The small hotel diner is full of powerful people. Constituents, patients, citizens, nurses, students and artists converse around the room. An urgency fills the air. Paul names the sinners, our targets. Brian Fitzpatrick. Carlos Curbelo. John Faso. David Joyce. They need to know their actions are violence against the American people.
“Today, who is risking arrest in non-violent civil disobedience?" Jaron asks the group. A flurry of hands shoot up. We write his phone number on inconspicuous skin to avoid revealing intentions of arrest. Pens materialize as ten digits are written on forearms, ankles, breasts.
Our human wave moves to the Capitol office buildings. We flood into Fitzpatrick’s office. “He’s not here,” staffers say as they quickly close office doors. It doesn’t matter, he can still hear us. Personal and raw health stories are shared. Sara, a mother, tells the story of her daughter’s previously undiagnosed autoimmune condition. Medical bills are high, but mothers, unlike Fitzpatrick’s voting record, will protect their daughters.
We block the office door. “Shame, shame, shame...” our chorus echoes through the office building halls.
“They’re too loud, I don’t think they can hear our arrest warnings,” says one capitol police officer. The chants increase, as do the number of police and media cameras. We sit, we stand, we cry, we yell—for over 30 minutes. Eleven of us are arrested.
Some members of Congress trade the health of their constituents for tax breaks to their wealthy donors. Fitzpatrick—a soon-to-be jobless Congressmen—will discover there are few job opportunities for crooked representatives on Craigslist.
Our wave moves on to target other representatives. We shout farewell as we’re escorted away under arrest. We arrive in the Ways and Means committee room, a home to conversations that nurture tax scams. We appreciate the irony.
While in jail, we vote among ourselves for who is processed next (based on need to pee.) “See, that’s democracy,” someone says. The GOP leadership can’t say the same.
We’re released some hours later, reunited, a random and forever family.
Later that night, while writing this, my wrists retain red and circumferential cuts from the handcuffs. Sensation returns, and my thumbs relearn how to move away from a computer’s space bar. If only the effects of handcuffs were as brief as the detriments of tax scams.
If this bill passes, it will scar. Scars last for years.
We sleep, eat, and recharge. The sun rises the next day on more buses, more people, and more voices willing to reveal the true face of GOP hypocrisy and tax scams. Our wave flows back to the Capitol.
We huddle in the stairwell. Megan is our spearhead, our leader into the hallway as the masses chant, “Vote no, and no, and no, and no, and no!” With body on the line, Megan shows us that we, too, can go to battle.
Ady speaks freely and with power about living with ALS in front of Rep. Darrell Issa’s office. “[Congressman Issa] is the richest member of congress. And he is a coward. I am here because I believe in an economy that works for everybody . . . Congressmen Issa appears to disagree.” The Capitol office halls boom Ady’s response.
Rep. Gwen Moore marches into the hallway, a tray of water cups in hand to support tired voices. “Keep fighting,” she says.
A police officer shouts a warning, then quietly adds, “thank you for speaking truth today.”
Truth means 13 million Americans become uninsured. Truth means health insurance premiums skyrocket, by 10 percent each year for the foreseeable future, to pay for tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy. Truth means the deficit rises, an insidious seed for arguments to cut life-saving programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP.
On a piece of paper, far away and years ago, Thoreau wrote, “If I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?”
Such “good behavior” is passive, not active. Such “demons” are the structures that encourage silence to benefit the privileged and powerful. As the day ended, over 130 people, in their arrests, rebuked those demons.
Actions like these lead to reflection, of course. As a white, straight, cis-gendered, non-disabled male, I’m insulated from ill-effects of shit policy that inappropriately and preferentially provide advantages to anyone who is rich, non-disabled, male/female identity, and white. By default, then, it is a privilege to choose whether or not to risk arrest in civil disobedience.
Many of us who risked arrest did not have this choice. For many, lives are in imminent danger.
Above all, and perhaps too briefly, I’m grateful for (and inspired by) every beautiful activist that was in D.C. this week.
Why occupy Facebook feeds and web space to write public reflections? Because this fight needs you. A win against this tax scam turns Donald into a lame duck president. A win against this tax scam saves millions of lives. We’re all needed to call, act, and respond. Message me if you need support. A supportive family is all around us.
There is no progress without a struggle. Together, we are that struggle.