On May 16, 2003, my house was preemptively raided and condemned on the spot by the St. Louis Police Department in order to deter those of us who lived there from exercising our First Amendment rights of speech and assembly to protest the use of genetically engineered crops without substantial testing.
That’s the short story.
But what happened and how it affected my life for the last eight years is a much more complicated story. For weeks prior to the raids, the police had monitored our mundane activities preparing for Biodevestation 7, the counter-conference to the World Agricultural Forum (WAF), hosted by Monsanto. We wanted to give a voice to critiques of genetic engineering that were being excluded from the WAF. Police circled our block nightly, helicopters flew low and slow, and members of the activist community were stopped on the street and questioned about their activities. The day the WAF and Biodevestation began, the police raided my house and several other homes. My friends and I were immediately arrested, and our homes were condemned so that the police could enter without a warrant. After spending the night in jail, I returned to a boarded home that was in shambles. The police had taken political artwork from my walls, urinated on my clothes, defaced photographs, and smashed all of the cameras in the house. I could not move back in until we lifted the condemnation order three months later. I felt utterly alone in putting back together the broken pieces of my life and community.
With the help of the ACLU, we sued the police for infringing on our First Amendment rights. The court battle lasted seven years, moving all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, just below the Supreme Court. Last December, when my petition was thrown out of the case, I was left to grapple with a bitter end to the saga—justice had not been served. In the years since it had happened, I have been unable to process this painful experience through artistic creation. But the release from the judicial system gave my story space to be told. I realized I needed to engage my feelings of injustice and distrust of the criminal justice system with my art and create a larger community conversation in which to both heal my sorrow and share my story.
I now live in Minnesota, about 550 miles from where this all happened. Minnesota has a well-documented history of progressive politics and resistance to oppression—locally and internationally. In 2008, when the Republican National Convention happened in St. Paul, Minnesota, activists in the Twin Cities were targeted and systematically harassed, arrested, and their homes were raided. Known now as the RNC-8, many of these activists experienced police intimidation and harassment on par with or more extreme than what I experienced in 2003. Even as recently as last year, peace-activists around the country were targeted by the FBI and subpeoned for secret Grand Juries. This continues to happen all over this country to many different kinds of people--a country built on democracy and freedom. Where do we go from here?
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