Getting "On the List"

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Jackie Kennedy.jpg
The most "radical" act I have ever taken part in is one I organized. It was a miserable failure, and I was embarrassed by it. I write about it now not out of pride, but as a way of letting readers know what it takes to get "on the list."

You may remember the lead-up to the Iraq war as a frustrating, heartbreaking time. Many of us believed that preemptive aggression was a way to further agitate people who hated the U.S. and would only make future terrorist attacks more likely. We could see right through all of the pretextual explanations for war. At the same time, as I wrote last fall, the anti-war movement seemed frustratingly ineffectual.

So -- what was my brilliant response to the impending bloodshed and the lackluster antiwar movement? To dress up like Jackie Kennedy and carry around shopping bags with Jesus on them. Though this may seem a bit off, I think history will prove this brand of "radicalism" much more sane than Dick Cheney's. Why the Jackie Kennedy imagery?
It was meant to serve as an antidote to all of the late-sixties anti-war imagery and sloganeering that was alienating to those who didn't identify with it. Camelot represented a hopeful time. Also, Bush had made the most cynical of all moves by telling us that we could do our post-9/11 patriotic duty by shopping. Jackie was a shopoholic. So, the idea was that even Jackie would stop shopping if it would prevent war with Iraq. Thus, the Stop Shopping campaign was born.

Since Congress was in a bizarre, jingoistic fog, we could not rely on it to represent the majority of Americans who opposed the war. I joined with other activists in encouraging individuals to "vote with their wallets" and support local business or charities rather than contributing to the corporate holiday retail economy in protest (I realize this has all sorts of labor implications -- it's not something I advocate now). Eventually, I would join with other online groups (in the U.S. and internationally) who were protesting the war through U.S. corporate boycott. Since corporate interests seemed more powerful than political machinations, this seemed more effective than protesting or sending endless letters and faxes to Congress.

This brings us to my sad action in November 2002. As part of a national sort of "buy nothing day" (organized online by -- if memory serves correctly -- a Quaker individual) before the one after Thanksgiving, three friends and I showed up at the Hollywood and Highland complex in Los Angeles. I wore my Jackie Kennedy outfit, and my companions wore black. The goal was to draw attention to the fact that as we went about our shopping, Iraqis were on the verge of living in constant terror. There were two approaches here. One was a "die in" where the people in black were meant to lie on the ground to represent fallen civilians. Another was to simply wander around, browsing with pre-made shopping bags. I can't remember what they said, but they had an image of Jesus on them, and were meant to communicate that the kind version of Jesus would prefer that we not focus on materialism, but preventing our soldiers and Iraqi civilians from dying senselessly. (Here -- I think this is the one.)

In the weeks before the action, I had corresponded with quite a few people about it. One message in particular asked how many individuals would be coming, who we were, etc.

By the time we made it from the parking garage up to the ground floor, we'd met at least four LAPD officers. I think there were eventually about twenty in view. One gave me his card, indicated that he knew who I was, that they had been expecting us, and instructed us not to enter the shopping center. Why? It was the policy of Hollywood and Highland not to allow anyone to carry bags with slogans on them. So -- the American Eagle Outfitters bags were ok, but our Jesus bags were not.

We ended up leaving and that was that. I did one tiny Buy Nothing Day protest in Union Square in San Francisco, and went to a few anti-war protests. I corresponded with the likes of Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping. I kept up with the online boycott work (never meeting any of the partners in person) until an oppositional member (perhaps a provocateur?) threw us into chaos. By then the war was underway, and I was questioning the whole notion of anti-consumerism as a tactic. The Stop Shopping campaign included ethical consumerism as an aspect (local, fair trade, eco-friendly) and that was the thread I decided to pursue in the following years.

As must be clear, I don't look back on that 6-7 month period of my life with pride, but I definitely believe I had the right to my political speech and actions.

The compounding factor - whose significance I was too naive to fully understand at the time - was that I worked at the RAND Corporation, nearly half of which is funded by Defense projects. Many on the Left castigate RAND as though it's a monolithic entity. Actually, it's very decentralized and diversely funded. I could never have worked for any Department of Defense projects. I provided administrative support to a group of researchers who studied the economics of aging. My work was funded mostly by the National Institutes of Health. This created no ethical dilemma.

Even six months ago I didn't understand that my political activities would make my employment at RAND seem suspicious. I had so much faith in my right to engage in political activity that it honestly never occurred to me. Plus -- I was so ineffectual! I now get, based on the need for intelligence professionals to rely on connection-tracing, that it would have been necessary to ascertain whether I was part of some illicit infiltration network at RAND. (As I write this, it occurs to me that the person who helped me set up the web site did do some web design for some classified projects -- I can see where that would raise red flags.)

For me, working at RAND was like my reaction to the anti-war sloganeering. I didn't want to remain encircled in the same dogma, talking to the same people. I wanted to see what the mainstream policy world was all about. I had enormous respect for many of the researchers I worked with, and enjoyed spending time with quite a few coworkers. I savored contradiction.

In the end, as the war dragged on, it became more and more difficult to watch some of the supporters glued to the TV in the RAND hallway, taking pride in our preemptive war. I didn't like disturbing Air Force power points I would come across in the recycling bin. I left to work on my own ethical consumption and eco-design business.

I know that intelligence professionals have to follow leads that seem suspicious. In my case, however, all of the effort expended has been a huge waste of resources. I hope, as we move out of this period of unconstitutional abuses and politically-charged intelligence-gathering, that more nuanced understandings of ideology can prevail. The Homegrown Terrorism Bill seems poised to study "violent radicalization" and "homegrown terrorism" from very outmoded perspectives that will result in wasted taxpayer funds and harassed individuals -- not safer Americans.

It does still mystify me that someone like myself, who wanted to prevent senseless killing, is/was considered a threat, while the White House is full of individuals with contempt for the law.


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wanealy Author Profile Page said:

As a nonviolent peace activist, I can confirm that it takes next to nothing to get "on the list." Any action that questions in any way the right of the State to do whatever it wants is deemed treasonous. Welcome to Brave New America. Peace.

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Six Hours A Week Is:

A coping strategy, advocacy outlet, and form of protection. My life has been nearly destroyed by the unconstitutional practices of politically/socially-motivated private intelligence contractors and the corruption and cronyism that allow them. Apparently because I speak out in ways that prioritize the little guy and human and environmental health above gargantuan profit margins, and believe that facts are as important as PR spin, I was someone who had to be completely discredited. In 2007, after a few months of a surreal and relentless invasion of privacy and dignity, I started to spend six hours each week researching, communicating about, and advocating legal and ethical responses to assaults on our shared democratic and republican ideals. For most of that time I was writing from the perspective of someone whose life was manipulated into a constant state of terror and emergency. In 2010, many of the array of entrapment attempts seem to have failed and it seems no longer possible to get away with such excessive, obvious harassment and overt interference. As we take more practical steps to address what has been allowed to happen to my family, we do expect to see some more harassment and intimidation. But I should be able to chronicle it from a more measured perspective, rather than that of someone in constant fear. Part of me would like to go back and delete earlier posts, because even I find them hard to relate to in some ways. But this blog has been one of our only forms of protection as everyone in any official capacity ignored the truth and tried to spin and frame us into the troublemakers and perpetrators of one form or another. So I leave it up as a form of protection, a record of what has occurred, and (with luck) the account of our way back to credibility and some form of legitimate justice. All content on this site is property of Kyeann Sayer. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Kyeann published on April 1, 2008 1:18 AM.

5 Worst Aspects of Being Under Surveillance/Investigation was the previous entry in this blog.

King's Assassination and Legacy of Nonviolence is the next entry in this blog.

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