Tuesday, May 7, 2013

This too, is resistance.


This is what happened when I tried to "relax" so I could take a less stressed-out picture for Linz the other day.

“I feel the violence of the state in the same places I have felt the violence of individual bodies that attacked me in the past, but I am no longer in despair, and I am no longer silent in the face of systems that create despair in service to efficiency or profit. Trauma doesn’t turn me inward anymore.”

I wrote those lines here in the end of January, confident that I was standing up to the bully of the state apparatus as best I could and wildly hopeful that I might be able to inspire others to action. I don’t disparage that spirit, but I arrive at this writing with more of a limp. It is true that I have committed myself to be “no longer silent in the face of systems that create despair in service to efficiency or profit.” It is not true that “trauma doesn’t turn me inward anymore.”

April 26th, 2013: 
Div 52. Judge Henry Barela not yet presiding. Linz and Bilal on their way. Right now I am alone. The longer I stay here, the more ridiculous it all feels. All structures of state power are bizarre houses of cards with the means to kill at the center.
The decisions are not made locally. 
They are made by political pressure, internalized or resisted. 
I smell like coconut. I’d prefer not to remember what it felt like to sit on that bus, and yet, I’m certain I should have done it, and for that feeling, I am grateful.

I count: 11 people in this room before the judge enters. 
2 of them are armed.
6 are wearing black blazers, 2 khaki
there are 6 visible iPhones, including mine.

The bailiff approaches me with a clipboard. “Do you have a case here?” he asks quizzically. (An adjective that is as surreal as I need here. Not as confident or cumbersome as “incredulously.”)
I show him my yellow Notice to Reappear. (As if I had disappeared without permission?)
He nodded and made a check mark on his clipboard. “Does your attorney know you’re here?” he asks.
“I don’t have one,” I say. “This is an infraction case.”
What is the shade closer to incredulous, if one starts with “quizzical?” He nods and walks away.

Later.
Judge is on recess. One of the employees here, who just shook hands with a very rosy-cheeked female pig thinks my scarf is “pretty.” It is a Keffiyeh from a family-run factory in Palestine. Help. 
I’m drinking nice coffee from Groundworks. 

I meet Jennifer Waxler, the Deputy City Attorney prosecuting my case. She has been handling OccupyLA trials with the same team of officers for many months now: see Jason Rosencrantz’ moving and informative piece on Tyson Herder’s trial. http://www.kcet.org/updaily/socal_focus/commentary/the-trial-of-tyson-heder.html

Waxler was late, dressed just slightly trendier than the suited blonde who trailed her, and she spoke to me as if I were about twelve years old and she had to make sure I got to the principal’s office safely. 

I got the discovery--two police videos and some officer’s statements that don’t mention my arrest. I also got a copy of the City’s Infraction Complaint, which I spent the weekend trying to comprehend/apprehend. It has a bright green sticker on the corner, applied by Waxler or someone in her office, that says “OLA” and “TEAM 1.” An infraction complaint classified by its association with a political event? Isn’t there something wrong with that? 

Count 1: defendant did willfully and unlawfully enter, remain, stay and loiter in a park between the hours of 10:30PM and 5:00AM of the following day. (False. I willfully and lawfully entered, remained, stayed, and peacefully exercised my first amendment right in a public space that had not yet been approved by the City as a “park,” where I had gathered for political conversation, made group consensus decisions, learned about downtown gentrification, eaten, smoked, made love, done homework, and slept for many nights, for two months prior.) 

Count 2: defendant did willfully and unlawfully fail and refuse to comply with a lawful order, direction, and signal of a Police Officer and a Traffic Officer. (False. I willfully and lawfully refused to comply with an unlawful order, direction, or signal, but I was forced to comply with brute force, insults, intimidation, threatening, and a weapon-brandishing army of pigs.)

“All of which is contrary to the law and against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of California.” 
What a feat of narrative colonization! The City Attorney’s office gets to call itself “the People,” and it gets to decide that Occupy went against the peace and dignity of The People. We thought we were the People. 

“Declarant and complainant therefore prays that a warrant may be issued for the arrest of said defendant(s) and that he may be dealt with according to law.”
Wait a second. You already violently arrested me, detained me and my comrades in handcuffs on a bus all night until we peed ourselves, jailed us for 48 hours and lied to my and others’ families about where we were, refused us access to newspapers, dragged this infraction trial out over fifteen months, plan to bring witnesses and requested an hour and a half bench trial instead of the normal maximum of 30 minutes, and, now, you “pray” I should be arrested, for my prior experience of getting arrested? 

And, according to this document, I could be multiple people, or a man, and it would all be the same to the state, since this is a template form for a group of such situations?

I call bullshit. I know it doesn’t mean much. 

Over the weekend, I talked to two lawyers. “How much jail time are you facing?” One asked. 
“None,” I said. “These are infractions. I’m facing fines.” 
“But you said the City filed a continuance?”
“Yes, back in January.”
“A continuance filed on an infraction case, by the City?”
“Yes.”
“I’ve never heard of that.”

Two said, “Whatever you do, don’t incriminate yourself before the trial is over. You want to give the judge every possible avenue to acquit you or to throw out charges. You can tell your side of the story after the fact.”  So here we are. 

I watched the videos. Back in January I wrote this: “I will be watching the LAPD’s video of my arrest sometime in the next few weeks. (That will be a great test of my ego, I’m sure, since I’ve probably unconsciously self-aggrandized since the event.)”

I was more worried about the possible shame of discovering I wasn’t as brave and composed as I remembered than I was concerned about the potential consequences of revisiting a scene that had been painful to experience the first time. That first time, it was painful even though I was all hopped up on adrenaline and held tight on either side by comrades for a long time before releasing my body to the pain techniques. In other words, I thought I was being self critical by admitting I might have self-aggrandized. But instead of a “real story” on video that I could check against my memories of myself, I got hours of jumbled footage of pigs destroying the camp, tackling and arresting a number of other people, shakily jerking from Mayor Villaraigosa’s face to the attentive faces of the Occupiers. I saw a lot of black uniforms swarming over inert bodies of my friends. “Get your knee off of my head, please,” said one of my comrades, ever so politely, to a pig who was kneeling on his temple. Of me, there was little footage, but it didn’t matter.

This is what matters: the experience of watching the videos and representing myself in the trial caused me a kind of dissociative anxiety and panic I didn’t experience in direct chronological “causality” with getting arrested at Occupy. The intrusively present emotional feature of trauma was greater during this past week than it was after I got out of jail, and that resulted in my being caught up in a series of feelings and behaviors that shot almost immediately out of my control. 

Pain must be associated with an event, and the farther one gets from that event, the less pain one is supposed to feel. Pain is supposed to follow state logics of time and space, in order to be legible. But anyone who has had a traumatic event happen to them knows that trauma memories are recursive, cyclic, often on an uncontrollable rewind-replay, subject to a “repetition compulsion” or whatever other psychological frameworks you’d like to apply here. Sometimes, a similar experience will compound the pain of the first. Sometimes a dissimilar experience. Sometimes talking about it helps. Sometimes talking about it makes it hurt more. Sometimes hurting more makes sense. Sometimes hurting more seems insane. There is not one individual trauma that can’t be linked to a class of traumas experienced by others in similar circumstances, but this fact is hidden from us by individualized psychological diagnoses and simplistic cultural rhetoric around innocence and guilt. Ethics are not even part of the equation there.

The night before my trial, I broke on a video chat with loved ones in NYC. I started crying while reporting on my conversations with lawyers, told my loved ones I was scared, and then, how ashamed I felt of it, since this was really nothing in the scheme of things, a couple of infractions, and how could I have this kind of self-pity when all the people I respect, historical or living, have suffered so much more? You got hurt, they said. So what? I said. Well, they said, we care about you. That felt good, but it didn’t “help.” We all agreed that regardless, it was my duty to see this thing as far as I could, and that helped a little.

On Monday, April 29, after an hour of frenetic crying, yelling at my family, rushing around the house, panicking in the car, and then laughing maniacally when Linz played Tupac for me on her phone as we walked up Main street, I went to trial. 

I remember standing next to Officer Morrison, who ID’d me from a brief fuzzy video clip of a blonde woman, a paused blip of partial profile, my head bowed and three pigs standing over me, before I got pulled out of the circle, which was not captured on video. How did he “know” it was me? He remembered my fancy glasses, which he claimed to have carefully removed. It was a lie. I looked at the judge. I looked at Morrison. I wanted to bellow and scream. WHAT?! WHAT?! HOW CAN ANY OF YOU STAND THIS?!

I remember asking some questions that I hoped would communicate my disdain for the process to someone sympathetic in the future, which I was advised to do by Lawyer Two. 

I remember the judge asking me if I wanted to tell my side of the story, and saying no, because of advice from both Lawyer One and Two. 

I remember Jennifer Waxler, fumbling through her notes, and with an effortless lack of respect, ending her argument with the statement “fortunately no force was used in this case.”

No force. Was used. This statement, uttered in the passive voice, permanently elides my bodily experience from the state narrative of my arrest, and absolves any and all force-wielding bodies or institutions of any culpability in my feeling hurt. Even the lie that “Officer Morrison did not use force in this case” would have given some credence to the possibility that he might have used force in another. 

As it stands, not only am I rendered illegible in my feelings, since what am I so upset about when no force was used? But in addition, everyone else who has been poisoned by the obfuscation and lies told in the courtroom gets their narrative of the “peaceful eviction” safely reinforced. And what’s more, the state legitimates its own narrative-creation capacities by continually telling the same story, and then saying that consistency is the measure of credibility. 

If I keep talking, I start sounding hysterical, and yes, I use the most anachronistic sexist word I can think of, because I am going batshit crazy in a female identified body and therefore I’m being read and treated like a hysteric, not like a revolutionary, by many people who don’t know me well, and even sometimes by those who do, and most sadly, by myself. “I’m irrational,” I keep saying. But am I really?

When the judge asked if I had any closing words, I said, in a rather rambling, uncertain voice, “I have been present at every court date I was expected to be present for. These charges were not filed until statue of limitations was almost over. At this point, for an officer who has made likely hundreds of arrest since that time to identify me from an ear on a video, strikes me as very strange.”

It was a half-assed jab issued from simultaneous internal forces: my principle about speaking truth to power, and, my body-brain shutting down in terror. (“I wish you’d just said ‘This is all bullshit,’” Linz said later. I wish I had too.)

The judge wanted it finished. Guilty on both counts. Time served. I lost, but I wasn't being fined.

 Jennifer Waxler and Officer Morrison high-fived in the hallway. 

I ate some food with the friends that had supported me in court, I went to my mother’s house, I talked about the trial briefly, I held my little sister's hand, I went home to bed, I got up at 7:00AM, I felt a little nauseous and joked with Craig that I was going to try and get through the day without throwing up. 

I did not get through that day without throwing up. I walked out of my class and threw up, walked back in and finished teaching. Walked to my office hour and threw up, then called Linz and checked in to the student health center. I slept for nearly fourteen hours after that. 

Every day for the past week I have had at least one crying jag, usually a few in a day. I’ve also been yelling at my loved ones in unprecedented explosive fits of temper. When they’ve withdrawn from me, I end up feeling uncared for and abandoned. I can’t get my point across, no matter how hard I try. I’m hypersensitive to everything I read or hear and its potential nefarious connection to police state politics. I’ve got crushed feeling in my chest most of the time. 

Plus, I know all these things to be “symptoms” of trauma, and that my wanting to discuss them will be misread as anything from a bid for “attention” (the go-to insult from people outside radical community organizing) to a kind of self-obsessed persecution narrative that elides the bigger picture of state repression against large groups of people who don’t have my race or gender or class privilege (the go-to dismissal from people inside radical community organizing). 

So I’ll try to do it as clearly as I can, since anyone who has read this far deserves at least that. (Thank you.)

First: I had no idea what it would be like to fight this case and I didn’t try hard enough to get information early on. This is because (1) I found it difficult to believe the City of LA would do all the surprisingly punitive things it has done, and (2) once they were doing them, I got overwhelmed, procrastinated, and didn’t ask for help. My behavior and beliefs were directly related to the privilege I have had of being relatively safe from police violence and court intimidation until recently. I take responsibility for myself on this.

Second: As a result of my lack of understanding and lack of self care or research or asking for help, I panicked just before the trial. 

Third: Once I panicked that hard, I didn’t know what to do, and neither did anyone close to me. I therefore spent a week, which hasn’t really ended, feeling and acting in ways that aren’t familiar, aren’t coherent, and are wearing us all out.

Fourth: I find this whole process to fit terrifyingly well into an enumerated state agenda of “teaching a lesson,” which is a way of making the cost of dissent too high for the people, which is what happens under fascism. 

Formula for state repression: Make those who resist the system exhausted and scared, then tell them their experience never happened, but that they were all the time actually hurting everyone else, put that story on the public record, and then drag them through an extensive process of punitive “appearances” during which they are required to sit through continual denial of their experience under threat of further repression. Then high-five where they can see you, just in case they didn’t get the message about who is in charge. When a resistor tries to repair themselves with people who care about them, they will feel desperate, defensive, and alienated, which will reinforce the pain-avoidant logic of those with the privilege of choosing to "stay away from trouble," and potentially reinforce the depressive cynicism of those without that privilege. Either way, the state wins.

 This is also the formula for abuse between people: 
When your behavior has started to make the other person exhausted and scared, tell them their version of events either didn’t happen or isn’t important, remind them of how much they have hurt YOU either in the past or right now, and then drag them through more exhausting confrontation until you are satisfied. 

Tactics of coercion are a state science, but they are also a set of daily habits replicated at the individual level. I have participated. Everyone I know has. I'm tired of crying and yelling about it, but I think that really just means I should rest up a bit and try again.
















9 comments:

  1. Vanessa! What a moving and powerful statement. It's thick with emotion. A narrative can be subjective in order to be revolutionary. Your writing is self-aware, raw and powerful. I wanted to let you know that I! (Katie from ROWE CAMP), a little blip on your own screen, read this (thanks FB) and was inspired by your action and disgusted by our country's "justice" system. I just finished an internship at the local court and have come to similar conclusions from a VERY different perspective. xxo sending love and peace and warmth from my coast to your coast

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  2. My Vanessa. Document it all. If we don't, all we have is the history written by the state for the state.

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  3. Right on. Right fucking on.

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  4. you are my hero because your will to think critically in the midst of pain and confusion is so strong. the people who love you are gonna be with you til the deal goes down.

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  5. I agree wholeheartedly with those who have commented before me. I'm so in awe of your strength (and yes there's strength even in the panic state...even when we feel like curling up in a ball and retreating.)

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  6. this is a comment. puerto rico is very relaxing.

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  7. I know I'm late to the party here but I only just came across this post... I applaud you for standing up for what is right. I wish more people would so that we could have our voices heard as the overwhelming majority and finally have the sort of social revolution we so badly need in the western world. I'm from Sydney (Australia) and we are currently in the early stages of a new term of government from a terrifyingly conservative political party who have decided that making it illegal for activists to boycott companies, and repealing laws that make it illegal to insult or offend people based on their race, are two of the most urgent issues they need legislated! I fear that we are quickly headed down the same path of state sanctioned lunacy that you have spoken about here and sometimes I just don't know what to do... So not that it means much from somebody on the other side of the world that you've never met, but I am sorry that you had to go through this trauma. Never give up. Keep fighting the good fight!

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  8. Beautiful thinking and writing. Btw, Clean Sheets is great.!

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