just experienced a court case, jury trial, sentencing, and jail time, I have learned
many lessons about the importance of group solidarity and commitment that I would
like to share with you.
From the start, when planning a direct action/civil
disobedience, all participants should discuss in depth their intentions as to
how to handle any time spent in jail (immediately after the action and post trial)
and the following court proceedings.
When we were originally arrested at
the Beverly Center in December, we had one woman, who was not involved in the
planning, sit down and risk arrest with us. While we thought it was pretty cool
at the time (in part because it added to our numbers), she was not familiar with
our policies regarding hunger striking, not paying bail and not taking deals.
we could hardly blame her when she bailed out on the first day in jail and accepted
a deal, which included probation, within the first few court dates. If I had it
to do over again, I would make every effort (though, granted, the middle of an
action is hardly an ideal time for discussion) to discourage her from joining.
is because, every step taken by any activist, from the point of arrest on, affects
every other person involved. It's not about the individual - it's about the group.
Remember the phrase "team player"? It doesn't just apply to sports.
one person has accepted probation, which is basically promising the courts you
will not get arrested for a certain length of time, it makes those who insist
on pushing it to trial look stubborn and unreasonable in the judge's eyes. And
after trial, once convicted, when 2 more people accept probation and there are
only 3 people left who refuse probation because they know in their hearts that
it's the right thing to do - in a judge's mind, they're just assholes, hell-bent
on breaking the law.
Of course, we know that's not the case. Apparently,
people forgot why we don't take probation:
Being on probation impedes your
ability to fight animal oppression. [Ed note: By accepting probation, you remove
your ability to effectively risk arrest and partake in direct action. If you break
probation, you face stiff penalties and have less leverage with which to challenge
your sentence and charges. Also, when the state is holding something over your
head, it significantly damages your spirit. Many people who have taken probation
have simply given up and dropped out of the movement.]
This is just what
our opposition wants - to limit the effectiveness of dedicated people who, otherwise,
just might pose a threat to the status quo (heaven forbid!).
probation sets a precedent for those who follow (in future actions as well as
the present one) and isolates the more 'hard-core' activists.
a law is unjust, men and women should refuse to cooperate with it."
There is no doubt in my mind that, if 7 people hadn't accepted
probation before the judge got around to sentencing Sheila, Casey and I, he would
not have sentenced us to 90 days. Not only would it have been an insane waste
of tax payers' money to send 10 (as opposed to 3) people to jail for such a length
of time, but he would have seen an impressive show of solidarity and commitment
rather than some 'reasonable' people and a few trouble-makers who ought to be
taught a lesson. I have no problem accepting the consequences for my actions,
but it was very disheartening to know that I wouldn't have been sitting in jail
if others would have stuck with what they said they would do back in the beginning.
course, everyone has to make their own choices and everyone has reasons for making
the decisions they make. But we have to remember that we're not in this for ourselves.
This is not about what's most convenient for us. We have to think about and take
into account how our decisions affect the movement, our comrades and the animals.
asks the question, Is it safe?
Expediency asks the question, Is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, Is it popular?
But conscience asks the question,
Is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular,
but he must take it because his
conscience tells him
that it is right."
-- Martin Luther King Jr.
stay at L.A. County Jail couldn't have come at a worse time for me personally.
And it was not a pleasant experience but I don't feel that I have the right to
compromise the integrity of the cause or jeopardize the status of fellow activists.
was totally worth it to spend 15 days in jail to know that we did the right thing.
We now don't have probation hanging over our heads. One of my co-defendants (who
accepted 3 years of probation) approached me, within about a month, regarding
a situation that he felt warranted some type of direct action. Naturally, he was
distraught because he cannot be involved.
"Never do anything against
even if the state demands it."
-- Albert Einstein
Over and over,
I hear "but you can do so much more out of jail than in jail". This
is nothing more than a poor excuse to justify taking the easy way out. First of
all, you can do very little on probation (unless you think writing letters alone
will change the world).
Secondly, time in jail can be very productive. Now
you have the time to read and become a more thoroughly educated activist. You
can exercise to become a healthier and longer living activist. You can raise awareness
about the cause within the jail and on the outside via media, interviews, letters,
Also, according to the letters I've received and people I've spoken
to, our incarceration and subsequent hunger strike "inspired and motivated
other activists all over the world" thus increasing the energy available
in the struggle for animal liberation as well as other struggles for justice.
there's much to be said for proving to our critics that we care enough to go to
jail. Many people (including my sister) who used to dismiss my beliefs as trivial
and considered my activism "just a phase" were impressed by my resolve
and now acknowledge the seriousness of the issues.
Please remember that
long after the action is over, you still have an opportunity (and an obligation)
to make a statement. We must not bow down to a legal system that continues to
allow the oppression of animals and treats peaceful protesters like common criminals.
We must not allow limits to be imposed regarding the type of action we take. We
must not let our fellow warriors down.
For the animals, KEEP FIGHTING and