Tuesday, in San Francisco, 175 smiling people sitting down holding hands at the intersection of Grove and Van Ness were arrested by a large number of smiling police, as onlookers clapped.
After the announcement was made at 10 at the Supreme Court about upholding Prop 8, which bans same sex marriages, amidst a crowd of counter protesters, protesters marched to the intersection and sat down, calmly. One young man stood in the center, head bent, arms down together, ready to be arrested, showing how it made him feel to be discriminated against. One male couple stood together in the center as well, hugging, expressing their love.
Next to me, as we all stood as onlookers supporting the civil disobedience, a married couple of women described how "there is no such thing as a good pig. A pig is a pig." One of them said she had been very brutally attacked for being a lesbian, in Nebraska, by the police, and was arrested for disturbing the peace. She had come away with trauma, and many serious wounds and stitches. She and her wife showed me their photo. They were only finding out that day that they would be allowed to remain married.
Though the organizers had expected a much smaller number, the circle of those wanting to be arrested to make a point about Prop 8 were waiting, and they had been told they would be arrested. They had actually had to ask ahead of time for the police to take them in if they did that. And they waited for that. And waited.
During the chanting, someone suggested they try chanting "Arrest us, already!"
Someone explained to me that they had to wait until they could find different police officers. Someone said "These won't do it. They're all LGBT!" They all seemed sympathetic, one of them even tearing up at times.
I was starting to hand one woman sitting in the circle a napkin, as she was crying. I was staring at the napkin, wondering how seriously they were taking not letting go of each other, and was contemplating if I should ask to dry her eyes for her. My beautiful boyfriend leaned over and let me know he was just told we would be arrested if continuing to stand in the street there. There were police behind us, and we moved off.
A woman with her face painted up, with a base of red, was walking around playing in and out on random notes on a harmonica loudly in slow rhythm, adding perfectly to the feel of the day in unique way.
The man who carries the same sign to every possible event, which seems to be nonsense words, was carrying it there.
My son was walking around inside the circle, taking photos, two of our closest friends, Kip and Felicity, were organizers of that and the recent march, and some Sister of Perpetual Indulgence were sitting in the circle. The whole crowd felt familiar, homey, shouting "Who's San Francisco? I'm San Francisco, Who's San Francisco? We're San Francisco."
Sometimes we were shouting chants that suggested that we are all of the LGBT orientation. And we aren't all, literally of that orientation, even Felicity, who has been a tireless organizer, and who is devoting her life to this work. She had to change her flight, and shorten her travel plans to Italy to see her family. She was supposed to be leaving that day. But they had postponed the day of the announcement allegedly because that was the anniversary of riots.
But being literally LGBT isn't a requirement for feeling part of the community, identifying with others as with ourselves, and we are all manifestations of the same field of energy. We are we. Felicity told me she didn't know if she'd want to marry if it would be something her friends couldn't do.
Finally the new score of police showed up, smiling, casual, not in full riot gear, though carrying batons. A lot of them. And barriers, and transportation for arrestees. The protesters expressed relief the statement to the media would be working as planned. Many of the supporters booed.
And some kept booing, and chanting "Shame on you!". This was upsetting my boyfriend and myself, making us squeamish, and I eventually spoke across the barrier to a policeman and gave him my gratitude for them playing their role in the event, letting him know we appreciated it in spite of how it might seem with the boos. I said I hoped they didn't take those things personally, that it wouldn't work without their cooperation in escorting the protesters, and then arresting them. He said it was inevitable.
They arrested them calmly, one at a time, to cheers.
Suddenly Klezmer music was playing in the streets. I figured it had to have something to do with Felicity and Kip, who like to play it on their accordions. I looked up to see Kip holding hands with others, laughing, and dancing in a circle in the circle. It turned out to be musician friends of ours back from the days when one of them, Justin, lived in a house with my son, in Tennessee, and the touring band he's in were able to make it in time.
It was a happy occasion to be arrested. It was easy to see how the police were playing roles, people doing their part in the play, wearing the uniform, but not necessarily people who would want to charge and grab people and take them away if that weren't their job sometimes. Maybe some of them would. And in some situations, that would be a very good thing.
For the perspective of this protest, the police's roles were mixed, as they were a pleasant part of the crowd gathered there to make a statement, which would certainly be costing the city some money, so could create mixed feelings for some citizens, considering the public voted to keep Prop 8, leading by 52 percent. They might see the police as doing the wrong thing by arresting them, by going along with it, and perpetuating it. Or they might think they should be harder on them, instead. The ironies of the situation were rampant.
Would it have been as easy for the woman who had been arrested by the police for being gay as it would have been for me, to see them as just playing their roles? To take a philosophical attitude towards them? No, obviously not, after that. I've also been arrested for civil disobedience, and had skirmishes with police for activism. But they haven't bashed my head against the ground. And maybe the way I'm looking at it is naive.
It can certainly be hard to think of it that way in all occasions, to see those around us playing roles in our lives, which may have been agreed upon before this lifetime, just as it was before that action in San Francisco, to protest civil rights which had once been granted being taken away again... What affects any of us, affects us all.
When we play roles like those police did who arrested them, we may not be seen as the good guys by everyone. How many people in our lives are playing roles that make it hard to see them as the good guys. Playing roles that need to be there to make the story work, to bring out our feelings, teach us, goad us, mirror us, birth us, counter us, arrest us, kiss us, kill us?
How does that work, exactly? How often are we playing out roles we've chosen to identify with for the sake of the whole, to be parts of a drama, putting on our costumes, interacting for the sake of making a good story, with meaning, and maybe even musicians showing up with horns?
And how often, not?
is a link to my son's pictures of the event, with Felicity and Kip, and the band, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and more.