I gave my fourth Ignite Seattle talk last night, reviewing what I’ve learned from my first four arrests. The video appears above. My transcript with slides appears below.
Transcript & Slides
The most wonderful thing about people is that we help each other, right? When we see someone in trouble and we know what to do, we just do it. Like this guy is giving his friend mouth to mouth recussitation on top of a utility pole after he’s been shocked by a live wire.
The hard part is when we see someone who’s in trouble and the thing that’s hurting them is a little more abstract or systemic than a live wire. We kind of freeze up and sometimes tune out from the problem.
What we’re really struggling with in our society right now isn’t a lack of desire to help each other, it’s an inability to make that helping impulse scale to systemic issues. And that’s what the long tradition of organizing and protesting and getting arrested is about.
The first time that I was ever arrested was last summer with the Poor People’s Campaign. We were down in Olympia and we set up a tent city in the middle of a busy intersection to draw attention to the crisis of homelessness that is ongoing in our country.
Sometimes people ask, “Why do protesters block intersections? It’s so inconvenient. It alienates people. You’re never gonna get anyone on your side that way.”
And the answer is that the flow of traffic is part of the system and the system is not working for everyone. It is inconveniencing some people all the time, and so we are saying, “stop! we’re going to put our bodies in the middle of this system and make the people who have the privilege of just going about their day pay attention to what is happening to the folks who do not have that privilege.
So that’s really the thing that I want you to think about first, it’s my first tip for you. You can use your privilege. Maybe you have light skin. Maybe you have a great education. Maybe you’re sitting on a half million dollars of Amazon stock. Maybe you’re a dude.
If you have that systemic power, you can use use it. You’re gonna face fewer ramifications from being arrested than somebody who doesn’t have as great of an education and might struggle to find a job or someone who has darker skin where the police are more dangerous for them.
You have the opportunity to use that privilege.
Once you decide that you want to use your privilege this way, you have to understand that civil disobedience is a tactic. Getting arrested is not the goal. It has to ladder up to something and you really want to make sure that the tactic ladders up to the goal that you want to achieve.
So to illustrate that point I wanna talk about the second, third, and fourth times that I was arrested; all in Washington DC during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
So obviously we were not successful in keeping this sexual assaulter off of the Supreme Court, but we did achieve some really important things.
First of all, we created a real pressure cooker in DC and under that pressure, Brett Kavanaugh cracked. He showed us who he really was and he committed perjury; and because of that, later on, we can remove him from the Supreme Court.
The second thing that we were able to achieve is that we forced the Republicans to show their hand. This was a power grab. They were so desperate to have a Supreme Court Justice who believed that a sitting President cannot be indicted that they put that guy on the court.
And the third thing – that really pissed a lot of people off. It pissed me off, did it piss you off? yeah! Alright. Well that drove a lot of people to the polls in November and that’s part of the reason that we took back the House of Representatives. So I think that those were three really successful things.
Finally, if you decide you want to do this, go in knowing the same songs as the people you’re getting arrested with. This is actually really important.
So the first time I ever disobeyed a direct order from a police officer was a year before I got arrested. It was the weekend that the United the Right rally was taking place in Charlottesville and we actually had a white supremacist group holding their own rally in Westlake Park.
We set up a counter protest and ended up in a standoff with SPD at the corner of Second and Pine. They started firing off flash bang grenades and pepper spraying people people; and they threatened to arrest every single person in the intersection if we did’t clear it within five minutes.
And I’ve never seen anything like this in my life; 500 people just sat down and we started singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.” And five minutes went by. And ten minutes And fifteen minutes; we started getting messages from our scouts at Westlake that the cops were clearing out the white supremacist group because they could not guarantee their safety. There were simply too many of us and we were not obeying.
If you don’t want to get arrested, there are lots of things you can do. You can film and be a moral witness – that’s what we call it in the Poor People’s Campaign. You can hold onto people’s stuff so that it doesn’t get taken into custody. And you can be there when they get out of jail with warm socks a snack, and a hug.
My name is Tae Phoenix and I’m an activist and singer songwriter here in Seattle. And I just want to remind every single one of you; we outnumber him! resist! Thank you!