How did you spend your summer vacation?8/27/2014
The blank white paper sitting on the laminate desk glares back unhopefully. Of course, the early morning fluorescent light doesn’t help, nor does the scratching sound of other pens. Your classmates busily write of north woods adventures, trips to Okoboji, the awesome water park ride at Adventureland. Perhaps if you turn the paper at an angle it will look more inviting? Nope. My goodness, is Billy drawing a picture of the Big Bull at the Iowa State Fair? Hmmm… what did I do this summer? What did I do all these past weeks? How did I spend my summer vacation?
If you were Carla Dawson, this is simple — YOU GOT ARRESTED.
Carla Dawson is fierce. Not a subtle point. And all of you who had her as a teacher at North High School know this. She glares, she scowls, she stomps her feet. Don’t be fooled, however, by her wrath. Underneath the scary glower, the disapproving frown, the hard look, there’s the joy — bursting out for all to see. Sure, her determination is a little daunting, but she is merely giving you a corrective. A gentle push in a better direction. She is all about loving you up, but that does not rule out a crack up the side of your head. Deserved, for sure.
“My friend Windy told me the Methodist Church was having a rally about the deportation of people with no criminal history,” she said. “I decided to go to the rally. I went to D.C. with the intent to get arrested as an act of civil disobedience.”
That sounds good on paper. Go off to Washington, D.C. Protest the deportation of illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in this country for years and years. Stand up for the 57,000 undocumented children seized at our border. Walk the walk for your beliefs. Heck, you get to practice the time-honored American tradition of civil disobedience, a tradition as old as the Boston Tea Party. Demonstrating against the immigration policy is a chance to follow Thoreau’s directive in “Civil Disobedience” — “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” Awesome.
Ah, but there is a rub. You do have to get arrested. By the police. With handcuffs. Not so fun.
“We stayed with one of the leaders in United Methodist,” she said. They were so nice to us. Thursday morning we went to United Methodist headquarters in D.C., and they had a civil disobedience training. And they told us what our charges would be, the fine, have your ID. If the officer taps you on the shoulder, don’t jerk back. Answer questions politely. They just went over some rules for people who hadn’t been arrested before. And then we proceeded to go on the subway to the park across from the White House. There was a rally there. A lot of people. We lined up in four lines for people who were going to be arrested. They then had a prayer over us.”
Anything that requires a “prayer over us” is generally a red flag for me. If divine intervention is needed, perhaps it is wise to take a pass. Right? Not for Carla Dawson.
“The police moved the bystanders away from us,” she said. “They put a barricade around us. The police officer asked us to please disperse and leave. And they did this again. The third time they told us we’d be arrested. Then, they started taking us to a tent area, one by one. They put handcuffs on us one by one. I was the 67th person arrested.”
Carla Dawson is no youngster. She’s been around. Had some hard life. Raised kids. Worked long hours. And trust me, had more than her fair share of heartbreak and heartache. But she patiently waited in line to do what she saw as her duty. Sixty-six people went before her. And then it was her turn.
“It was the easiest arrest I’ve ever had in my life. They handcuff you. Take your ID. Then they take your picture. They take you to the bus. I said to the young man, who was like six-foot-six, ‘Young man, you’re going to have to help me get up this first step into the bus.’ Because I couldn’t use my hands, you see, they were cuffed. We were taken to a police station. Went through a maze of ropes. They took the handcuffs off. I gave my $50. They fingerprinted me and said I’m free to go.
“Listen, I felt called to stand up,” she said. “I don’t believe in what’s happening in our country to immigrants.” Period.
“I’m no hero, Joe,” she said. “I’m a human being.”
The blank white paper still sits on the wooden laminate desk in the early morning fluorescent light. Billy has completed his drawing of the Big Bull. The other kids are starting to fidget, not yet attuned to the rigors of the classroom. It’s time to put something down. What to do? What’s the right thing to do?
So, how did you spend your summer vacation? CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines. He just returned from spending the last several months in the Netherlands, where his wife was assisting in the prosecution of war criminals. While there he wrote about being an Iowan in Europe. Joe can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.