Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fifth Anniversary Reflections

To date this blog has been explicitly non-political, a 40-something woman's attempt, through humor and sarcasm, to understand the place where this strange life has led her. But as I write, five years ago, the first bombs were falling on Baghdad, and I remember spending a sleepless night, horrified. Early in the morning I got out of bed, called in sick at work, put on old clothes, choked down some food but drank no liquids, and BARTed across the Bay to the direct action organizing center. I went a few blocks up Market Street to wherever they needed bodies to close some intersection and plopped down in the middle of the street with the others who were doing the same. Within an hour they put on the plastic cuffs, asked if I would cooperate, which I refused, and reasonably gently dragged me away (it was still early and the cops were not yet tired). After another five thirsty hours I was released and back on the streets, this time careful to avoid re-arrest as they'd warned us that would not go well for us. The mood had turned more difficult -- as I say the cops were tiring -- and it was cat-and-mouse for many more hours, with the cops occasionally charging through the streets to encircle groups of protesters and hold them for hours. After 12 or so hours on the street I went home, never imagining that would be the highpoint of the anti-war protest.

From the morning I particularly remember two teenage girls, maybe 16 or so, who also sat down, enraged in that hopeless, choked, inward way that young women have, and yelled something at the cops with voices that were less angry than tearful. I had prepared myself with non-violence resistance workshops and philosophical readings, but these girls were minors and had not thought things through. I spoke quietly to them, affirming the legitimacy of their feelings, musing a little about trying to see cops as individuals in a crappy job, some probably even in agreement with us (it being San Francisco, after all). I asked them if they were prepared to be arrested, and they really weren't, unsure about the implications for them as minors. When I asked if maybe that was a time to go and think and prepare more, they did. I wonder who those girls are today, if they also feel even more angry and impotent. I am amazed that in spite of 2,300 of us being arrested that day, that that was really the ONLY action of significance against this war. I am amazed that there were not millions in the streets of the U.S. and Europe yesterday. I am amazed at how little people seem to care that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were already dying from the brutal sanctions in the 1990s, continue to be killed outright as a direct result of those bombs.

For myself, it's been a long path, difficult at times. In 2003 I took a leave of absence from work to go back to school, which helped me put my name on a few less bombs earmarked for Iraq. But that wasn't enough, so in 2005 I became a war tax resister, diverting the 30+ percent "current military" expenditures to deserving non-profits, including the Center for Constitutional Rights for its work against torture. But that was not enough, because in 2006 the U.S. Internal Revenue Service began coming after me in earnest, and seized money from my U.S. bank account (fortunately very little was left). I decided to leave my job in California because the I.R.S. would have proceeded to garnish money from my wages. I managed to stay one step ahead, having earned a U.S. grant to come to Germany for the 2006-2007 academic year. So far I've been able to stay in Europe. I'm happy that I'll meet goal #1 and manage to stay "out" at least until George Bush leaves office in 10 months. My second goal, which stretches into the unknown, but hopefully not interminable, future, is to stay out until the war ends. Every year is a struggle for economic survival coupled with the need to renew that all-important residency visa.

I'm currently reading Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm, a German Jewish psychologist who analyzed the whys and wherefores of fascism. My loneliness and alienation here in Berlin, I've learned, is bearable for me because although I don't have the physical contact with someone that is so important for humans, I have a belief system, a cause, in which I deeply believe. Next January will be nearly 2.5 years away from home, and that's something I feel really good about. It's a political exile, but one that's by choice. I'm one of the lucky ones. Very, very lucky.

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