“Who Wants to Get Arrested?!?”

I’ve seen Bruce Darling open presentations about direct action with the words “Who wants to get arrested?!?” many times. A number of those times, I watched the horrified but fascinated reactions of a group of autistic college students with an interest in organizing. I thought, watching this, that while my heart said “yes, let’s do this, I can do this” that I wouldn’t be in much of a place to actually get arrested at a protest and perform civil disobedience in my life. I felt that while I was working for ASAN it was ill-advised, and didn’t anticipate leaving at the time.

I was wrong on multiple accounts.

Heavy pale femme, slightly sunburnt, Holds up a citation for "incommodating/obstructing a public area" with personal information scribbled out.

I’d rather get arrested than die without Medicaid- so I was. [Heavy pale femme, slightly sunburnt, Holds up a citation for “incommodating/obstructing a public area” with personal information scribbled out. ]

On July 25th, 2017, I had a free afternoon after a march and rally for disability rights and to save Medicaid in Washington, DC. I had rolled up to Stephanie Woodward in my rental scooter, hanging out as the crowd dispersed. She started gathering people together, and we rolled from the lawn out front of the capitol building towards the Hart Senate office building.

“Hey wanna come to a party?” she asked people as we rolled past people heading to hill visits or biding time until their visits. Everyone who knew Stephanie chuckled and either followed or said no thank you. Everyone knew that when Stephanie says “party” she means at minimum a protest, but more likely some civil disobedience and time in police custody.

At the Hart building atrium, after sending my sister (acting as my PCA) on break, a crowd slowly assembled. Experienced members of ADAPT went around the crowd, explaining what was going to happen and some basic rules.

  1. When Bruce gave the signal, the crowd would start chanting.
  2. The police will eventually show up with a megaphone and issue three warnings.
  3. If you don’t want to get arrested, before or during the second warning you should get out and be quiet- either go to the sides of the room and watch silently, or go up to the many balconies around it and silently observe. (Or cheer, but I’ll get to that.)
  4. If you want to get arrested, have your photo ID easily accessible. When the cops come to you, hand it over. When they wave you to follow them into custody, go peacefully- this particular action called for no resisting arrest charges.

I managed to roll up to the center of the knot of ring leaders right in time to get started. There were many awesome people there- including Becky Ogle, Colleen Flanagan, Cheryl Gottlieb, April Murdock, Amber Smock, German Parodi, and many more- including Judy Heumann, who has been an activist and advocate for a lot time and is an important figure in disability rights, and Spitfire, who is another honored elder in the community for whom this was, I believe, arrest number 84. (You can see a few photos that Amber took on facebook of this protest if you start here. National ADAPT also posted pictures of the protest on Facebook.)

So we chanted. As time went on, staffers from the Senate offices came out to watch from their windows and the atrium balconies. There was a good 200 or more people at this point, all chanting to save Medicaid.

Eventually the cops showed up and issued a warning. You could barely hear the megaphone where I was over the chanting, but those who were experienced made sure to pass the message along. People at this point began to trickle away, and I think this was around when we got the banner out. (I’m not sure though- some things blur together, and adrenaline was escalating. But the exact timing of when the banner went up was unimportant- what was important was that it went up at all.)

My fist was pumping in the air when the second warning went out. I was looking around, chanting with all of these other people deciding if they were going to get arrested today. At this point the crowd was thinning out, and when I looked my best friend, who had been standing next to my scooter, had cleared out. It made sense- he tends to work things from an establishment angle. We need all of these angles dealt with to be effective as a movement.

At this point I needed to make a choice: was I willing to be arrested for my rights as a disabled person?

And at that moment, full of adrenaline and fist pumping in the air, I realized I was. I had never had a protest related arrest before, and was a little worried. Many what ifs came to mind, despite being reassured earlier that they would likely pull as aside and give us citations before letting us go.

Stephanie had moved closer to the center and elevated her chair at some point. Beneath the banner, she was tweeting and getting updates. This whole time the Senate had been voting on the motion to proceed. This vote basically says that the Senate is willing to continue on to the voting process, with amendments being thrown into the ring and voting happening fast and furious. Around the time of the third warning, I want to say, we got word that the motion to proceed had succeeded. Stephanie yelled, “The Senate has voted to kill us!” And for a decent chunk of us if the plan had passed, it could have.

For those of us still in the circle, emotions were high. A woman across from me stopped and silently cried, while all around her people screamed, some crying, some sobbing, “I’d rather go to jail than die without Medicaid!” I closed my eyes and threw my head back as I screamed along, my voice breaking and cracking. I noticed in the periphery the cops surrounding us, and a police line going up. Slowly people on the edges were getting tapped on the shoulder by the cops, turning over their IDs, and being let away into custody.

Being in the middle of the circle, it was a while before they tapped me. I had already pulled out my ID and kept chanting until they came back to lead me into custody. First they lead us in batches of 10 into a hall area. As they escorted us one by one into our batch, spectators cheered us. From the balconies people celebrated each of us being willing to go into custody for our beliefs.

(In this video, you can hear Sam Crane’s commentary, chanting, and cheering as people are wheeled out. You can see me being taken into custody around 10:45-11:25)

In that short hall it was cooler somehow. Maybe it was that we were out of the pool of light cast by the skylights, or just a smaller number of bodies crowded together. A person arrested next to me also said this was their first protest arrest. (If this was you feel free to comment with a name and your pronouns!) For Stephanie, her arrest count was in the mid teens. As each group of 10 was collected, we were taken into the entrance way.

The entrance had been closed to the public and sectioned off. On one end was a table of cops with boxes of paperwork. On the other the holding area was roped off. By the time all 50 or so of us were all in holding, including many folks’ wheelchairs and mobility devices, it was densely packed. But it was also chillingly quiet compared to the atrium. While later more conversation would happen, as we waited for processing to start people had quiet murmurs with their neighbors. Near me, German quietly cried. “They voted to kill us. They voted to let us die.” I could hear the blood pounding in my own ears as I waited.

Sam Crane stood outside the building peering in while we were in custody to take this video. The glass was pretty sound resistant so there was a bit of pantomiming going on. (My tank top, by the way, says “Noncompliance is a Social Skill” and is from Real Social Skills, though she only offers them periodically. I got a TON of compliments on this tank top, by the way.)

They started processing us out in groups of 10 eventually. While it was roughly in order of arrest, it wasn’t precisely. Some groups got processed out of order, but they did try to keep it close to the order of arrest. I was so close to the center, so my group was closer to the end. Because we were technically under arrest, we weren’t permitted to use our phones. Some did sneak their phone use, hiding behind each other’s wheelchairs in the packed make-shift holding area. I didn’t risk it.

Eventually I requested to use the restroom and a woman cop escorted me to the lady’s room. Once my scooter and I were in the accessible stall, while I was utilizing the facilities, I covertly texted my sister.

a screen shot of a text between Savannah, aka "Nico", and their sister Christy.  Nico: Stay away until 3:30 at least okay? Nico: love you.  Christy: ok Christy: what do you want to drink? Christy Hey?? Christy: I'm going back to the hotel.  Nico: arrested meet me back at the hart building shortly.  Christy: Wtf Nico. I just got back to the hotel!! You're going to have to wait a little bit.  Nico: hey I'm out of Hart!

So my family handled this well… Image: A screen shot of a text between Savannah, aka “Nico”, and their sister Christy.  Nico: Stay away until 3:30 at least okay? Nico: love you.  Christy: ok Christy: what do you want to drink? Christy Hey?? Christy: I’m going back to the hotel.  Nico: arrested meet me back at the hart building shortly.  Christy: Wtf Nico. I just got back to the hotel!! You’re going to have to wait a little bit.  Nico: hey I’m out of Hart!

 

I only had enough time to text “arrested meet me back at the hart building shortly.” I couldn’t wait for a response- I sent it, put my phone away and rolled out to wash my hands.

On the way back to holding at about, Tammy Duckworth was coming to check on us. I rolled into holding right before she gave us all a rousing speech of encouragement and support. (Also as someone who was literal feet from her, her shoes were FABULOUS. Great sense of style.)

 

 

(This second video was re-shared by Kerith Strano Taylor, who has run multiple times as a Democrat against my Representative, Glenn Thompson. I was STOKED.)

Eventually they called my group up for processing. The cop had a little paper with a carbon copy set up on it. He verified my address and name, got my height/weight/etc, handed me the yellow sheet and my ID, and sent me to wait for a speech before release.

These were the Capitol Police. They had been trained extensively on dealing with protesters, and they were very used to arresting and detaining protestors. Several of them knew the ADAPT regulars by name, and asked after those who weren’t at this action. (Some ADAPT people had to deal with other life things; another group went to the Senate balcony.) A few of the cops thanked us- both for speaking up generally, and for this particular issue. Some had disabled relatives at home whose lives they were worried about too.

Finally my group got the speech. You have 15 days to pay your fine, you can pay it starting tomorrow, if you don’t pay then you’ll need to go to court, where you can contest the charges. (ADAPT organizers advised us newbies to just pay the fine.) then they released us outside.

After my release I went to another rally and then rolled to the hotel. At one point I encountered unexpected stairs on a path (thanks for nothing google maps) and off roaded the scooter down a steep little hill. (Bruce was going by, and THAT got me a bad ass designation from him.) Because I had gone straight to another rally I missed out on a group post-arrest photo with Judy Heumann and Gregg Beratan. Instead a stranger took my picture at the rally because they thought it would look awesome.

Heavy Pale Femme in a scooter holds up a "Don't Take Away Our Healthcare" sign next to a group of people gathered for a rally. In the background is the Capitol steps and dome.

“Hey can I take a picture of you holding that sign for you? It would look AWESOME.” “Okay.”

Being me, I called my mother. It went something like this.

Mother: You got arrested?!?

Me: yeah it was just a citation and fine though.

Mother: … how much is the fine?

Me: oh, it’s only $50 I’ll pay it before I leave.

Mother: Oh well that’s not bad. It is for a good cause. [Short conversation about my sister.] Okay have fun and don’t get into TOO much trouble okay?

I thought that went pretty well. By the time I met up with my sister back at the hotel Christy had calmed down enough to be proud of me. Later in the evening, a friend of mine who is abled contacted me- she and her daughter can’t get arrested because of work stuff, but they wanted to anonymously cover my fines. They also covered some other people’s fines once I connected them to Stephanie.

They next day we went on a poorly fated adventure to take the ADAPTers who had camped outside of the Russel office building an ADA anniversary cake. They had broken camp an hour before we got there, so after stumbling into the Planned Parenthood rally, we went to pay my fines.

A heavy pale femme wearing pearls has on a pink "I Stand With Planned Parenthood" t-shirt on. This is a selfie.

PatientMiles from twitter gave me a Planned Parenthood rally shirt since by the time I asked about them, they had handed the last one to my sister. Thanks Miles! Thrilled to have met you! (My sister got even more swag because she raided the swag-distributors. Sigh.)

I hobbled over there just barely in time to get in before the office closed. A friendly young guy did a security screening and chatted. He informed me that the people who had gone to protest in the Senate balcony got more than a fine. Turns out interrupting the Senate is a Big Deal, and those who didn’t know were a bit shocked to learn that that isn’t a charge you can just pay a fine for. Those folks had to go back for a court date.

A surly cop then escorted me over to where they would process my fine. After he left even the other cops joked that he tends to be in a crappy mood, which helped my nerves. Several other ADAPTers were there paying their fines as well. It was actually fairly relaxed considering the setting- everyone was in an okay mood. When it came my turn, they finger printed my thumb, took my money, photocopied the paperwork and my ID, and gave me a receipt. Then I was free to go about my evening.

Oh and the cake? Yeah, we tracked down some ADAPTers to deliver that to eventually, too.

Four light skinned people. They are standing. One is holding out a cake that says, Happy Birthday ADA with the ADAPT logo, and candles spelling out 27. It's in the lobby of an apartment building somewhere in DC.

At the end of the day, we delivered the cake! By we, I mean Kelly Israel, Christy, me, and Rabbi Ruti. I hope Jill and Laura enjoyed the cake!

Over all, my first protest related arrest went well. I was surprised, as I’m terrified of cops. I think it went well because:

  1. I was with experienced activists with lots of civil disobedience background.
  2. The group was large enough they were doing catch-and-release instead of taking people to the station.
  3. It was the Capitol police, who are experienced with this kind of arrest.
  4. We knew the charges and fines ahead of time and were able to make an informed decision.
  5. It was a very public set up somewhere where people could easily observe.
  6. We didn’t resist arrest.

I can factor in my white-ish-ness and gender presentation as well as a consideration. I didn’t see any of the people who differed from me on those respects gone after differently at this particular action, but it’s something to be aware of. I will say that if you are making a risk assessment for if you want to try this tactic, please do factor in your gender presentation and if your appearance is racialized, as well as any disabilities, before making your decision. These are things that can and do impact how police will treat you.

I want to emphasize that these circumstances were different in part because of where we were. That same week, ADAPTers in Ohio were injured by police at protests, and despite non-disabled activists in Colorado having their charges dropped, the ADAPTers who occupied offices there have not. I would never do this in some places precisely because of the history that some of the police departments have for assaulting protesters.

If you want to know your rights at a protest, the ACLU has a guide about your rights as a protester. And here’s a guide on your rights if arrested.

If you’d like to support the work of ADAPT you have a few options. You can contribute to the National ADAPT expenses, including paying fines, here. The folks who camped outside of the Russel building still need their expenses covered as well- contribute to July’s Camp ADAPT here. Stephanie and Bruce are both from ADAPT Rochester, and you can support them via this donation page– if you donate a certain amount you get a shirt! (The page is run through their local CIL, but will help cover Rochester ADAPTer’s expenses for actions this summer.) Or if you are a history fan and want to make sure the story of ADAPT gets out there, you can support the documentary about ADAPT’s history and work, Piss on Pity.

Stimming in Public (and Breaking All the Rules)

I recently put together a video of me Stimming in Public. Regardless of the reception (which has been great!), it has always been intended as an ongoing project for this year.

If you have been following me on facebook, you might have already seen the video I recently put out. In it, I document myself stimming in public spaces during my recent Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC trips, all set to “America” by Orphan Songs. (I really liked the song, and feel so glad that the artist had it up for Attribution and Share Alike use via Creative Commons.)

Some of it was organic- I was there, and happened to think of pulling out the camera on the train, at baggage claim at BWI, and at the Baltimore Waterfront. Others were planned in that I went there with the intent of shooting some video. I spent a long sunny day at capitol hill filming at the Supreme Court, the Capitol building, Library of Congress, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education. It was both exhausting and satisfying, not just as an art effort but also as someone who was made to feel scared of the potential actions that could be done in the name of these places.

(There are captions at youtube of the song, even if they don’t make it in the embed.)

This, as I’ve mentioned, was never intended to be a one-shot thing for me. I mean, I’m going to be doing the stimming when I’m in public anyways, so I might as well film it in case it does something positive for someone else, right?

Therefore throughout the year 2012, I’m going to be putting together a video of me stimming in public for every major trip. I’ll try to get some interesting/meaningful locations in when I can, but most of it will just be what I have access to since almost all of my traveling is for advocacy events.

Between now and July1st, I know I’ll be going to Harrisburg, PA; Chicago, IL; Seattle, WA; Woodburn, OR; and Detroit, MI. Later in the year I’m hoping to get back to Washington, DC and to visit family in the area of New York, NY; Wallingford and Hartford, CT; Providence, RI; and similar locations. (I’m really hoping on the CT-RI trip to get a chance to film with some people in front of the JRC!)

If I get more things scheduled later in the year, I’ll be filming at those as well. It’s basically an every-chance-I-get thing for filming these. I mainly will be doing them on my own, though I hope as the year goes on to be able to have multiple people in the shots with me. Indeed, I’d love towards the end of the year to have a chance to film a bunch of people stimming together at once. I think it would be really. . .  evocative, to end a series with a community together, when it started with me all by myself. But that’s just a thought, not a plan.

That is the project summary.

I don’t want to act like this is an idea that is exclusively mine. First of all, I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of it or do something like it. Secondly, all I’m doing is filming myself living life as myself, something I hope to have be a reality for all Autistics. It’s scary, but someday it won’t be. Someday I hope to meet young Autistics who were never afraid to stim in front of Authority, who never had to deal with the ableism it can be met with. Autistics who won’t have to make the choice between safety inside of their heads vs safety from people’s bigotry outside of it.

That being said, if you decide to do something similar, let me know! I’d love to see members of our community going out there and doing this if they feel so inspired. I feel like that would be something amazing to see.

Decolonizing Our Voices

Today is Autistics Speaking Day, a day when we are particularly asking our allies and allies-to-be to step back to allow the voices of Autistics ourselves to be heard and listened to.

When ASD started last year (2010) we were in essence protesting an “awareness” campaign that people who purported to be our allies had designed and promoted with heavy pity language. They had asked people not to post at all, to be silent and non-speaking online to draw attention to the communicative issues many Autistics face. I believe our response was pretty understandable not only was this basically online “crip drag,” but it also denied the fact that for many Autistics, online resources such as social media sites have given us a voice.

I myself had great strides in my personal development after getting online. I know a number of people who are Non-speaking Autistics whose ability to communicate was greatly augmented by online resources, and a number whose involvement in virtual advocacy have made the people around them rethink everything about their care. In short, Social Media and other virtual resources have done for us what having a ramp in a public building does for our chair using brethren. (I will freely admit that it doesn’t solve all our problems, and we still face hostility online and off that prevents access just as having a ramp alone doesn’t make your building wheelchair accessible.)

This year, Autistics Speaking Day is taking place at a time when we have people in the streets protesting economic disparity and corruption. For some of the protesters, there are harsh economic realities in their own lives motivating them-  Homelessness, lack of accessible health care, and unemployment. Others feel that their voices as citizens have been infringed upon by corporate interests, particularly when it comes to our elections in the United States. Still others are driven by a need to undo injustice.

This movement of protests is popularly called “Occupy Wall Street,” so named for the action of camping- or “occupying”- public places such as Zuccotti Park in NYC or Mellon Green in Pittsburgh, or a wide number of other Occupying sites. However, a number of indigenous groups quickly pointed out that Wall Street has been occupied for centuries- it was originally Lenape tribal land.

So when their site started, Boston issued a solidarity statement with Indigenous Peoples, and were followed by a number of other sites. In light of this, some people have been using the term “Decolonize” rather than “Occupy” so that the voices of marginalized Americans- such as our indigenous populations- can be better respected and more easily centered.

People of Color are especially hard hit by the economic environment, and in a number of places the living conditions on reservations are deplorable. People with Disabilities too are feeling the economic burden our services are being cut, our programs redefined to limit our involvement in our communities, and supports being withdrawn under the excuse of “budget issues.”

After some thought, I’ve decided that there’s too much of a cross over for me in the work of Decolonizing Wall Street and of our voices as Autistics to not write this post today. While people in general are seeing their demands of their political representatives co-opted or diverted by corporations, Autistics routinely have our voices co-opted by our allies and diverted by large “non”-profits such as Autism Speaks. Many of us are frustrated by the lack of Genuine Voice that the general public hears from us. Instead of looking at the things that help us live our lives and improve the quality of it, research funding is sent to projects that could potentially prevent us from being born in the first place.

Indeed, when we speak we are dismissed using logical fallacies so that the voices of those who proclaim themselves working for our “own good” can be prioritized. Obviously, not all of our allies are like this. But some are, be they parents, professionals with pet theories, or Organizations whose bottom line would be affected by what we are saying. Those are the ones we are talking about when we talk about how our supposed allies need to step back and stop centering themselves.

The Protesters in the Occupy/Decolonize use  consensus building as a process. This does have flaws by itself- those with pre-existing privilege can still flaunt it- but there are some principles that can and at some sites are added to mitigate those flaws. One of them is the concept of “Step back, Step up.” This means for people who have privilege- white people, straight people, cis people, men, and so on- to take a step back in the conversation, and to encourage those without your privileges to step forward so that they can be heard- something that won’t happen on its own. Without taking this into consideration, the same hierarchies that divide us out in the world will be reproduced in our movements.

This saying is the reason I’m bringing up the consensus process in this post- because the conversations we are having in the Autism and Autistic communities need to utilize the same principles. Otherwise no matter how good natured and well meaning people are, those who have less privilege will not be heard. And to me, this Principle is at the core of what Autistics Speaking Day is about.  It is about us being heard when we try to step up, and about our allies supporting us doing that.

I’ve been involved from afar with the Occupy/Decolonize activities at Pittsburgh, PA’s site, working especially with the Marginalized Communities and Allies workgroup.  The Safety workgroup took most of my comments about safety concerns for PWD and added them to the safety document. I’ve been encouraged to stay involved in the processes and networks being formed.

Most encouraging to me is that our site’s working groups have been prioritizing ways for people who can’t stay on site to be involved. Instead of the sentiments that if you aren’t at an action you aren’t really committed that have characterized some other movements I’ve tried to be involved with, I have gotten reassurance. Paul O’Hanlon, a protester with disabilities who has been very active both on site and off, told me to remember that they know that every person there is representing people who can’t.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t people who assign high value to people on site. There are still people who fail to recognize that even when we are eliminating our class barriers that our other oppressions and privileges are still intact. There are still people who don’t get the anti-ableism, anti-racism, and so on work is still very much needed. But I’ve seen what feels like great strides. Objectively, perhaps they aren’t that huge, but for someone who has had their voice sublimated repeatedly it feels huge.

Just as as a young teen blogging, instant messages, and other internet resources helped me to gain a sense of community and skills, the internet is enabling me to be involved.  I’m someone who has not been able to physically be on site because of a number of reasons. I’m rural, I have to have access to certain services on a regular basis that would not be present on site, and I also have fibro Myalgia, which would make winter camping a mobility and possible safety hazard.

So I’ve been doing support work, editing virtual documents, and organizing accessibility work. I started a cross disability group called “Occupy Disability/Decolonize Disability” for people with Disabilities to network resources on both being on site and working off site. A friend with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities started #Occupy at Home to help people like us find ways to be involved. There’s even an “Occupy Autism Speaks” page to highlight the issues with that organization.

All of these things keep seeming to parallel to me the ways that Autistics have built community online when our physical environments have been barred to us. We’ve worked to create venues to be us in, to see the value of our forms of communication. To be involved as we are, not as others think we “ought” to be.

Today is the day we take back our voices. Now is a time when “The Whole World Is Watching” what is happening. Tomorrow is when we will continue to speak out- so please, keep on listening.

____________

When I wrote this, I was working along side Native and Black activists who preferred the Decolonize language over the occupy language for things to do with the various wings of the “Occupy” movement. I’ve been informed more recently that there are problems with using that, particularly since that context has passed, and won’t be using decolonize in this way in the future – Nov 1, 2013