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December 11, 2012

When I got back from a weekend in Marquette on Monday night, my folks told me about what was going down in Lansing the next morning; without hesitation, I said, “Of course I’m going.” My mom was highly nervous about what might happen when 10,000 people convene in a relatively small, contentious place and come boot-to-boot with authorities. Given what we saw coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I cannot say that I really could blame her for her wariness. Yet I had faith that I would be able to march around my state’s Capitol building and have my voice be heard without fear of or encounters with violence or oppression. Call me naïve, call me privileged, because I know I am both; but I still have faith in the people of America to support and defend the values expressed in the First Amendment.

Included in that motley congregation are, at least in my opinion, law enforcement officers. Or rather, I believe that we need to maintain the assumption that our police officers are included in that pro-First Amendment category. To assume otherwise is a decision fraught with conflict and disaccord, and one that puts me at odds with an entire swath of my fellow Americans, the people in my community, my neighbors, my friends. Perhaps, one might argue, I simply haven’t had enough negative experiences with police officers. Perhaps, I might retaliate, one ought to get to know some police officers and their families before making their final decision about the entire profession.

Now, I am relatively well-versed in the literature and discourse surrounding our shift toward a more rigid and oppressive militarized state and society. This reality of “The Police State” manifests in myriad ways, from the highest incarceration rate in the world to pervasive overuse of surveillance to branding any idea or action not in line with a normative definition of “American” as terrorism, and beyond. I recognize and feel a true sense of urgency about what this shift entails for me, my future and our collective future; we have some serious issues to contest and a movement is absolutely needed to swing the proverbial pendulum in a new direction. In the meantime, I am going to maintain my assumption that police officers dream of being police officers for the same reasons and same good intentions that I have had in wanting to become a teacher.

I was so proud and grateful to be standing in solidarity for the working class, my friends in the schools and for my future as an educator. The only blemish, the only bad feeling I had about the experience comes from the treatment of and conflict with the police officers on location. I am ashamed, truly, of every statement from the following list, except one; also, I participated in one and only one chant, started by my good friend and local teaching legend John Smith. (Hint: it’s #1).

Top Five Things Shouted at Michigan State Troopers during the Right to Work Protest in Lansing Today (most offensive to least offensive):

5. “Fuckin’ SELL OUTS.”
4. “You all are COWARDS.”
3. “SHAME on you!”
2. “Hey cops, you’re NEXT!”
1. “Troopers need a raise! Troopers need a raise! Troopers need a raise!”

When I say “we” in the proceeding paragraph, I am addressing my peeps who gathered with me in Lansing, my peeps who wished they could be there but had to work, my peeps across the US who believe in the the right of workers to organize together, and my peeps who are wary about the use and treatment of enforcement officials in such situations.

I think we need to remember that there are American citizens in every profession that contest the legitimacy of our assembling in (peaceful) protest. I think we need to remember that a lot of those women and men who lined up along he Romney Building on Tuesday are all for our right to be there. And I think we need to remember that there were countless other people (not just the cops) who, though they support the anti-Right to Work movement here in Michigan, could not afford to miss work; it just so happens that those Troopers had to go to work on the Capitol grounds.

I had a conversation with my old college teammate, Steffani Gerard, on Tuesday whose husband, Chris, was put on detail at the Capitol. Chris is a State Trooper, a childhood dream job he achieved nearly two years ago. Chris is also a really good guy: he earned my blessings to marry my good friend, not an easy task. Steff asked me if the protest was still going on, as she was at home and hoping Chris would make it home in time for dinner. “We haven’t had dinner together in three weeks,” she said. They were supposed to move their lives back to the Upper Peninsula, where they met and fell in love, early this week but couldn’t as Chris had gotten the call to go to the demonstration. Just like the rest of us, Chris and Steff are making sacrifices and trying to “make it work,” somehow and someway.

And Mom, don’t worry: I felt safe the entire time.

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