Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why I Risked Arrest By Speaking Out (Getting Arrested Part 1 of 2)

Last night I went to jail with Reverend Barber.* Last night I went to jail with Vicki, a member of the Raging Grannies, and Keith, a longtime member of the NAACP who is “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Last night I went to jail with Rebecca, a rising senior at an HBCU, and Woody, whose recent turn towards activism is inspiring his adolescent daughter. Last night I also went to jail with Maria, Jim, Carol, Ashley, Dale, and Vic.

Last night, along with ten others, I was arrested in a legislative office of the North Carolina General Assembly for exercising my constitutional right and responsibility to “instruct” the legislators of my state in their duties. I instructed them to repeal House Bill 2.

I spoke out because HB2 is unconstitutional and immoral. I spoke out because I believe the North Carolina legislature is unconstitutional and illegitimate; the legislature we have is the result of gerrymandering, of districts illegally drawn along racial lines.

I spoke out because HB2 is about restrooms. It’s about singling out a vulnerable minority, transgender individuals, and bearing false witness against them by accusing them of being a threat to public safety. It falsely accuses transgender persons of being dangerous perverts. This is a dangerous lie.

I spoke out because HB2 is about much more than restrooms. It’s about the rights of women, racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans to seek recourse when they encounter discrimination in the workplace. It’s about economic justice for low-wage workers who disproportionately tend to be people of color. It’s about the ability of local governments to choose a higher standard for their own communities: higher standards of acceptance and inclusion, higher standards of economic justice, higher standards of environmental regulations.

I spoke out because there is an ugly history in our nation of using fearmongering along racial and sexual lines as a political tool during election seasons. African-Americans know how these racial and sexual anxieties are used. The Supreme Court may have undone all those anti- same-sex marriage constitutional amendments that appeared on ballots in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012, but it cannot undo all the damage done by extremist politicians who used homophobia to get themselves elected. I spoke out because the transphobia in HB2 is the same thing as Donald Trump calling Mexicans rapists.

I spoke out because HB2 is sneaky. It was rushed through in a couple of hours during an “emergency” legislative session. It was passed and signed into law on the sly, without any opportunity for discussion or debate. I spoke out because not one person affected by this law was ever given the opportunity to testify about how this law would effect them.

I spoke out because HB2 is costing our state millions of dollars on top of a loss in reputation that is beyond price. I spoke out because I love the beaches and the mountains, the art and the music, the cities and vacation destinations. I spoke out because economic boycotts against our state are first hurting people in the service industry, the folks working at hotels, bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The folks in the service industry are young, are often people of color, and don’t give a shit about which bathroom you use.

I spoke out because big companies – PayPal, Redhat, Bank of America, and many more – have spoken out. I spoke out because every bar, restaurant, coffee shop, and concert venue that I visit is thumbing its nose at the legislature by posting signs on the bathroom doors that say that this law will not be enforced.

I spoke out because non-violent civil disobedience is a proven tactic for drawing attention and scrutiny to unjust and immoral situations.

I spoke out because it was my turn. My North Carolina colleagues – including Robin, Lisa, Deb, Patty, Dick, Maj-Britt, Sasha, and others – have all gone to jail with Reverend Barber. I spoke out because many of my congregants spoke out before me.

I spoke out because I could. As a white, straight, male, cis-gender, able-bodied, economically-secure, educated, English-speaking citizen I have every privilege you could imagine. I spoke out because I am lucky enough to serve a church that is not only cool with me speaking out, but applauds me for doing so. I spoke out because it will be no hassle for me to retain a lawyer, go to court, and abide by whatever comes out of it.

I spoke out because I would want others to fight for me. It’s not enough to say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” We have to make ourselves an instrument of God’s grace.

* "Going to jail with Reverend Barber" is a colloquial term we use for doing civil disobedience at a Moral Monday event.