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Sergio Castillo's blog is now being published by the Huffington Post.
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I write this letter to you while you are still in your infancy. My hope is that you will read it when you are old enough to truly understand its contents. I do not hold enough confidence or naiveté in my being to even entertain the idea that our world has improved from the time when this was written; therefore, all I can ask of you, of anyone, is to indulge me for just a little while.
It would be a lie to say that when I first heard your mother was pregnant with you, I feared for you. I don't remember what my initial feeling was when it was announced to me. I was in New York at the time trying to make a career as an artist: acting, writing, directing, producing, etc. My mind was clouded by the burdens over those efforts, so I cannot accurately pin point the emotional response I had. But that is what the feeling has become: fear. I fear for you because you were born into a beautiful and terrible world that I cannot protect you from.
You are my nephew. My responsibility to you is different than the one your father and mother have over you. Truthfully, it is not a responsibility I relish in, but I accept it nonetheless. So, I will address you as I would have liked to have been addressed when I was a young man.
You were born at a time when the world was in a great state of chaos. That is to say, you were born into the world as it has always been. Chaos is the natural order; however, the word 'chaos' can deceive even the finest academic. Yes, it can mean destruction and mayhem, but in Ancient Greek mythology 'chaos' did not mean disorder. It meant vacant space awaiting occupation. And since all or most of the world is already physically occupied you'll have to think of this vacant space in more complex and abstract terms. This vacant space has everything to do with your mind and body. And the fear I speak of has everything to do with the forces who wish to destroy and rob you of both.
I take no moral high ground in writing this letter to you. If that's how any of this sounds, it is not intended. And it would certainly be undeserved, for I, like so many others, have failed to bring you a better country. And world.
As I write these words thousands upon thousands of Syrians are fleeing their homeland in order to escape the savagery of war. They are running with the clothes on their backs, children in arms, and praying for protection from the monstrous acts being committed by the Syrian government, religious fanatics who took over a secular uprising once the Syrian army eliminated peaceful and militant democratic forces, and, of course, the horrors of Western intervention in the conflict.
But you live in America, which is in a kind of permanent state of war. It always has been. I'm not confident enough to say that this was always intended, but it's safe enough to say, whether the wars were against other countries or against their own citizens, that American wars have produced trillions of dollars for a small and heinous elite since the industrial revolution. But you do not know what it is like to be on the receiving end of an imperialist war. Most Western nations don't or haven't for a long time. You will never know what it's like to have your home bombed by foreign powers in a continuous war that never intends on ending. You will never fear to walk outside because you might be struck by a drone missile. You will never see your neighborhood turn to ash because someone in a suit on the other side of the planet ordered its destruction. You will be free from all of this as so many of our countrymen and countrywomen have been. This is not why I fear for you. The forces I cannot protect you from come from America's suicidal and predatory culture. The fact that our country is not as dangerous as Honduras or El Salvador or Syria makes the danger I speak of no less real.
Earlier, I mentioned Syrian refugees. Maybe your mother and father will discuss this issue with you when you are mature enough to ask about it. Or maybe there is a short passage about it in your history textbook. I can't say. But I would encourage you to also ask about the refugees on your side of the world. The refugee crisis much closer to home. Again, as I write these words, thousands upon thousands of people from all over Latin-America are fleeing their countries in order to escape the violence and brutality of their states and/or streets. They flee poverty, crime, and starvation. Often, these Latina/o refugees are fleeing to America because of the results of American foreign policy in Latin-America (See Harvest Of Empire). They look upon a land where they will be met by hostile citizens whose prejudices match those of their government. Our government. These people, your people, travel by train, by foot. They run across a long and deadly desert searching for a dream, which is just that: a dream. All they can really pray for is a higher level of poverty and that their children will be able to excel in America in ways they would not have been able to in their countries of origins. Some will. Most won't. And yet, if these Latina/o refugees who are fleeing the horrors of their countries are caught by the police or the border patrol or racist vigilantes because they are deemed "illegal," which is a term that seeks only to dehumanize our people, they will be put into detention centers where, according to the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights, families are separated, people are brutalized, and where women are sexually assaulted and raped by the very people who guard these inhumane prisons. Some refugees beg to be deported back to their countries because of the conditions of these detention centers. And even when these refugees successfully make it to the United States, they live under constant terror. Why? Because they are not safe. They don't know if government agents are going to kick their doors down in the middle of the night, point weapons at their children, and be deported back to their own personal hells. And I can only imagine the conditions for these immigrants, these undocumented dreamers has remained the same or have become worse by the time you read this letter.
But there is another truth. And this truth is not so abstract or distant. It is not a matter I feel entirely comfortable intellectualizing, but you must know it in order to survive. The truth I speak of is: you are not safe. The reason is: you are a Latino male who was born and lives in America. Your mother is Mexican. Your father's parents are/were native Salvadorans. But I beg you not to mistake the fact that you were born in this country with some sort of armor or shield against those who wish to destroy your body and mind. Neither is safe. That is to say, you are not safe.
You come from a long and proud heritage. In a culture obsessed with labels, you can choose to identify as Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Salvadoran, Salvadoran-American, Latino, Hispanic, American or a combination of some or all of those identities. Or none of them. Pick whatever you feel suits you best, if you wish to reflect on the matter at all. The choice is yours. But make no mistake on this matter: you were born into a nation that didn't want you. In America, your life is disposable. Many people just like you and I have had to endure the pain of what it means to not be white in a white supremacist society. And when I use the term 'white people,' I use it in the way the great writer James Baldwin did: the problem with white people is that they believe they are white. I speak of the people who cling to their whiteness because its benefits are so deeply rooted in the fabric of American society. They mistake privileges for rights. They vulgarly confuse being contradicted with being oppressed. They mistake comfort for freedom. They cry discrimination when all that is being asked for is equality. Now, that's not to say that a white person cannot have a difficult life in America, but it is not difficult because that person is white. Whatever it is, however you want to define it, you are not one of those people and you never will be. This in itself puts you in danger.
It upsets me, even frightens me, to know that I cannot offer you words of comfort on this subject. It's a problem that has an impact on my mind and body everyday. I cannot promise that you will be safe when you leave your home and walk the streets in the day or night. I cannot guarantee you that your life will matter to others, like the police, if you are ever mistaken or fit the profile of a criminal. I can't say you will never be stopped and frisked by the police like I have been. I can't promise that you will never be the victim of police brutality the way I have been. I can't guarantee you that you won't be gunned down by the police the way so many of our people have been simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of these individuals, like (or more especially) our black brothers and sisters, were unarmed. And I can't promise you that those murderers, these state terrorists, will be punished for their crimes.
The country in which you were born sees you in a certain light for no other reason other than you are a Latino male. You are a brown man. You can take pride in this or not. That choice is entirely up to you. But the history of our people in this nation has been defined more by pain and degradation than by dignity and triumph. Never mistake concessions for freedom. Never confuse wealth with dignity. Never mistake the success of the few as the liberation for all. You must know this. It is imperative you know this.
There is no one way to define what it means to be Latina/o. There is no one way Latina/os look. For example, your father and I look nothing alike. We did have different fathers, but that is not the only difference between us. My complexion is darker than your father's. We are brown men, but there is no mistaking that I'm a brown man. Somebody could easily and ignorantly mistake your father for not being Latino. (That is, of course, until you get close enough to him and then speak with him.) If this is a luxury, I do not have it. Neither does your mother. Time will tell what complexion you inherit, but, if you look anything like me or your grandfather on your father's side, it will matter. But being Latina/o is not defined by our skin tone. There are black Latina/os, white Latina/os, indigenous Latina/os, Asian Latina/os, etc. But, more often than not, we are brown. We are brown because our indigenous ancestors were raped and colonized by various European powers for centuries. If you are to look closely at my own facial features, you can see the colonizer and the colonized. Regardless of how you end up looking, you are still not safe.
By the time you are old enough to read and understand this letter people will have already attempted to deprive you of your past and culture. You will be taught in school that your culture is secondary (at best) to European and European-American culture. Be it systematic or symbolic or even well intentioned, the people who believe themselves to be white want you to forget where you descend from. Why? Like any question worth asking there is no easy answer.
In my experience, people tend define themselves by what they are not. We have established that you are not white and will most likely never receive the privileges of whiteness. I have implied that you were born into a nation where you are granted second class citizenry simply because you live in a racist society, which is true. We know the chances of you going to prison are far higher than a white person. You are less likely to get a good job. You are less likely to receive a higher education. And by now you must know that the police are not here for your protection. Unless you settle, which I hope you never do, you will always be searching for your own identity in this strange, bizarre, and stolen land. You must actively seek your identity out. It will not be given to you. States like Arizona have outlawed the teachings of ethnic studies in their public schools. By the time you read this I'm sure there will be more. The state in which you were born was stolen in the Mexican-American war, where more than half of Mexico's land was taken. Some people call it Aztlán, which would make the state in which you were born part of an internally colonized nation. I don't know when a land stops being considered occupied, be it militarily or through settlements (colonization). Maybe when resistance ceases to be relevant. I don't know.
Let me be clear: I'm not exactly advocating nationalism. That's a tricky slope. I'm of the opinion that nationalism or patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I think you should go beyond nationalism, but not without it. To know where you descend from is vital to who you are as a person of color in America.
You will not be proud of everything you discover about our people's history. Or at least you shouldn't be. Our history is as complex as it is paradoxical and some of it is outright shameful. This doesn't make us unique. It makes us human.
I will not go into the search for my identity at length because I feel it would deprive you of the lessons you should learn on your own journey, but there will be people from all political spectrums who will tell you to forget identity politics. They will claim it irrelevant. They will tell you it contradicts the nature of the ideology they are proposing to you. They will proclaim to be your liberators. I've listened to these people. I studied their histories, their literature, their cultures, their art, and I still found myself lost. But it took being lost to see that the only person who could liberate me was myself. Personally, I don't live up to any ideology or philosophy that I'm aware of; therefore, I had to do what is nearly impossible to do in this country: I had to become an independent mind.
I was born a cis-gender male and remain one. Being the kind of man I want to be, the Latino man I would like to think I am, was an endeavor. For many years I, quite literally, felt uncomfortable in my own skin for more reasons than I would like to dwell on. It had nothing to do with sexual orientation or gender identity. I'm afraid it's not as interesting as that. No: the discomfort I had was embracing my own masculinity.
The first reason (perhaps the primary one) was that I saw how Latino machismo was used and it was more than disconcerting to me. On the rare occasions that I saw my father as a young boy, he was often angry. Too angry at times. His presence would often strike a fear in me. Sometimes I feel as though I still have to walk on egg shells late at night out of fear that I might awake an angry bear. He was not kind to your father and Aunt. I suspect it was because they were not his children, but it could be for other reasons. I don't really know. All that I knew was that I never wanted to anger him. That level of machismo, that hyper-masculinity, that chauvinistic and arrogant pride terrified me as a child and, to this day, I have never argued or even raised my voice to my father. This is something I hope you never have to experience. I never got into trouble as a kid because I feared what the consequences might be if he found out. It might seem irrational and maybe it was, but I was a child. I was a very sensitive and unusually compassionate child. I did not inherit my father's machismo. Maybe it was because he wasn't around enough to teach me how to wield it or maybe it was because I never wanted anyone to experience what I had felt. But, truth be told, it's dangerous to be so compassionate in a heartless world. It doesn't prepare you for the obstacles that lie ahead. I had experienced this danger before I had even realized it.
The second reason I did not fully embrace my masculinity was because I saw that it came at the expense of others. Again, let me return to my father for a moment. Without exception or question, the Latino machismo I saw growing up always came at the expense of other people: women and gays. I saw how it lead to the mental abuse of my mother and siblings. I saw what I now realize was my father's total paranoia and insecurity and it all boiled down to one thing: power. The chauvinism I witnessed, the misogyny I heard, the sexism I learned, the male supremacy I fell victim to all came from this obsession with power: over one's life, one's security, one's identity, etc. When people feel powerless they will grab at any power they can in order to gain or maintain some kind of self-respect. This may sound more political than personal, but the political was always personal in our family. It still is. All of this made me insecure in my own character because I knew what I didn't want to be, but had no idea of who I should become. But what I learned along the way is that a man, a cis-gender man, a Latino cis-gender man can be secure and comfortable in his own masculinity without the need to exploit others' fears or vulnerabilities. He can embrace his own sense of power without having to hate or intimidate others. I would like to think I am this kind of person.
My intention here is not to equate masculinity with power. Power can come from anywhere, but please never obtain self-empowerment at the expense of another person or people.
I'm writing this letter to you in February of 2016. The political landscape in our country brinks on complete lunacy. The social circumstances of the world do not help this matter. Hatred for us, our people, is no longer being hidden. But, to be candid, it was never well masked to begin with. The bigotry that spews from the mouths of politicians seems unimaginable only to those who don't really understand what it means to be a minority in America. In your Grandmother's lifetime, students were physically hit by teachers in classrooms for speaking Spanish. When I was a child my classes were divided along race and economic class lines. As I write these words, a billionaire tycoon who is running for the highest political office in the land is proposing to deport over 11 million undocumented dreamers back to their countries of origins. And his unapologetic bigotry for us and others has made him a frontrunner in his political party. Will this policy of deporting 11 million people (most who look like you and me) be carried out? I doubt it. But our current President (one that you will certainly read about in your history textbook) has deported more people in his presidency than all of the other U.S. Presidents combined. Had her life been different, your mother very easily could have been one of these people. You are not so far from these immigrants. You are the son of an immigrant. And so am I.
If there is a genocide occurring in this country against black people, then there is a war being waged on the Latina/o community. We too are the victims of racial profiling, police brutality, and state terrorism. We too are deceived into believing that there is such a thing as the 'American Dream.' We too know that the judicial system in this country is nothing more than a racist farce. We too know that mass incarceration (the highest per capita in the world and the most of any society in the history of civilization) is just a new term for Jim Crow and slavery. We too know what it's like to have these injustices dismissed by our enemies and 'allies.' And we too know what it's like to sell our brothers and sisters out for personal gain. We too know what it means to kill one another and become the enemy of ourselves. This is not a criticism of blacks or Latina/os. These are the results of a racist socio-political and socio-economic system that currently prevails. Sociology eventually turns into psychology. You can't ever believe that what happens to the masses of your people has nothing to do with you personally.
I offer you this: You are the son of Cuauhtémoc. You are the power that grew out of Pancho Villa's gun. You are the Maya prince. You are the blood of Oscar Romero. You are the workers in Diego Rivera's murals. You are the Zoot Suiter. You are the student who cried Chicano power. You are the one underneath the masks of the Zapatistas in Chiapas. You are Farabundo Marti. Your name is Joaquin.
Black people in America were kidnapped from their continent, put into chains, and enslaved. This is often referred to as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which is a specially coded term for holocaust. Our people were already here. Our people were beaten, murdered, and raped by Spanish conquistadores and, like it or not, their blood runs through our veins too. We are both the indigenous and the imperialist. Both the tyrant and slave. The brutalized and the brutalizer. We are the oppressed and the oppressor. The King, the peasant, the hero, the foe. We are all of this and more. So much more.
Who you are and who you choose to identify with is and is not up to you. On a personal level, the choice is yours. On a societal level, it's more complicated. People will impose what it means to be brown in America upon you whether you like it or not.
Brown liberation will not come through numbers alone. Latina/os in America have failed to organize themselves in a way that brings about true political power. It is here where my generation has failed you the most. Our people pick the fruit from an American garden only to hand it over to rich men who wish to enslave our minds and exploit our labor. Never think that you are different from those men and women in the fields. Never think you are better than the migrants who stand outside stores looking for work. Never think that they don't have their own merits and flaws. Never think they are without ambition or dreams. Never think you are more deserving than any person who was born in a different part of the world than you. You are them and they are you. Never be deceived that an artificial border is more important than your humanity. The earth belongs to all who occupy it.
But all of this knowledge will not keep you safe. Even with all the dignity you may obtain from this search I encourage you to undertake will not save you from a bullet of a police officer's gun. You can live in the suburbs of bigotry, you can attend the best university, you can wear the most non-threatening clothes, you can always take the safe way home, you can speak English better than the people who taught you how to speak it, you can forget Spanish and abandon our people's struggle all together, you can be the token, you can be whatever you want, but none of that will save you from one racist moment that can occur at anytime. It is something I cannot save you from. It is a something you must learn to live with and always remember. To forget it could cost you everything. And I do mean everything.
You matter. Your life matters. Any policy or system or government that makes you feel otherwise is something you must fight against. That is your real enemy. This enemy will appear to you in many different ways. It may appear to you with a smile and friendly face. It may perceive itself as a cure to any burden you may be carrying. However it reveals itself to you, do not be deceived by it. If you love yourself in a way the white supremacist power structure does not want you to love yourself, you are committing a revolutionary act. In a nation that desperately tries to rewrite history in order to convince people of the secular religion of American Exceptionalism, it is essential you reach a consciousness that goes beyond what I have achieved or what W.E.B. Du Bois proposed. Our people have suffered political oppression, economic exploitation, social degradation, cultural humiliation, military occupation, economic imperialism, and the destruction of the spirit. If American Exceptionalism exists it is because it was built on the backs of Africans and migrant workers: Latina/o migrant workers. You owe them both the utmost respect for surviving in a country that did all it could to break them. Never forget that.
I may not be alive by the time you are old enough to read this letter. My hope is to hand it to you myself someday. If I'm dead by the time you read this, my hope is that your mother and father will have given you this letter when they have deemed it appropriate. As I write this, we have not yet met. I have only seen pictures of you. And that is why I fear for you. The world is a beautiful and awful place, Alexander, and, as Ta-Nehisi Coates said, you have to find a way to live in it. For all its benefits, for all its tragedies, for all its blatant lies, I write this letter knowing that my generation is leaving you this country, this earth worse off then when we inherited it. And it is for this reason that you must do better.
I end this letter with quote from my favorite writer:
"Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free -- he has set himself free -- for higher dreams, for greater privileges."
“It is very nearly impossible... to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.”
In sort of an honor to Wes Craven I made time this labor day weekend to watch the first three Scream films. I refuse to see the fourth movie again, since I think it might be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. While the third film isn’t very good, I find it decent when compared to the fourth.
But on with my point.
Aside from John Carpenter, I can’t think of another horror filmmaker who was absolutely perfect for his time. Maybe Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe (Nosferatu) was as well, but that would be getting into the history of German filmmaking and I’m far more familiar with the history of American cinema, which is a major factor in what I want to address here.
I suppose many people forget (Americans tend to have a collective short memory) that violence in entertainment was a huge issue in the 1990s. For those who don’t remember it was the hot button issue of the decade. Ranging from music to movies to video games to the internet (still in its infancy), the depiction of violence in entertainment was one of the issues Senator Bob Dole ran his Presidential campaign on. For all the film buffs out there Dole is directly mentioned in Scream 2, along with the Christian Coalition who were spending millions of dollars to help censor art that depicted violence and spoke naughty language (South Park). While this might seem strange now, it was no joke in the 90s. Tipper Gore (Al Gore’s wife) took credit when the police raided Jello Biafra’s home (former singer of The Dead Kennedys) and she was extremely instrumental in putting parental warning labels on music albums. This backfired in a beautiful way though because once they labeled those albums kids wanted nothing more than to own them. So, strangely, it was a victory in some sense for free speech warriors.
One of the great and brilliant free speech warriors of that era was Wes Craven. What makes the Scream franchise (excluding the fourth film) so fantastic is that it’s a commentary on itself. Many people during those days were asking if there was a correlation between watching violent movies and committing violent acts. Craven was smart enough to make a film calling that into question.
Scream is a film about the horror movie audience. At the time one could have easily asked, “Is the horror movie dead?” when characters literally broke down the rules of how to survive a horror film. But here lies its brilliance: most of the rules are broken. And when you murder off the lovable Drew Barrymore in the opening scene, no one is safe. Anyone can go at any time. That’s what makes the film so thrilling.
The politics of the film make it very clear that when serial killers or mass murderers act upon their impulses to kill there is no big secret as to why. The Columbine massacre is a great example. People were asking what movies those two kids were watching, what music they were listening to, what video games they were playing, etc. What Scream did was answer why. And the answer is not that difficult. Serial killers, mass murderers kill because they choose to. There is no other reason. The films ask people to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions. This is what made Craven perfect for his time. He knew that he had to get right into the middle of the conversation if he wanted the truth to be spoken and he did so by doing what he did best: he made a horror movie that asked questions, but then showed you the truth.
In the the third film there is a line about how pop culture would be the politics of the 21st century. It’s something of a throw away line, but I found it rather prophetic. There is no distinction in our country between entrainment and culture. That line has been entirely erased as far as I can tell. The media has played a large role in this transformation (or perhaps decimation) of our society. If there was any winner in the 20th century regarding the ideological wars it was consumerism. To consume is the duty of every American. We’re not taught in this country to think about the system as a whole really at all. We’re trained to accept it and work within it. We’re taught to accept what we’re taught, not critique it. To consume, not sacrifice. To accept authority, not question it. To have one universal God whose name is money. This is why I think John Carpenter’s They Live should be required viewing, but it’s, more or less, a forgotten masterpiece from the Hollywood Left. It’s entertaining, yes, but it has one of the most profound socio-political commentaries on the acquisitive society in which we find ourselves in that I ever seen in a piece of art.
Approximately one year from now we will be closing in on an election that will look more like a farce rather than a campaign. I hesitate to even call it an election. It will perhaps be the greatest form of sensationalism in my lifetime. The likelihood that Donald Trump will be our next President doesn’t seem so outrageous if we think about the culture we have collectively built in this country. The politicians aren’t even pretending anymore. At least not the conservatives. At least not Trump. The conservatives are making their fangs very visible and the masses seem to want to see themselves in that image. I don’t think Craven could have created anything scarier. I find it to be very dangerous when a population is so willingly ignorant, blood thirsty, and takes pride in such a matter. But this has been going on for decades. Its been going on since the birth of this nation. Long before films existed. And many, many people have died because of this willful ignorance. And many more people will die because of it.
I give my thanks to Craven. In a way, artists won the battle he was facing in the 90s. The idea of a correlation between violence in entertainment and actual violence is almost universally seen as absurd now. The ‘moral majority’ lost that one. But that doesn’t really matter now. Craven and Carpenter were great warriors, but the war seems to have been lost. Our government doesn’t need to censor anything. They have an awesome media that can and does drown out or distort any serious form of dissent or critique. Critical thinking about the society in which we live has become so rare that people dismiss it as radicalism, even if what’s being called into question has their own interests at heart. That’s how far the Right has pushed our country’s political agenda. Thinking about or daring to question the system as a whole is just crazy talk. The ‘moral majority’ won that one.
I’ve heard many theories as to why we live in such a violent country. The primary one is gun control, which is an issue that has survived from the 90s in a way that violence in entertainment has not. But, personally, I don’t really believe that gun control is the issue. I think it would be naive to believe that stricter gun control laws would stop people from killing one another, especially when there are over 100 million guns on the ground in America and, frankly, they’re not going away. Something deeper is at play here. If only we had those special sunglasses from They Live!
I feel very out of step with my times. I don’t pretend to understand why certain things are revered and why important ideas have been discredited or simply forgotten. I could guess, but that’s all it would be: a guess. I have no original grand theory or solution to the violence that occurs in our society. I’m an old fashioned Leftist in that respect. I question the validity of the state and authoritarianism. That may have something to do with it, but that’s nothing new. Whatever the answer is I remain perplexed. There is no simple answer here. Because the massive violence that goes on and on in our society is a reality. Far more complicated than a movie.
Rest in peace, Mr. Craven.
Dear Sam Harris,
I write this as an Atheist and Anti-Theist.
I recently saw your appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher (a haven for asinine rhetoric and bad comedy) and I wasn't at all surprised by what unfolded between you and Ben Affleck. You continued your not very shocking (and certainly not new) anti-Muslim rhetoric and I found it to be as bigoted and ignorant as usual. Bill Maher agreed with you entirely as far as I could tell (another non-surprise) and tension quickly rose between you and the all male, non-Muslim panel.
As someone who is somewhat familiar with your work, I generally find your writing to be distasteful and you to be intellectually dishonest (something you accuse your critics of being). I often refer to you as "a dumb person's intellectual hero" and your recent appearance on Bill Maher's show only justifies my reasons.
My primary concern here isn't with you, however. I am often deeply concerned, yet not shocked, by my fellow Atheists. I find it deeply disturbing how bigoted they reveal themselves to be whenever you or your work comes up. Since Atheists don't have a Church (it would be stupid if we did), many of us go to the internet to find each other. The amount of hatred and type of bigotry they spew could only come from a nation that is rooted in forms of deep historical oppression and institutions of white supremacy, something you don't experience as a rich, cis-gender, white male. (See? I can be condescending too.)
But if you're so concerned with oppression, let's return to some things that you have written in the past. In The End of Faith you use your intellectual prowess to justify torture, military occupation, and Fascist dictatorships.
You write, "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.”
So, you believe in murdering people for just thinking things?
“Given the vicissitudes of Muslim history, however, I suspect that the starting point I have chosen for this book—that of a single suicide bomber following the consequences of his religious beliefs—is bound to exasperate many readers, since it ignores the painful history of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It ignores the collusion of the Western powers with corrupt dictatorships. It ignores the endemic poverty and lack of economic opportunity that now plague the Arab world. But I will argue that we can ignore all of these things—or treat them only to put them safely on the shelf—because the world is filled with poor, uneducated, and exploited people who do not commit acts of terrorism, indeed who would never commit acts of the sort which has become commonplace among Muslims; and the Muslim world has no shortage of educated and prosperous men and women, suffering little more than their infatuation with Koranic eschatology, who are eager to murder infidels for God’s sake.”
Are you that ignorant of history? Are you familiar with the history of colonialism? In Latin-America? Asia? Europe, even?
“There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. That is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.”
You do know that Afghanistan was a secular state prior to U.S intervention in the region, right? It was a secular democracy that elected a Communist party without aide from the Soviet Union and it was only when the U.S. started funding radical Jihadists that it turned into a fundamentalist Islamic country. You...you know that, right?
It seems that your solution to anyone or group who will not comply with the grand imperial project must surely face death. By the United States, of course. If this isn't bigotry, I would like you to tell me what exactly you consider to be bigotry. Saying things like, "Not all Muslims are bad, but Islam is a violent religion" doesn't make sense and it's intellectually dishonest and kind of dumb. But I'm sure your fans cling to such rhetoric in order to justify their own bigotry and racism against Arabs and Muslims, terms which are often interchangeable to racists.
Quick question: have you ever been to the Middle East? Have you travelled throughout the "Muslim world"? Last time I checked you hadn't, but that was a little while ago now. The answer to the question could have changed. I don't know. If not, do you only rely on polls which ask vague questions that can be interpreted in various different ways? What makes you put all "Muslim countries" together? They vary by definition. They have their own unique histories, cultures, interpretations, governments, economies, etc. Making blanket statements like, "The Muslim world" seems oversimplified and....well, racist.
I would also like to know what your thoughts were on the Arab Spring. You seemed rather quiet during this period and my suspicion was that your bigoted narrative against the "Muslim world" didn't hold up. When people, Arabic people (many of them Muslims), were in the streets chanting, organizing, and fighting for democracy (sometimes to the death), I found your analysis of seeing these people as primitive and needing to be controlled by dictators to be obsolete and completely false. I thought for a moment you might have reconsidered your position.
Did things go awry from that movement? No doubt. But seeing organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood call for open elections did a number on your assumption that the "Musilm world" needs to be controlled and can't handle democratic institutions, something you imply in your book.
But, as we all know, the U.S. empire wouldn't allow democracy in an area so rich with natural resources. But that's another long political discussion.
I also read your response to the Real Time appearance on your blog and was, again, unimpressed. You talked about how dangerous it would be had you burned the Koran on television that night. You even said that embassies would "fall" had you done such a thing. I guess my question is why would you want to burn a book? That's what Fascists do. I have no problem with discussing some of the dangers in religion, but I think it's even more dangerous when you or Bill Maher say that only one religion works "like the Mafia." When Bill Maher went on his little rant, he very well could have been talking about the U.S. government, an entity that has murdered and oppressed far more people than Islam ever has, as you would put it. If we're talking about governments and institutions that oppress, I would ask you to look at the behavior of your own government before you criticize a region that you have zero influence over. Should we be discussing bad ideas? Sure. Let's start with U.S. imperialism. You know, something you might have some kind of influence over.
You need to sell books. I get it. You have a core audience that expects this kind of rhetoric from you and they buy your bullshit. But Islam is not an all unifying religion or ideology. It is the most diverse religion in the history of the world. Defining Muslims as either dangerous, potentially dangerous, or people who don't take their religion seriously is a gross oversimplification. This kind of analysis proves that you are an intellectual parasite.
I'm not an expert on the subject. But, then again, you clearly aren't either. You just go on television and pretend to be. I remembered your praise for Buddhism, but then forgot to mention how Buddhists are slaughtering minority Muslims in Mynamar. Are you familiar with sectarian violence between England and Ireland? You know, that conflict that has lasted for over 800 years? Do you impose the same intellectual prowess on the Irish? I could be wrong about this, but I haven't heard you comment on the radical, racist, right-wing Zionist movement that calls for the death of Arabs and leftists and supports Apartheid. Have you written about that?
I can't read your mind (nor would I want to read something so uninteresting), but I'm sure you entirely believe what you're saying. And I certainly agree with you on one point: there is no talking to some people.
That means you.
Dear James Franco,
I’m sure you don’t remember me. We studied briefly together at UCLA when we were both undergraduate students. To be more concise, we studied in the same study abroad program in England through UCLA. You were in the English department on the creative writing track, I believe, and I was a theatre major who was studying directing for the stage. The classes we took together were on the early and later works of the great English playwright William Shakespeare. We spoke a little in our class and discussion group. You and your assistant (who was taking the class with you) were actually very nice to me and I appreciate that from anyone. For the record, I did read one of your short stories that someone in the creative writing track showed me and it may have been the worst short story I have ever read. Seriously. I’ve read more compelling and better structured stories written by children. But I digress.
I recently read an article on gawker.com that depicted an image from your instagram showing how you described critic Ben Brantley of The New York Times as a “little bitch” for writing a mediocre review of your performance in “Of Mice & Men” by the great American novelist John Steinbeck.
Where to begin?
I’m not really interested in your personal life, so I won’t comment on how you prey on underage girls on the internet. Nor do I want to elaborate on how awful you are in the films you appear in, especially the ones you write and direct yourself. Nor am I going to comment at this time on how you have the audacity to use websites like kickstarter.com when you get paid in the millions for working on high budget Hollywood films. While that kind of entitlement baffles me, it’s an issue I address in a recent play I’ve written. I also won’t go into your ludicrous and pompous actions in the art world. And I don’t want to go into how you buy higher educational degrees because you’re incredibly insecure about being kind of dumb. I know this because I studied with you and still remember some of the things you said in class. I don’t like being mean, but you’re kind of an idiot and buying several MFA’s and being a PhD candidate at Yale University doesn’t change that. The list with you really does go on and on, but, again, I digress.
What I will comment on is this audacious approach to your most recent endeavor: the theatre. Granted, I’m no huge fan of Ben Brantley. I mean, he’s probably the smartest theatre critic who works at The New York Times and, while that isn’t saying much, it’s worth noting. Now I can understand how your feelings have been hurt. Brantley wrote, “Though he sports a Yosemite Sam accent, Mr. Franco is often understated to the point of near invisibility. It’s a tight, internal performance begging for a camera’s close-up.” This is common amongst film actors who haven’t done much theatre. He’s not asking you to be fake, he just wants you to push the truth out to the audience, which is an element you lack in your acting, even in your best film performances. Brantley’s critique here doesn’t sound like illegitimate criticism. I would bet money that’s he’s right. I know it’s hard to not take it personally, but you should keep the note in mind for your next live performance.
The statement that I’m sure hurt even more was when Brantley wrote, “Though Mr. Franco musters a single, perfect tear for the play’s tragic climax, I only came close to shedding one. That was in the first act, when a dog (a real one) is led offstage to be shot because it stinks. That dog seemed to have true fear and bewilderment in its eyes. It felt, well, human, in a way none of the people did, and my heart sank when I knew it wouldn’t be coming back.”
Ouch. Your performance was less authentic than a dog’s. I’m sure that stings. You have every right to be upset, but this leads me to my point.
What truly bothers me about your response to all of this is what bothered me about Alec Baldwin when he was criticized by Ben Brantley. You are not entitled to a good review. I understand that you are in the inner circles of Hollywood and that you are not used to harsh criticism and that you’re used to people fawning over your work, even if it doesn’t deserve it. But the theatre works differently. Everyone from off-off broadway actors to Broadway stars are subject to ruthless criticism. To be honest, it’s a luxury to even get reviewed. Good reviews are things that are earned. Some actors work in the theatre for years before they even get reviewed (let alone Broadway). And sometimes it takes years before any review is actually positive. It’s possible you’re ignorant of this fact. I’m not sure.
The other thing that bothered me was your audacity to speak on behalf of the theatre community. You have no right to do this. At all. You're a mediocre Hollywood movie actor who is only on Broadway because your face is pretty and because you’ve been in overpriced Hollywood garbage. Mostly. You have absolutely no right to say that the theatre community hates Brantley and that he’s an idiot. I may not like him all that much myself for different reasons, but he’s an intelligent man. Well, at least far more intelligent than you. He very often knows what’s he’s talking about and you rarely utter anything that’s worth listening to. Again, your bought off degrees don’t impress me. I remember when our professor from UCLA laughed at you for saying asinine things in class. I haven’t forgotten that. I don’t think you have either.
You’re extremely entitled. I get it. But once you cross over into my pond (theatre), you don’t get a free pass. You will be subjected to criticism just like the rest of us. You’re not special.
And please learn to spell “embarrassed” before you attach that label onto another person. I imagine it would be handy for a PhD candidate at Yale.
I’m not an activist. Not per se. Activism is a label of which I have the utmost respect, but it’s not a title that I can proclaim for myself in good conscience. Perhaps the decision was selfish on my part, but I chose to pursue a life in the arts instead; however, I am the descendant of a family of social activists. I was born into a household of political radicals and revolutionaries, but the life of an activist was not the one that I found to be the most fitting for my own needs. I moved to New York from California well over three years ago in order to begin a life and career in the theatre. I am an actor, theatre director, and occasional playwright. And even though I have not chosen activism as a career or a profession, to no one’s surprise, my work in the arts has been highly political, but it is by no stretch of the imagination as valuable as direct political action or socio-political engagement.
My intention here is not to diminish the importance of art. I am of the opinion that art is inherently political and that art is the currency of a civilization. We don’t go to museums to look at bank accounts. What I am trying to emphasize here is how little I have done for progressive causes in general, even though I believe in them very strongly. When Occupy Wall Street came to
life in Zuccotti Park, I was skeptical. Not about the message exactly, but about how serious these occupiers were in seeing this movement through. With so much happening around the world such as the Tunisian & Egyptian revolutions, the riots and uprisings throughout Europe, a resurgence of the Left in Latin America, I did wonder if these young activists were ready to join what has come to be viewed as an international struggle. I have often been discouraged when it came to the inactions of my apathetic generation when it came to the Afghan & Iraqi wars, so I think I was understandably cynical when Occupy Wall Street was born. But after a week of following their actions and after I saw the ruthless and brutal treatment of peaceful protestors by the New York Police Department, I knew that I could not stand back and watch these heinous crimes continue, whether they were committed by the NYPD or Wall Street bankers. I had to do something. I had to get involved.
For the past several months I have been cheering on Occupy Wall Street: I have defended their message in my own intellectual and artistic circles; I have supported their stances on social and economic justice; I have defended the movement to anyone I know who has questioned or doubted their motives; I have studied the similarities between the Occupy movement and what most pundits have come to regard as the Arab Spring; and I am proud to say that I have participated in several marches and demonstrations (both massive and minimal). I have been involved in several Occupy general assemblies and even sat in on a couple of think tank discussions. I have never directly participated in any work groups, committees or things of that nature. The truth is I’m scared to get involved that deeply. The efforts of this new generation of activists have been astounding and I fear my own efforts may slow down their work and progress. At the very least I felt my presence at Occupy demonstrations would show stronger solidarity with the movement than just giving them a ‘thumbs up’ on facebook.
March 17th was different.
As a former graduate student of Pace University, I was able to attend The Left Forum 2012. For those who may not know
The Left Forum is a conference of radical Leftists ranging from academics to intellectuals to activists and so on. It lasts for a weekend at Pace University, which is located in the financial district of Manhattan (ironically) and I usually find it to be highly engaging and educational. The conference consists of many panels. Everything from the environment to the wars to civil rights to social media is discussed and debated from a Leftist perspective. I attended the conference all throughout graduate school and this was my first year attending the conference without being a student. I was excited. Artists like Amiri Baraka would discuss the historical legacy of figures such as Malcolm X and Wallace Shawn was set to do a reading from his new book of essays. The theatre nerd in me rejoiced!
On the second day of the conference Michael Moore was set to speak. I wasn’t particularly enthralled by his presence. Not that I don’t appreciate his films or some of the work he has done in the past, but I wasn’t really interested in hearing him lecture. It just wasn’t appealing to me. The last panel for the day ended at 7pm. Moore was scheduled to speak at 7:30pm. Once the clock hit 7pm the halls of Pace University were quickly flooded with people. Leftists of all branches and kinds were still in engaging in dialogue and still entrenched in their dialectical nature as they exited the classrooms where the panels took place. At that moment, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do next. I had been at the conference almost all day (I slipped out briefly to attend a rehearsal for a play I was in) and, more than anything, I felt odd. I wasn’t interested in seeing Moore speak, but I didn’t feel right about going home either. Much of the conference was spent speaking to and about Occupy Wall Street. It felt almost
wrong to be a part of this conference and then go home and not do anything. But, then, something happened. As I was trying to exit Pace, a large group of Occupy activists started chanting,
“Out of the forum and into
the streets! Out of the forum
and into the streets!”
The occupiers were dancing in the streets outside of Pace University. They had made signs and banners and they were encouraging the Leftists waiting to see Michael Moore speak to join them instead.
“You talk the talk! Now walk
the walk! You talk the talk!
Now walk the walk!”
The energy was incredible. The question didn’t even dawn on me whether I should join the occupiers or try to see Michael
Moore. It was no contest. The time for talk and praise of the Occupy movement was done for the day. We had to march. Only so much can be accomplished with intellectual analyses and academic discussions; only so much can be done with praise or criticism from a comfortable distance; only so much can be gained with inactive dissent. The moment was now and, as an actor, I know that if a moment so precious comes along, one must seize it.
We tried to get as many people as we could to march with us to Zuccotti Park, which is about a five minute walk away from Pace University. Many joined us. Many would later join us. We marched on the New York City streets and declared them as our own. Oddly enough, I found myself near the front of the march. When I realized it I was suddenly struck with worry. I had been following the brutality which had been visited upon Occupy demonstrators all throughout the country and it deeply disturbed me. My instinct of reluctance was proven correct. The NYPD’s response to the march was almost immediate. With little warning, police officers started to push and shove marchers onto the sidewalk violently. Police officers started to swing batons at the marchers in order to force them into submission. The response was, without a doubt, excessive, but we kept marching. If I remember correctly about two marchers were arrested on our way to Zuccotti Park. People were terrified, but they stood their ground. Cameras appeared everywhere instantly and recorded these brutal actions by the police. People shouted,“Shame! Shame! Shame!” to the officers, but it had little impact on their intention to repress. I was unaware that blocking traffic and/or
jaywalking in New York City is an arrestable offense and is deemed so dangerous that the violator(s) must be subjected to police brutality and then violently detained. Or maybe that’s naïve.
But this was only the beginning.
As we marched on, an almost endless string of NYPD motorcycles trailed the march very closely. When we finally reached Zuccotti park there were already many people there. They welcomed us with open arms. The NYPD eventually surrounded the park. Most of us reached the park safely. I breathed in a sigh of relief. I was glad I arrived safely. It’s always a strange feeling for me personally when I go Occupy Wall Street demonstrations alone. Not a bad a feeling, but strange. I feel I belong and don’t belong at the same time. I have so much to say in moments like that, but, when I’m there, I become particularly quiet. I always find I learn more when I listen to other people and that’s exactly what I did at Liberty Square a.k.a. Zuccotti Park. Soon after the march arrived, an Occupy General Assembly began. It was declared that this would be a 24 hour occupation. People cheered. I began to walk around the park and notice the eclectic collection of people Occupy has attracted. I saw musicians play songs, artists choreograph tableaus, people played a game called Silent Ninja, and a young woman led a very large and elaborate exercise, which, I believe, has come to be known as Spring Training. It was more than thrilling. The energy was unmatched compared to anything at The Left Forum. I began to strike up conversations with people and many of them were completely fascinating and many of them were as ordinary as any Jane or John Doe. The diversity of people seemed infinite and, all in all, it was a fun time. There were points where I was entirely content just sitting and observing people. And as I sat and witnessed this movement grow before my very eyes, I realized that I had been wrong. I was not a part of an apathetic generation. My generation would not sit by silently and watch our world be destroyed by the corruption of those who hold power. My generation would fight back. And it seemed, for the briefest of moments, that we had reclaimed our public space.
The triumph was short lived. As I wandered through the park observing and taking note, I saw a marching band on the other end of the square. The band was across the street and it looked like an Irish bagpipe marching band. Why not? It was Saint Patrick’s Day after all. They began to play their music as they marched toward the upper end of the square where most of the people in the park were standing. People became ecstatic when they started to play. People ran toward the marching band in order to welcome them. But, again, the excitement was short lived. Soon after the band started playing, the NYPD stopped them. The band didn’t even reach the park. We started chanting, “Let them play! Let them play!”It was no use. Lawyers from Occupy crossed the street in order to make sure none of them were detained. I don’t think any of them were arrested, but I could be wrong.
I was furious. Not allowing people to play music in a public park on St. Patrick’s Day? It was nothing short of despicable. And it only got worse.
It was around this time that uncertainty started to fill the park. I got worried. I wasn’t sure what exactly was about to happen, but I had a pretty good idea. The NYPD started to surround the park on a greater level. More and more of them came. The officers marched almost like soldiers with guns, handcuffs, and batons. The people in the park started to worry. One of the high ranking police officers in a white shirt used a megaphone to make an announcement, but the volume wasn’t nearly loud enough. It would have been impossible for most people to hear him. I only saw him make the announcement once and, shortly thereafter, the NYPD started to raid the park. The officers tore at people with a kind of vengeance as they destroyed signs, ripped banners, and assaulted peaceful demonstrators. Officers were followed by more and more officers and they were clearly armed.
The park was thrown into a great unease. No one knew what to do. Finally, someone yelled, “Sit down!” Almost immediately people sat down and locked arms. I looked over at the police who were approaching us like a wave. They were already manhandling people and hitting them with batons. They were anxious to clear the park and were going to do so violently. That much was clear. What was unclear was what I was going to do.
I froze. As I stood in the middle of the park, the air became thick. Time didn’t slow down, but it certainly seemed out of measure. But, then, something interesting happened. It’s hard to explain in so many words, but the best way I can describe it is that I shut down. I mean, in that moment, I emotionally and intellectually shut down. Many people were screaming at the police, others were chanting, and everyone who sat down prepared himself or herself for what was about to happen. And in my strange state all I could do was join them. I sat down with the protestors in solidarity. I had to do this. Because we had every right to be in a public park; we had every right to participate in a general assembly. This was not about confronting the police. This was about protecting and exercising our right to freedom of speech. The actions of the NYPD were wrong. I knew that. But none of this rhetorical thinking absolved my fear. There were quite a number of people sitting in front of me as the police officers made their way toward us. Police officers struck people with their batons, other officers threw protestors tothe ground, punched people, etc. The scene was ugly, but I had no emotion. I would sit there. I would exercise my rights in the face of tyrannical gestures. And I was willing to suffer the consequences of my decision.
By the time the police reached me I think I was the only quiet person in the park, even with all of the intensity surrounding me. There was a young man in front of me with an orange helmet who was being dragged and pulled by the police. They eventually detained him. I was next. I took a breath. Everything was happening so fast; it was difficult to process. But, according to my own memory, this is what happened next. After the young man in the orange helmet was detained, a police officer struck me with a baton. I think he was attempting to hit my left arm. He didn’t really get a good shot at me. I felt it mildly, but I’m sure the person next to me felt it fully. He then grabbed very forcefully and pulled me up. I didn’t resist. In fact, I put up my hands immediately and said very loudly, “I’m not resisting arrest!” He proceeded to throw me to the ground, get on top of me, ram his knee into the lower part of my back while handcuffing me, all the while another police officer stepped on my face and pushed my head into the concrete with his foot. I was screaming, “Jesus Christ! I’m not resisting arrest!” The officer who had handcuffed me got me to my feet. My right knee was already bleeding from having been thrown to the ground and my jeans started to soak up the blood. The officer said, “Let’s go!” He took me to a curb outside the park where the police officers were stashing those they were arresting.
I sat on the curb. Still, I remained fairly quiet. Many of the protestors (arrested and not) were screaming at the police officers. They were consumed with anger and they had every right to be. I wasn’t. I just sat quietly. I accepted what was happening to me. More than anything I was nervous about what would happen to me and to the rest of the arrested protestors. As I looked around I saw police officers laughing and taking pleasure in what they were doing. That disgusted me. I couldn’t say I was surprised, but watching them laugh about what was happening to us was truly appalling.
I had no idea what to do. It was around this time I noticed the handcuffs on me were made of plastic and were on extremely tight. They were on so tight that I was in agonizing physical pain. I started vocalizing my pain a bit, but I tried to keep quiet. (Eventually, the handcuffs would cut off blood circulation almost entirely and my hands would remain numb for weeks.) I politely greeted some of my fellow arrested protestors. I gave them a smile and a couple of them smiled back. They were not quite as calm as I was, but it was a relief to know that I wasn’t alone and that they were all in solidarity. I noticed to my left that there was a young woman who looked like there was something dramatically wrong. I found out later that she was in the first stages of having a seizure. She was begging to have her handcuffs taken off. The police officer standing in front of us refused her request. She kept begging and pleading and he would not help her. At one point she got up and tried to run to a medic and was quickly and viciously pushed to the ground. Her body seemed like it was about to start convulsing. At the time I didn’t understand why, but it was clear she needed some kind of medical attention. After she was thrown back to the ground, her body couldn’t stop moving. I was scared for her. I looked up and saw the police officer, to whom she had been pleading, and he was reaching for his gun. It was at this point that I and a couple of other protestors started yelling at him.
“Why are you reaching for your gun?!?! She’s already in handcuffs! Why do you need your gun? She’s
detained! Why are you reaching for your gun?!?!”
He took notice of us and stopped. It turns out this young woman’s name is Cecily McMillan. I’m not sure what the updates on her are aside from that she was arrested, sent to the hospital, and the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (Occupy’s legal team) had a difficult time getting into contact with her while she was in jail. She was eventually released and is being charged with assaulting a police officer while she was having a seizure.
More details on Cecily McMillan:
It was around this time I noticed a public MTA bus had stopped in front of us. It was empty. I quickly became confused. I assumed we would be taken in a police wagon. But a public bus? I wasn’t even sure if that was legal. As the officers began to put people on the bus, a few demonstrators went limp and refused to give any assistance to the police. Because of their civil disobedience police ruthlessly tried to get detained protestors onto the bus in the only way they know how: violently. I complied. But as I saw the police manhandle people in order to force them on the MTA bus, I became increasingly frightened for my own safety and for the safety of the other peaceful demonstrators
I walked to the end of the bus and sat down. I was soon joined by others in handcuffs. The bus soon became filled with sound and fury, signifying everything. Many of the protestors were still yelling at the police. They accused the police of being corrupt, of being fascists, of being the pets of tyrants, etc. I didn’t participate in the name calling. I didn’t see a point. Nothing I could have said at that point would have changed my fate. And, frankly, I was so completely repulsed by the vulgar actions of the
NYPD. No words would have been sufficient enough to express what I felt. But I remained calm. As the police brought in more and more protestors, their treatment only got worse. The police slammed one protestor’s head into each step while they dragged him on the bus and I was terrified they were going to break his neck. This was another point where I shouted at the police officers. They eventually got him to a seat. The bus was put into motion. We received cheers from the demonstrators outside of the bus. They celebrated us. That felt nice. This was, indeed, my first arrest.
As the noise on the bus died down and as the protestors calmed down, we became creative. Most of us began to sing
together. Everything from Queen to Bob Marley was sung. One occupier laid down a beat and another started to freestyle as they hauled us off to jail. At one point, I said something entirely in character of myself. I waited until the bus became quiet for a moment and then I yelled, “So, does anyone know any showtunes?!?!” The occupier in front of me said, “Only one.”
“Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men.
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drum,
there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!”
It was magical.
As I’m writing this my hands still feel numb from the handcuffs, even though it has been almost a month since my arrest. I visited a doctor and she told me there was no nerve damage, but I’m growing more and more concerned that the marks on my wrists caused by the tightness of the handcuffs may be permanent.
More than one person has asked me, directly or indirectly, whether all of this was worth it. Whether it was worth being arrested for this cause; I find it to be a strange question. My civil rights were violated: my right to sit in a public park, my right to exercise my freedom of speech, and my right to peacefully participate in a general assembly. Was it worth it? By bringing this next example up I am by no means comparing myself to the brave and honorable civil rights activists of the 1950’s & 60’s who intentionally broke laws in the segregated south by sitting in segregated lunch counters, but I’m sure at one point each of them was asked the same question: was it worth it? Well, fifty years later, what do you think? Was it worth them getting beaten ruthlessly by police and then being hauled off to jail? Again, I’m not comparing myself to these civil rights activists, but I’m sure each of them found the question to be just as absurd as I do.
It’s safe to say, however, the events of March 17th 2012 have changed me and I will never be the same. Whatever your feelings are about Occupy Wall Street, I think any rational person can see the tactics used by the NYPD are absolutely unacceptable. Cecily McMillan left for the hospital on a stretcher with a broken rib. Another protestor suffered a panic attack and
was manhandled for it. One protestor had a black eye and marks all over his face from police officers punching him. One occupier suffered a broken thumb and an injured jaw. It was a disgraceful scene and the NYPD was entirely responsible for creating it.
I don’t believe my efforts here were remarkable. I simply did what I had to. In truth, I chose to be arrested. I chose to stand up for what I believed to be right and I stand by my decision. I was told that all of the charges were dropped, but, in fact, they were never even brought. I spent roughly 29 hours in jail before I was released. Any citizen of the world should be concerned with the corruption of power and what it has done to our supposed democracy. Our economic system has been destroyed for a generation because of people like Charles Prince, Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and many others who have not seen an hour in jail for theft, corruption, and fraud. This is what really angers me. According to the established order, it’s fine to steal billions of dollars and destroy the lives of millions people, but it’s not okay to speak out against it. What I learned on March 17th was that I have civil rights as long as I don’t exercise them. Was it worth it? Needless to say, I have gone back and participated more at Occupy demonstrations. And I will continue to do so. Because a profound change in this world is not just inevitable, it’s for our very survival.
“Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.”