Why I risk arrest

On spending the night in jail as a participant of the Poor People’s Campaign

The author is a longtime peace advocate/activist, currently associated with the Chico Peace and Justice Center, and its program Confronting Endless War.

Last Tuesday, May 29, I was at the state Capitol in Sacramento with the nationwide Poor People’s Campaign, commemorating the 50 years since the historic PPC in Washington, D.C., during the summer of 1968. I was arrested, along with 19 others, and spent the night in Sacramento County Jail.

I say “risk arrest” because one never knows if those who are the targets of a protest will be inclined to retaliate, or whether the police at the current location will be inclined to “keep [their] order.” Nevertheless, I am appalled at the state of our economy in the face of increasing joblessness, rising housing costs, homelessness and despairing social relationships. I am appalled at the callousness of our politicians who are supposed to keep the general welfare of the citizenry as a top priority, but who too often cave to the interests of those who profit from the war/military necessity illusion. The facts are readily available if you look for them (see beyondwar.org or poorpeoplescampaigncalifornia.org).

What else is a citizen in the United States—which brags about free speech and the right to freely redress government—to do but protest where it may make the most impact?

For speaking out against the violence of the war economy, I was arrested and subsequently jailed.

Experiencing the county jail in Sacramento gives me the opportunity to report to officials and taxpayers alike about the deplorable conditions of the place. When if ever did a callous disrespect for humanity improve behavior? I was there for 18 hours; the poor, even if criminal—and so many are not—remain, often indefinitely, in filth, noise, confusion and frustration.

When there are enough bodies on the side of justice clamoring to be heeded, those not in that crowd will be compelled to change the dynamic because the dynamic threatens their power. Interrupting business as usual is just one of many diverse ways of effecting change. And, if it is intelligently and nonviolently successful the change is more permanent, lessening the chances of re-emergence of the power-hungry and wealth-driven interests.