I had bizarre bookends to my day on Thursday. My day began with muppets. My day ended in jail.
Due to intermittent chronic insomnia (you can read more about how and why that started here), I woke up at 4:30am, unable to return to sleep–giving me a few pre-start-of-day hours to edit the Muppet Adele “Hello” video spoof I had been making with my housemate and her friend (Whose muppet, Lou, showed he has the chops it takes to become a *real* star.)
I admit that I sometimes get a bit carried away with these funny, little “side” projects of mine. (Take, for example, the blog that “Flat Stanley” kept several years ago in Palestine/Israel, or the “Kids Without Borders” video I made where 3-5 years old from around the world exchanged questions and answers with my 4-year old friend Jessica’s pre-school class.)
The joy I got from making the Lou-Muppet-Adele-video spoof, and the joy that I got seeing the pleasure it brought to others, stayed with me all day on Thursday. It was with me late that afternoon as I headed to Gracie Mansion (the NYC mayor’s residence) where I was joining activists organized by NYC Justice League to protest one year without justice for Eric Garner, who was killed in a police chokehold, as he said, 11 times, “I can’t breathe.”
Joy was still there at 5:45pm or so, as my fellow protestors and I locked arms and knelt down in the middle of East End drive, demanding that Daniel Pantaleo (the officer who murdered Eric Garner) be (at the very, very least) fired from the police force, where he still holds a desk job, collecting a salary and a pension. There was joy as we sang “I can hear my brother shouting ‘I can’t breathe, and now I’m in the struggle saying ‘I can’t leave.'”
One year and no justice for Eric Garner: Kneeling down to block off East End Drive in front of Gracie Mansion, chanting “I Still Can’t Breathe”
There was defiant joy as, one by one, the police instructed us to stand, cuffed our hands behind our backs, and led us to paddy wagons which took us to the 33rd precinct. The defiant joy increased exponentially as 23 of us were locked in jail cells together, continuing to sing and to chant.
The source of the joy, of course, had shifted. It was no longer amusement about Lou-the-Muppet and the video spoof. Now, the joy was springing from the energy of being surrounded by so many awe-inspiring activists, all of whom who had, time and again, put their bodies on the line to agitate for justice and for change. It was the deep joy of knowing that those who surrounded me understood that another world was possible–one where Black and Brown life was valued and protected–and in fact, were actively struggling to bring about that world. And they were bringing it about with not only righteous anger, but with fierce, uncompromising love.
Joy and love was what I found myself reflecting on in the jail cell Thursday night, after my incredible cell-mates had been released, and I was waiting to be as well. Lou and the spoof Adele video we made flashed through my mind as I sat waiting, and I realized that the joy that I get (and hopefully spread) in creating these humorous side projects is part of what keeps me sane and grounded in the midst of the deep pain that my work (and therefore myself) is often immersed in.
But the reflection cut deeper than that. It went to the importance–the critical necessity–of joy and love in our work. About the essential truth that, if we are trying to build a world where everyone experiences love and joy instead of fear and brutality and oppression–that this love and joy must be part of how we go about building that world.
A crowd was waiting for us, cheering, as one by one we were released and left the precinct, each with pink slips in our hands for charges of “disorderly conduct” or “refusal to disperse.”
We gathered in a circle, led by Carmen Perez, founder of NYC Justice League and Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice. The context was noted–that the only people who have served jail time related to the murder of Eric Garner is the young man who filmed the killing on his smartphone, and those who protested the killing, and those now protesting the lack of justice. But the circle we gathered in was not fueled by outrage alone–though outrage was there, and it was righteous. The circle was also fueled by joy, by the triumphant chant “I believe that we will win!” and by a strong feeling of being part of family who is in this struggle for the long haul, together.
It was best expressed in the Assata Shakur quote that was led in call-and-response:
“It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
On the streets in NYC in Dec 2014, protesting the lack of accountability in the police killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner