Musings of an Unrepentant Jailbird
—by Jinny Batterson, July, 2014
On June 16, 2014, I got arrested at the N.C. Legislature for “trespassing.” I’d attended an earlier orientation at a local church for those considering acts of civil disobedience at a recent Moral Monday. I was one of twenty who chose not to leave the legislative building when asked. Two other “little old ladies” and I, standing quietly at the back of our group, were the final three arrestees. The arresting officer emphasized that we could avoid arrest by leaving, even after the previous 17 arrestees had been led away in handcuffs. We stayed. We were each handcuffed in turn and later taken by van to the Wake County Detention Center.
It will be a month or so before I have to appear in court. I’d never been to jail before. The process was an instructive experience. As protest organizers had stressed, police officers and detention staff were not our adversaries. They were uniformly polite and helpful. All of us were caught up playing roles that pitted one set of interests and values against another.
I did not speak at the rally. I am more comfortable writing. My formal education, anchored by excellent 1-12 public schooling, has been lengthy. I cannot speak for any other demonstrators or arrestees, but, after a little time to reflect, here is what I have to say about my Moral Monday experiences, as one who eventually opted for civil disobedience:
The expression “No man is an island,” by 17th century poet John Donne, is even more true today than when originally written. More recently, M.L. King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” reminded us: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
I wanted to risk arrest to reanimate these earlier expressions of interdependence. Having more poor, more sick, more in jails or prisons, damages all of us, however much we try to isolate ourselves in gated communities or behind locked doors at the legislature. I have been fortunate so far to have lived an economically comfortable life. I would like to credit my own ingenuity and industry for this result, but a good bit of my success is based on privilege. I was born into a stable, two-parent, middle-class white family in a small American town back when the American middle class was expanding. Privilege does not exempt me from the human race. What affects anyone else also affects me.
I wanted to risk arrest to draw renewed attention to the folly of equating work with jobs. Wealthy “job creators” cannot of themselves solve our current economic sluggishness. On economic grounds, many are just as likely to automate or to move existing jobs to lower-wage regions and countries as to expand employment opportunities and benefits in North Carolina. Jobs and work are not the same thing. Any stay-at-home mom (or dad) of infants and toddlers knows this. Our extensive non-profit sector runs on volunteer labor. Linking the dignity of labor in lockstep with paid employment is a serious mistake. We need a more sustainable economy, which does not necessarily match the ways we currently measure economic health.
I wanted to risk arrest to help refocus attention on long-term community, rather than on short-term profit or political advantage. As a young adult, I read a 1972 report, The Limits to Growth. This international study used early globalized computer models to project various economic growth scenarios into the 21st century. It concluded that the trends in place when it was written, if unchanged, would cause widespread economic and environmental collapse sometime before 2100, through overpopulation, pollution, environmental degradation, and/or exhaustion of non-renewable resources. Since then, some trends have changed. However, too many of us humans still live in unsustainable ways. Growing inequality only makes matters worse.
I wanted to risk arrest to reinforce that more materially is not necessarily better—we need other ways of interacting. As the ten women arrested were transported to the detention center, we sang gospel songs together—one of the younger arrestees has a beautiful singing voice. She started some melodies that the rest of us could join in on. As all twenty of us civil disobedients sat in the waiting area at the detention center on facing sets of gender-segregated stainless steel benches, I felt neither a victim nor a criminal. I was one puzzled human trying to make a small difference toward a more sustainable future. May a few more, day by day, be able to say “amen” to that.