As I wrote last night, I participated in Occupy Seattle, and I continue to occupy in my own ways (this blog among them). I met a lot of different kinds of people, and some of them had extreme ideas that I understood but wasn’t really ready to buy into. Among these were the Anarchists. Now, to start with, I want to clarify that when I say “the Anarchists” I am not lumping anyone together with anyone else, I’m just saying that I met people who self-identified as Anarchists. And I want to make sure you understand that the people who dressed in black and broke windows were almost certainly different “Anarchists” from the ones I’m going to talk about (if the vandals self-identified as Anarchists at all). Like Feminism or any other group, Anarchism doesn’t operate as a unit. There are many shades and definitions. And all that said, I’d have to say that I’m not an Anarchist. Yet.
But that doesn’t matter at all, because people are being imprisoned for the crime of not speaking. In Leah-Lynn Plante’s case, the official charge is “civil contempt,” meaning she didn’t cooperate with the Grand Jury convened to get to the bottom of all her Anarchist literature, artwork, clothing, and beliefs.
Natasha Lennard writes in Salon:
“Writing for Truth-Out in August about the Northwest grand juries and those resisting cooperation, I noted that grand juries “are among the blackest boxes in the federal judiciary system.” The closed-door procedures are rare instances in which an individual loses the right to remain silent. As was the case with the Northwest grand juries resistors, the grand jury can grant a subpoenaed individual personal immunity; Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination are therefore protected, but silence is not. In these instances, refusal to speak can be considered civil contempt. Non-cooperators can be jailed for the 18-month length of the grand jury.”
Watch Leah’s video explaining her position and her readiness to go to prison:
You might not agree with her ideals or her lifestyle, but Leah-Lynn Plante’s only crime is refusal to cooperate with an investigation into those ideals by government she doesn’t recognize as operating in the her best interests or those of her fellow citizens–i.e., Leah is currently imprisoned for remaining silent and will very likely remain incarcerated for the next 18 months. Commenters on various websites miss the point when they ask, “Why not cooperate if you have nothing to hide?” Perhaps it will crystallize when a Grand Jury convenes to investigate their DVD collection.
I’m not an Anarchist, but I believe a person should be charged with a crime before an army of police invades their house and takes their stuff. I believe that a person should be found guilty of a crime before the government imprisons them. And I believe that Leah-Lynne Plante has the right to remain silent.
I’ll leave you with this famous quote from Martin Niemöller (1892–1984):
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
A year ago this month (October 4, 2011) I was among about 300 people who showed up to occupy Westlake Center in Seattle. That night I was among the 40 or so who resolved to consummate our occupation by camping overnight there on the concrete, some of us with only a thin blanket dropped off by a local mission. I had my tent and sleeping bag and a sense that I was about to become a part of something big. For the next several days I spent every waking hour and several largely sleepless nights at Westlake doing my part, and after about a week I came home and collapsed for the next two. I had learned a lot about myself and about how and where I fit into the solution. And part of that was learning how hard it can be for a woman’s voice to be heard among men.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the second among three ways I would learn this lesson in a single year. Strange when you think that I’d lived 46 years previously without really giving it much thought.
The setting for my first classroom that year–last year, 2011–was my job. After fifteen-or-so years I’d made my way back into management and was fairly happy leading a team of writers who seemed to like having me for their boss. One of the reasons for that was that I fought for them (in conference rooms where I was usually the only woman), which meant that I sometimes showed emotion. This is not to say that I yelled or cried or anything like that–only that if you were in the room, it was apparent that I felt passionately about my team and our work and how it was presented…and if I disagreed, I said so, and if I didn’t like something, I said so, and no, I’m not shy and demure, and yes, my boss did make me a little weepy one time when we were alone, I admit, BUT! When it became a “thing” that people didn’t want to “upset” me or felt they’d had “run ins” with me or whatever and I got put on official “emotion” notice, well then I realized that my problem was not (entirely) the level of emotion people were seeing from me. I looked at how these men reacted to me (vs. one another)–listened to the words they used to describe me or to explain to me why my personal style challenged them and it became clear that my biggest issue was that I was a woman in a company full of men who don’t know how to deal with a woman who hasn’t learned to “get along” in a male-dominated corporate environment. For that reason, among others, I gave up my job, and though I like and respect my former co-workers for the most part, I believe that I left behind a culture that is not particularly welcoming to women in leadership positions.
Lastly: Early this year I attended a writing conference as a professional. The panel seemed well-balanced, at first, which is sometimes a problem at this particular con (and many others), with two men and two women. Then it emerged that the other woman–the moderator–had to cancel, and at the behest of one of my co-panelists, I took over as mod. Now, I have been attending conventions as a professional for many years, and I have seen panelists take over the show and trample everyone else into the ground. This wasn’t like that. The same guy who nominated me for moderator proceeded to moderate the panel, talking over me, calling on members of the audience, encouraging participation from the other male at the table. He had decided at some point that I didn’t have anything to add, and he figured he’d man up and give the audience what they paid for, I suppose. He wasn’t a total asshole about it. He was just louder than I was. More aggressive. More forceful. And I wasn’t willing to be rude in front of an audience.
If you’ve ever been in a situation at all like this one, you know how long it takes for an hour to pass. I’m pretty sure I bit my tongue until it bled, and when I walked out I told my boyfriend, “I think I just became an Angry Feminist.”
It’s not that I think this guy was an outright misogynist. I don’t. I’d have to paint nearly everyone in that room with the same brush, because not one of them seemed to have a clue what I was going through. This guy probably thinks of himself as progressive. And that’s the problem. It’s the everyday misogyny that has become so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even notice it. Until we do, and then it’s like pregnant people or VW Beetles*: You can’t stop seeing it.
I don’t regret any of these experiences, and I’m grateful for them as a whole, because they helped bring me to the place I am today where I’ve decided that I really do have things to say and want people to hear my voice. I know that no one set out to silence me in any of the situations I described above. At my job, they just didn’t expect me to care about things that to them seemed trivial. On the panel, a guy asserted his dominance the way we’ve taught him he ought to. At Occupy, I stood surrounded by men and boys who had no concerns about whether their voices would be heard, and many talked over me while calling themselves progressive, but to their credit, some did listen when I said, “Hey, we don’t all speak so loudly or walk so tall, so listen for the quieter voices among you.”
My homecoming was finding a voice I wasn’t afraid to use. That meant creating a persona and removing the personal and professional from the philosophical to some degree. But it also meant becoming more real than I have ever been before. And each of you have been a part of that process. You who read and comment and help me make sense of all the BS. I won’t always get it right, but damn, I’m enjoying the education.
*I am not comparing pregnant people to VW Beetles. Not that it wouldn’t be apt in some cases. Like when I was pregnant.
FEMEN activists occupied the Venus De Milo at the Louvre in Paris yesterday in defense of a rape victim.