Bringing The Police Onto The Side Of Justice By Making Them Smile
Last month, in the aftermath of a series of sit-ins in the office buildings of our Federally Elected Congressional Officials, I had the opportunity to take a photo of two jovial people. One was Jason Ferris, the arrestee, I asked him for a smile and received a full-body response. The second was the arresting officer, whose identity was not given to me by a Ms. Eva Malecki, the Communications Director of the US Capitol Police Department. In an email, she respectfully declined my request to interview the smiling officer. Fortunately, I was able to contact Ferris through mutual friends, and because, who does not want pictures of them being arrested for honorable reasons?
Jason Ferris and an Unnamed US Capitol PD officer smiling for the camera after a sit-in in the Hart Senate Office Building on July 17, 2017. Photo Credit: Me. Ferris is not a veteran direct-actioneer as one might guess from his attitude in the photo. This was his first time being arrested. He told me that in the face of the Trump regime and, in this case, their attack on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), he cannot, “sit idly by”, because, he said, “it doesn’t feel right to be complacent”. When asked what kind of actions he was willing to take part in he responded that the list is growing, and that he is waiting for a major occupation event. The stance Ferris has taken regarding political engagement and direct action reflects a national trend of increased membership in direct action groups such as Showing Up for Racial Justice, If Not Now, Black Lives Matter, All Of Us, By Any Means Necessary (winner of most badass acronym), Democracy Spring, and United We Dream. The emergence of Indivisible, who leverage more tepid strategies but pull-in massive numbers, also paints a picture of a mobilizing Left prepared to agitate on legislative issues.
The participants in this action majorly received a DC-mainstay of direct action known as Post-and-Forfeit, whereby arrestees are offered an unreclaimable, Forfeited, $50 to $100 fine in return for no charges and no court date. Regarding punishment Ferris said, “I don’t mind punishment for my own actions, I just don’t want it to affect my family”. Building up a tolerance for risk or, even better, making tolerance for risk hip is necessary for the growth of effective direct action movements. Srdja Popovic discusses how Otpor! leveraged the social drive for acceptance and admiration to encourage other Serbians to risk brutalization and loss of freedom in their fight against the regime of Slobodan Milosovic in Blueprint For Revolution. He wrote about giving out t-shirts color-coded to illustrate how many times its wearer had been arrested and how this served as an indicator of status in their movement.
Ferris intended to sit in until the healthcare bill was voted down. The action took place on July 17. The bill was killed 11 days later when Senator John McCain returned from brain cancer surgery to push the bill for a vote and reject it, a move that many political analysts read as heroic. However, the pressure for our elected officials to side with people over profit, on an already industry-friendly healthcare bill, was surely influenced by the actions taken by the real heroes like Ferris and those involved in sit-ins across the country in the weeks leading up to the vote. Especially notable were the multiple-day sit-ins led by the activists with disabilities and their carers at ADAPT.
Reflecting on the photo, Ferris said, “It makes me laugh, especially to see the police officers keeping it upbeat. It encourages me to do it again and keep the respect and find humor in the next protest.” He also told me that, although he did not have a chance to discuss the action with the officer of interest, he spoke with another officer the next day who told him that he was, “glad to be able to serve the public”. The police act as the shock troops for Corporate power but they are people, and people are swayable. According to Erica Chenoweth in Why Civil Resistance Works, one of the major factors that makes nonviolent strategies work is that they garner the support and sympathy of larger portions of the population than violent strategies. Peaceful revolutions succeed by bringing disenfranchised elites, law enforcers, and soldiers onto their side.
This indicates that the inclination of Ferris to be sympathetic with the police is strategic. “I like to be as friendly as I can, no reason to fear them,” he said, “They are just doing their job, if I can bring a smile to them, then they can ponder on the reason we stood our ground, rather than despise us.” Ferris and hundreds of others decided to risk their freedoms in order to, successfully, oppose attacks on the ACA. Their risks can inspire millions more to take risks to strengthen the American healthcare system with Universal Care, to increase the funding and universal availability of education at all levels, to oppose our foreign wars for the profits of Corporate behemoths, to close tax loopholes, and to invest in a clean energy and energy efficient infrastructure that could lead the world in our response to the devastation of the climate and the ecosystems we rely on. We need more heroes, and to create more heroes we need to create a space and the incentive for them to come forward.
So thank you Jason Ferris, thank you ADAPT, and thank you to everyone who is and will be willing to risk their security for that of us all.