Damn, I look happy – ecstatic, even – to be super glued to that boat.
This was part of an action with Extinction Rebellion NYC as part of the Global Rebellion Week, as people all over the world stand up to face the climate crisis.
Just moments before this photo was taken, I was feeling pretty nervous. Even though we had prepared, there were last minute changes and I was afraid that the action wouldn’t go as planned. I also had never chained or glued myself to anything before and sensed the vulnerability of being largely incapacitated, both hands immobile – not to mention uncomfortable!
But, when blocking Times Square went almost as smoothly as anyone could have imagined, and I settled into position, I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt that there was nowhere else I could or should have been at that moment. That smile on my face appeared as I looked out at my friend and fellow sacred activist, Rebekah (who took that picture) plus so many XR folks who’ve become something like family in just a few short months, gathered around chanting and singing. I breathed in the spirit of solidarity.
As I sat beside that boat, I finally had a moment to remember why I was there. 164 indigenous activists have been murdered in the last year alone for defending the planet. Many more in the Global South are suffering, dying, and seeing their lands destroyed by corporate interests. Our spunky little boat, nonchalantly sitting in the middle of 7th Avenue, was adorned in brightly colored flags representing countries for whom climate change isn’t some abstract future threat, but an apocalypse already wreaking havoc on the lives of many millions of people. All of this was heavy on my heart, even in the midst of that spectacular, joyous action.
Most of the disruption XR has caused thus far in NYC are considered violations, akin to the level of a speeding ticket. The three other times I’ve been arrested this year have been on that charge of disorderly conduct. My comrades and I are taken to 1 Police Plaza, where the NYPD holds mass arrests. Usually, we are kept 4-10 hours and then released.
However, those of us attached to the boat knew we were committing a misdemeanor and would go to the “tombs,” which is the NYPD central booking center where cops bring people they’ve arrested all over the city for any crime. My fellow “barnacles” and I expected a long night there and a court appearance in the morning. We ended up being held for 36 hours.
I have to stop and say I’m having trouble writing this because I know I’m protected by whiteness. I know I practically chose to be in jail and that’s pretty freaking different from being targeted by the color of my skin. I know that this may come off like some naive white girl waking up to the horrors of the criminal justice system. I knew it was bad. I knew that the system is completely fucked up and meant to be a dehumanizing experience for pretty much everyone involved. I’m not surprised by any of it.
But, it was my first firsthand experience and I want to share a bit about what it was like “on the inside” because I know that a lot of folks out there might want to know. I HOPE many of you are curious to know if this is the kind of sacrifice you might be willing to make. Because, despite the myriad emotions I felt during and after my jail time, this experience strengthened my resolve in the fight for climate justice. I came away feeling even more firmly rooted on the path of sacred activism.
Of course, I wasn’t feeling that every single moment.
When I was freezing cold in the cells because the cops had taken my coat and I started to feel a migraine come on from the exhaustion and dehydration, I wanted nothing more than to be in my own bed. When, at midnight, the police moved me to another location and I had to wait 45 minutes in tight handcuffs in a dingy hallway, watching cops drag a screaming inmate along the floor, I was frightened and horrified. When I “slept” on a 10-inch wide bench with a woman withdrawing from heroin on the floor next to me, I felt hopeless and sad. When one corrections officer turned the TV on for us and we watched hours and hours of Jerry Springer and Maury, I thought I was losing my goddamn mind. And, when the officers gave us apples and boxes of dry cereal for the fourth time as a meal and my comrades and I thought we were supposed to be released 8 hours ago and no one had any information about anything and the officers acted like we were annoying children – as if they aren’t just glorified babysitters already – and every single person I had come across in that filthy, fluorescent-lit building wore the same combination of exhaustion and disgust on their faces, I felt a kind of rage I don’t often experience – rage at this seemingly unchangeable system that robs us all of our humanity, decency, and agency.
The worst feeling was the doubt. Was our little boat action in Times Square really going to make a big enough splash in a world of so much sickness and strife? Was this little sacrifice of a day and a half in jail really worth it all? Who’s going to care?
But, when one of my cellmates massaged my neck and gave me a sweater and one of my comrades gave up her floor mat to the woman on heroin and one of the other girls demanded that a pregnant woman get extra food, I saw strangers taking care of strangers. When all of us women in the tombs were laughing hysterically at ridiculous daytime TV and at the stories from a colorful woman called “Ms. Baker” (key quote: “Oh I believe in climate change for sure. All that stuff in the air? It’s messing with time! Time definitely goes quicker now!”), I felt the kind of joy that can only be felt in the darkest of moments. When one of the corrections officers said, “You glued yourself to a boat for climate change?? Well, someone’s gotta do it. I would, too, if I wouldn’t get fired from this job,” I felt a ray of hope. When the news came on and I watched a piece on an innocent man who had been released from 26 years in prison, I thought, “Welp, I guess my situation isn’t so bad.” And, when the news anchors followed up with a story on 100,000 evacuations from wildfires in California, I remembered again why I was sitting in those tombs.
Really, it wasn’t the excitement of the road block or the media attention that gave me the most hope. It was those little moments of care and camaraderie that I witnessed and experienced. It was what happens in a group of people when they’re working toward the same vision. The trust that arises in those spaces is what is necessary for real change. I kept flashing back to my time at Standing Rock, where I learned that change arises from cooperation and a connection to something greater than oneself.
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve had a rough past week. I still feel like I’m recovering from my time in the tombs (not to mention all of the months of organizing beforehand). The sadness and anger at being in such a grim place has been moving in me in ways I hadn’t expected. I already hadn’t been sleeping well with everything going on and that experience threw me off even more. I feel disoriented. And there’s a strange integration I’m going through… doing this kind of work means to disrupt the world in order to create a new world – but then to also to return to the old world and live within the system again. It feels all at once relieving and depressing to come back to my daily routine.
In spite of everything, some mysterious thing keeps calling me forward. And, this deeply loving and generous community that I’m ridiculously privileged to be a part of continues to hold me and sustain me.