10 things I learned after 5 hours in Jail

by natalie on June 30, 2016

1. I was glad for training. Getting arrested for a cause is not a spontaneous event. Especially for a mom of young children. It was 6 years between my first rally to my first arrest and a lot of workshops and reading in between. I knew pretty well what would happen from the moment I was taken into custody. I learned about what NOT to do in regards to police. I knew my rights. I had a local attorney’s number on my arm. Most importantly, I knew that civil disobedience is effective. I knew what I was fighting for, and how to fight for it. I was participating in a power play historically proven to work. I learned about tactics, use of art and sparse resources to win wonderful things, from getting childcare in public housing, to shutting down the Keystone XL Pipeline.

2. Singing is so good for you. I always loved singing, but I never put it to the test like this as a relaxation strategy. It started for me as soon I was sent inside the prison wagon. It’s narrow-white metal walls felt like crawling into a coffin with your hands tied behind your back, and being furthest from the door, deepest of five other handcuffed women, I felt a nauseating wave of claustrophobia/car sick crash over me. “We Say ‘No,’” a song from movement, popped out of my mouth instead of my guts. It was a theatric moment when I was suddenly joined by the rest of my mates. As if by magic, the feeling dissolved, the air conditioning kicked on, the officer came to check on us. Then we sang, “Three Little Birds,” “everything is gonna be alright,” and it was. When we got to the cells we discovered jail had great acoustics and I had 2 fellow cellmates who were singing girls, too. We sang every song we could think of, sometimes the whole place was filled with all 21 of us singing and chanting. It was awesome in moments. I thought about Peter Yarrow. In a teach-in he held, he told how music holds us together, calms us, as we hold to non-violence and our belief in justice. Singing is the best.

3. Rosa Park’s photo is awesome, and I am glad I have one, too. I was trolled for this being a photo-op, and all I can say is, that was part of the idea! We photograph for safety, documentation, and history. I remember seeing old photos of the Freedom Riders and thinking, “I would have sat there, too, if it were my time.” It was photos of the arrests at the White House to stop The K-XL pipeline that got me curious. How I could get involved? My arrest hopefully will lead someone else to read about the Algonquin Incremental Market Project, or AIM Pipeline, and be like, “no way!” and make some more calls or letters or show up with a sign with a catchy slogan like “DON’T BE A FRACKING GASSHOLE” and people giggle, look it up and read about fracking and say, “No way!” Maybe they will delay construction for a few hours more, and so on and so on until we win. Besides, when my kids look back, they will see that mama was not afraid of the polluters. She was afraid of the pollution. So afraid, that she did this action.

4. The Privilege check. I could do this because I can afford the travel, court fees, time from work and childcare, and mostly because I have almost always felt safe around police. I hold space for people who want to stand where I did but are afraid of police, or can’t because of immigration status, previous arrests, or financial or family responsibilities. I hold space for families separated by jail, young people faced with jail. The Peekskill PD was an example of what it should be like in my mind, and while I had no comparison, many of the other #PEEKSKILL21 whom have been arrested before said that the jail was the cleanest they had ever seen. May all people be treated as well as we were that day. We were all white on the red line that day. I noticed when we appeared in court, we were the only other white people there before the judge. I have thought a lot about that since. A man outside who appeared before me said he thought what we did was cool. I said thanks, and “good luck,” and wondered what brought him there. Was it something I had seen before in some other time and in some other place and no cops saw, or cared because of skin color?

5. Any mom can join the fight. As I was being taken, my son was waving at me and my sister-in-law and nephew held my daughter with her little fist in the air. When a mom has support she can do whatever she needs to do to save the world, from getting her degree to stopping a pipeline. Many mothers were at the rally that day, but many more fight through writing, calls, organizing, documenting, making art, teaching and boycotting. If my care situation fell through, I would not have been able to risk arrest, but I could still march and rally with my kids. I make my calls with my kids teaching daycare. It’s part of the lesson: “How to fight pollution 101.” Call decision makers a lot.

6. I feel humbled. Activism has many martyrs and heroes; many never get choose. Many lost their lives, homes, health, sometimes even their children. I like to think that everyone would do what I did if they could. 5 hours in jail is nothing compared to a sick child, a poisoned water well, or a hard-earned treasure lost in an unsellable home.

7. People still won’t understand, no matter how much they love you. Make peace with that, you know why you did it. I got mocked online, my favorite was, “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” Truth is, fossil fuels are the way I was fed as a child from Steeler Country. Most daddies worked in the mines or mills, fab shops or trucks supporting it. My should-be-retired dad taught me to love the earth and about the story behind “16 Tons”, but he wonders when I told him I got arrested, he joked at me: “get me a job application?”

8. You have never had friends till you’ve had activist friends. As I was being arrested, my friend Jess stood with my family and shouted, “We have your back every step of the way!!!” Activism became the antidote to the powerlessness I would feel about the destruction of earth. I am so grateful to have people in my life that I have found to play with ideas to save it. I learn so much from these people; they push me creatively, to be a more compassionate and peaceful person. And they greeted me out of jail with hugs and calzones and held all my stuff for me. I am so lucky.

9. I feel like part of a growing team of creative freedom fighters! 2 days later, 2 people dropped a shipping container-turned fully functioning house- where we stood. The day we went to court, 6 more stood the line and blocked construction. A little town in PA made civil disobedience legal. The House Democrats held a sit-in! There will be no more arctic drilling, no Port Ambrose off-short LNG port, there are no fracking wells in NY state. Armed with nothing but artwork and instruments, we are winning. Instead of leaving behind destruction and death we are leaving the world better.

10. I should not have had to do this. After 5 hours, I was free! Blinded by the sun of a gorgeous May afternoon to the sound of friends cheering, “Thank you, Natalie,” I was asked by a reporter what brought me here. I had all my facts about shotty safety records, Indian Point nearby, our water, but make no mistake: I was here because FERC (Fedreal Energy Regulatory Commission) did not do it’s job to protect us. And if FERC doesn’t work, a mommy’s gotta do what a mommy’s gotta do. While my time inside was as pleasant as it could possibly be, I would rather not fight pipelines and pollution on my weekends, but instead enjoy a healthy, safe, protected, planet. Until that day comes…I will be fighting for it.

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