the whole time. Mama Bear.

The experience was traumatic, and I and my community members are suffering. I'm having trouble studying, can't concentrate or focus. I'm surprised this post even sounds coherent. I cry a lot. Flashbacks. Exhaustion. The community our affinity group had before this, though, has bonded even stronger, and I know I am not alone.

The thing is, the "system" wants us to feel alone, and isolated, and alienated, and afraid. But we weren't. And we aren't. We were united. We are more united than ever. The community, the Alliance is stronger than ever.

And I'm also thinking about this...something about how being a Christian means being willing to embody what you believe in. Something about taking up your own cross. Something about being willing to suffer, to take that risk, in the name of love, Divine Love, and human dignity and justice. Are you willing to put your body on the line.

So, yes, my body hurts, my heart hurts, my thumb is numb. But if what happened to me -- us -- moves someone to be converted to the cause, moves the powers that be to say "Enough" to the racist parade...or even if not...even if that doesn't happen, but the movement grows stronger, and the Indian community gains more allies, and we remember how we unmasked how desperately the system wants to maintain the status quo, and our affinity group gains a stronger community, and our school is woken up out of some quiet doldrums and made to think...

...then it was worth it.

There are photos here, and a good description of the day with more photos here. The circle of folks in stoles, or black and red, that's us. [Ed. 9/2012, links now nonexistent].

There's so much more going on in my head, so many thoughts to process, many things to celebrate, like the solidarity of the witnesses behind the police-tape barricades, and the way the 4 Directions flags flew in the wind and shone in the sun, and the way total strangers helped each other out in jail. But this is about all I can manage for now.

I try to live the life I talk about. I try to atone for the sins of my ancestors. I try to be faithful to the God I understand to be all about love and human dignity and the full flourishing of each person. Ultimately, that's all I can say.

Peace y'all --