One night in the Beatty lockup

Peattie, Lisa

ONE NIGHT IN THE BEATTY LOCKUP I CROSSED THE WHITE LINE LISA PEATTIE Civil disobedience is both a strategy for changing things and a vehicle for moral affirmation. It is a form of social...

...In part, of course, it is the reasoning, the accounts of purpose, which they brought to their acts and which remain for our study and analysis...
...Our protest is different in one major respect from those protests in which a black woman refused to move to the back of the bus, or black college students sat at whites-only lunch 142: Commonweal counters...
...Neither she, nor anyone else I met in Beatty the man next to me at the lunch counter, the editor of the local newspaper, the women in the office responsible for organizing my captivity expressed enthusiasm for the development of nuclear weapons...
...Amongst the principles of the Nuremberg process formulated by the authority of the UN General Assembly in 1950 is Principle IV: The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible for him...
...3) violate the neutral jurisdiction of non-participating states...
...It is hard to determine the effectiveness of any piece of organizational activity, but the activities to which I turned my hand on paying my way out of jail certainly seemed like useful work...
...The owner was fascinated to meet a real live protestor...
...Recently the mother of eleven children was sentenced to a prison term of eighteen years for taking a jackhammer to a missile silo cover lid...
...I have felt annoyed in the past by women in detention with me who insisted on winding yam around the bars, finding it an affectation, but in this situation I was really happy to hear from them...
...They varied enormously in the strength of their distaste for them, but all were in agreement that the arms race cannot, at the current level of development, be stopped...
...there must be no alternative defense against it...
...there must be reason to believe that the action will be effective with respect to the peril...
...the judge was eventually persuaded to reduce her sentence to twelve years...
...My resolution withered in the Beatty holding cell...
...While a young volunteer lawyer from Oregon was working with the witnesses, there was a great deal of logistics: picking people up at the airport, arranging meetings...
...Some underlying anxiety about jail was tempered by my mood of high resolve...
...Since the general principle underlying the "necessity defense" is rather obvious and generally accepted, in my brief I did not argue the principle, but rather argued that the conditions of my trespass met the conditions for the use of the defense imposed in earlier decisions: the danger must be serious...
...a professor emeritus and senior lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is currently working as a volunteer for Jobs With Peace...
...She insisted on taking me to lunch...
...I saw no reason, indeed, why I should not work off my whole fine with six days in the Beatty lockup...
...The three women living and working together there were showing distinct signs of overload...
...It is a form of social action which reverses the ordinary rules of political efficacy by playing from vulnerability...
...At morning, noon, and night large meals were put through the bars...
...Article VI of the Constitution (confirmed subsequently by decisions in particlar 140: Commonweal cases) provides that "all treaties . . . shall be the supreme law of the land...
...This, in turn, we saw as a first step towards negotiations with the Soviet Union and towards policy changes in both countries which would, over some period of time, reduce the possibility of nuclear war...
...So have a legion of less famous men and women working for national independence, religious toleration, desegregation, the ending of some war they thought evil...
...There was a toilet in the corner and a small, rather dirty sink...
...Watakushi-wa Lisa Peattie de su...
...The lighting fixture had been located over a partition to do duty for two cells...
...There is a satisfying sense of closure in having said one's piece, and I was conscious of this satisfaction as I rode the six-thirty bus through the desert in the early morning light to Beatty with my brief in hand...
...Therefore, it is likely to mean going to jail...
...To take personal action and to take personal risk is an assertion of the ultimate value of persons in a world of national and institutional purposes...
...Released in the morning, I found there was no bus to Las Vegas until evening...
...she said that she had thought of them as flaky kids...
...I am Lisa Peattie...
...How about people with long sentences...
...What's the matter with you...
...I use the present tense in this statement in view of the fact that nuclear bombs have twice been used on civilian populations and that their use has been threatened by the government of the United States on nineteen separate occasions since 1945...
...Iescribed the jail experience to a friend of mine, a sociologist with a particular interest in loss and trauma...
...The group called American Peace Test old Freeze activists who provided the buses, the speakers, the food and water for the protest in the desert, asked those who were going to commit civil disobedience to try, if at all possible, to do a couple of days in jail...
...On monday, fifty-six of the people who had crossed the line with me were having their cases joined in a group trial with expert witnesses...
...Nobody thinks to remark that if jailing produces a suicide risk, then jailing must be a pretty severe punishment...
...The United States has signed three multilateral treaties which implicitly prohibit use of nuclear arms: the Hague Conventions of 1907, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and the Geneva Protocols of 1977...
...13 March 1987: 143...
...On Tuesday, after some last-minute scrambling for more buses, 500 people from the American Public Health Association went out to the edge of the test site to protest, and 139 of them crossed the white line, including Carl Sagan and the past and present presidents of the Association...
...Most of us would be embarrassed to say anything like this, even if we were able to think it...
...I could not have a pen, but they gave me a stumpy pencil...
...volunteer fire department...
...What is it that pulls us after them...
...I brought with me a notebook and a textbook, Japanese in Thirty Hours, which I thought would nicely fill the time...
...But the test site is what makes that possible...
...and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding...
...For a first offense in his jurisdiction the penalty is a fine of $150 which can, if you choose, be worked off, at the rate of $25 a day in six days...
...This is ordinarily referred to in the practice of law as the "necessity defense...
...We can point to those who, like Thoreau, like Gandhi, have exerted that force on us...
...But there is something else which was put into words by one of my fellow-malefactors, who had returned to Nevada to testify in the group trial...
...In the middle of the night when the anxiety got to the point that I had violent chills, I called out and the woman on duty brought me a paper cup of coffee...
...It was the solitariness of it, the confinement in itself...
...I know that sooner or later I will be back in jail...
...although I found them inedible, I saw that they represented someone else's consistent sense of the appropriate...
...I had found this casuistry...
...weapons testing in the face of the Soviet moratorium...
...From time to time someone cooked a meal for whoever was about...
...Beatty," she said, "is full of people who love living on the desert...
...So I was deeply shocked by my reactions...
...We were trying to identify the working dynamic of moral force...
...So last September, when I took the bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and then, early the following morning, from Las Vegas to Beatty, Nevada, to stand my trial, I not only thought that I might find myself in jail before the day was out, but that if so, I would be going to jail as a matter of choice...
...The body becomes a voice...
...You can work out how the I that is outside jail will handle the experience, but when you are put in jail that executive, I, is replaced by a different one . . . People are jailed on drunk and disorderly and commit suicide...
...I began stamping and folding and sticking...
...So did British ladies demanding votes for women, some of whom got their teeth knocked out there in the course of being force-fed...
...It didn't help...
...It is the body itself, the living flesh, which is asserted in protest as the alternative to both power and violence...
...Writing helped, and trying to do the Japanese helped to calm 13 March 1987: 141 me, but the words seemed to stay on the page...
...Arguing that the activities of the United States in developing its nuclear arsenal and the "game plans" for using it were contrary to international law, I also drew from international law my own authority to act against these activities: the principles developed in the course of the Nuremberg trials...
...they were declaring it abolished in their own lives...
...Rather, we intended to protest against continued testing of nuclear weapons in the face of the continued Soviet moratorium on such testing, and with the aim of inducing the administration via an aroused public opinion, to institute a reciprocal halt to testing...
...In the brief which I wrote for my own defense, I based my justification squarely on international law: I believe that nuclear warfare constitutes a crime against humanity as defined in principles of international law to which the United States has been signatory...
...None of that was a surprise...
...We did not intend specifically to destroy the protections for private property, nor the laws of trespass...
...Not to the fact that the prosecutor had not read the brief, sent in several weeks before, and that Judge Sullivan, who had, was unimpressed by its arguments...
...As protest at the nuclear test site has built up, trespass cases like mine have become a substantial burden in a court caseload which would otherwise consist, I suppose, of scattered incidents of speeding and public drunkenness...
...then I turned to reviewing the materials from the eleven trespass defendants who were actually to appear in court and to drafting questions which the defense lawyer might appropriately ask them...
...Two metal shelves for sleeping hung one over the other from heavy chains...
...The group trial went well...
...lacking a toothbrush, I recognized these as an important resource and appreciated the plastic...
...Not to the fact that it took only a few minutes to hear me out and sentence me to the usual $ 150 or six days...
...The Department of Energy, with unerring sense of timing, set off a big blast while they were in the midst of the protest...
...Our crossing the white line, our willingness to go to jail, must make concrete the consequences for real persons of the rules and policies...
...It is an adequate sounding of the alarm which, in part, makes it necessary to go to jail...
...floor, battleship gray...
...It was in the tradition of civil disobedience that I broke the law, and it is in light of this tradition that I am ashamed to admit that I failed jail...
...There, those who disobeyed the law were intending specifically to destroy the precise law they were breaking...
...For what appears on the surface to be a normal way of life includes within it the preparation of the means for annihilation, and only an act which deliberately and publicly breaks the rules can adequately sound the alarm at what lies beneath it...
...Such a moral choice was possible for me...
...She said: "Well, after all, we are asking other people to take steps which will probably be difficult and costly to them in their own lives...
...Still, with the digestion of an ostrich and the anthropologist's experience in odd places, I thought myself well suited for civil disobedience, my being both adaptable and stubborn...
...Meanwhile there was a set of activities underway to mobilize the members of the American Public Health Association, just then meeting in Las Vegas, to go to the test site to protest and, in some numbers, to trespass across the line...
...I tried singing...
...These are both, after all, ways of making a home in the world for flesh...
...How about Helen Woodson and her twelve years...
...It gave a dim yellowish light through a screen of dead moths, but if I sat on the very edge of the bottom bunk where the mattress pad, covered in crackling plastic, flopped over the edge, I could see to read...
...Judge Sullivan had asked me in court why we felt it necessary to break the law, particularly since we had been able to hold a protest meeting near the test site...
...Two toothpicks, encased in plastic, lay on the sink...
...When I have discussed civil disobedience and the possibility of jail sentence with my academic colleagues, a common reaction is: "Oh, I'm sure that a person with your skills can more usefully spend her time in other ways.'' The view may be self-serving, but it is not unreasonable...
...This meant sound equipment, a flatbed truck, water, planning for civil disobedience training...
...The cell was cement block, walls painted cream...
...I said that the act of crossing the white line marking the limits of the test site was required by an "overwhelming necessity to call to public attention the huge and terrible disorder which lies beneath the smooth and ordinary rules and arrangements of our society...
...The charge was criminal trespass: crossing the white line marking the boundary of the nuclear test site...
...On the doorjamb a previous tenant had penciled "You can't kill the spirit," and signed it "sisters" with a spiderweb symbol...
...Recently I took early retirement from a university professorship not because of being tired, but in order to do something more interesting like this for instance...
...I was totally unprepared for the nausea which swept over me when the iron bars clanged shut...
...Civil disobedience entails breaking the law publicly, nonviolently, with a moral purpose, and with the willingness to take the consequences...
...All of these cases go to the same place of judgment: the Beatty Justice Court of Nye County, presided over by Justice of the Peace Bill Sullivan, who is also the head of the local LISA PEATTIE...
...On the contrary, I felt more and more convinced of two points: that it is necessary to break the law publicly, and that on breaking the law, one should be prepared to go to jail...
...Risk-taking, real risk-taking, is evidence of seriousness...
...This seemed right to me...
...its assertion clears a space in the world, a path, into which conscience and understanding can follow...
...How can we expect them -to follow us if we are not willing to pay any substantial price ourselves...
...and (4) are asphyxiating, poisonous, or bacteriological...
...Here, I said in my brief,' 'The United States took the initiative in legal proceedings which held individual persons responsible for taking part in crimes against humanity that were sanctioned by their governments...
...The rules of international law embodied in these documents specifically prohibit tactics or weapons that: (1) cause unnecessary or aggravated suffering (2) do not discriminate between combatants and noncombatants, military and civilian personnel...
...But I think these marvelous words capture an element in our purposeful crossing of the white line onto the nuclear test site...
...So I hitched a ride back with the owner of the local Exchange Cafe, a combination restaurant and 38slot-machine gambling casino...
...I believe that it is hardly necessary to bring forward testimony to show that practically any use of these weapons in warfare is bound to violate some or all of the provisions listed above...
...There was no brutality...
...its presence is a form of speech...
...I argued each of these points successively...
...Judge Sullivan, a charming and courteous man who tries to give everyone a chance to state his or her case, has naturally standardized the penalties for crossing the white line...
...There were 149 of us the day I went, the largest group of arrests yet, protesting the continuation of U.S...
...How about people in tiger cages...
...I don't know what people think jailing is like, but they must think that is isn't so bad, because jailing is handed out to people picked up on whatever and not yet bailed, and if you are broke you can spend months in jail awaiting trial and nobody thinks it is awful...
...She confirmed what I had heard earlier: that the nuclear site, ten thousand jobs, is the basis of the local economy...
...It was wonderful when a woman from the office said that my daughter had telephoned...
...I think it is the immobility plus the isolation plus the hostile surroundings plus the social degradation that do it to you...
...Bringing together, now, the view of nuclear warfare as a crime against humanity and the view of nuclear warfare as an imminent danger to myself and my family, I proposed that the act of crossing the white line admittedly a trespass, but one doing very little injury to anyone was justified by the necessity to avert an enormously greater evil...
...But I was shocked by my reactions to being in jail...
...Gandhi went to jail repeatedly...
...the only sentences which seemed to get into my head were ones I constructed on my identity...
...In an extraordinary account of the experience of civil disobedience Peter Marin, writing inHarper's (December 1985), compares the act of protest with the act of love...
...The mailing probably developed support, both financial and other, for APT...
...the danger must be immediate...
...it was exactly what I had expected...
...Not to the trial...
...This is a company of malefactors which it is an honor to join...
...I remembered the Cuban bureaucrat who, when I asked him how he felt about planting coffee, had said: "Well, I volunteered so of course I like it...
...There was no straw and no vermin...
...The action itself draws us, as, we hope, ours will draw others...
...The cell had wonderful resonance, but the sound of my voice alone made me feel lonelier...
...I made a beginning of an answer in my brief...
...I learned later that the cell had been recently scrubbed out by an earlier protestor on her release...
...Or so we hope and declare...
...The warmth helped, and it helped, too, that for some hours she set the door to the office ajar so I could hear her typing...
...A moratorium on testing would send it back to the sand...
...Indeed, when I got back to the American Peace Test (APT) headquarters in Las Vegas, I found that there was lots of work to be done...
...Bertrand Russell went to jail...
...He wrote me back, comfortingly: "I guess it is one of those experiences you can't adequately prepare for...
...It was a surprise to me to learn, when I started going to these things that, however odd it seems, it is entirely in the American constitutional system, for Bill Sullivan's court to be asked to adjudicate issues of international law...
...My keepers let me have my textbook of Japanese and my notebook...
...This time Judge Sullivan decided to consider the material for several months before handing down a decision...
...But oddly enough, neither the difficulty I had experienced in sticking it out in the Beatty holding cell, nor the evident usefulness of these alternative ways of using my time made me feel that jail was a misuse of time...
...During years of testing, many people have done this symbolic action...
...I tried reasoning with myself: "This is not Folsom or the Chateau a" Yf or even the notorious Charles Street Jail of my neighborhood in Boston...
...There was a huge mailing to be gotten out flyers to fold and insert, address stickers to be attached, bulk mailing permits to be stamped...
...In the morning, thoroughly shaken, I paid the rest of my fine and was released...
...The mountains to the left of the bus reflected onto the windows opposite, making the extraordinary landscape even more dreamlike...
...But certainly that is not all of it...
...How about people for whom the cell is a respite between tortures...

Vol. 114 • March 1987 • No. 5


 
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