Civil Disobedience

This past spring I was arrested for the first time. My perfect record (except for the car accident and tickets from high school and college) now showed an arrest for refusing to disperse.

I did it on purpose. I sat in the street with other teachers to protest class size increases and the district's decision to balance the budget at school sites rather than eliminate superfluous waste at this high rise in downtown Los Angeles. A noble cause, I think.

It's best to travel light when you know you're about to be arrested. No jewelry. No cash. No cards. No cell phone. No keys. Just ID in your pocket and the number of a lawyer written in Sharpie on your arm. But even though I traveled light I still spent ten hours in custody and I felt the heavy power of The State.

They took my ID, my glasses and my shoelaces and in the heat of that afternoon, time moved slowly. It moved strangely as we were cuffed, transported, processed, transported again, held, booked and then finally released.

A former student of mine was one of the arresting officers. When you've taught long enough you never know who you'll run into. By the time I was released he'd already friend-requested me on Facebook.

The LA Times ran a picture of six of us sitting in the street with the police surrounding us so I heard from friends all weekend as I tried to recover physically from my day without food or water or going to the bathroom. I ate Goldfish crackers and drank Gatorade until I could hold down more. Then I slept.

Monday at school colleagues thanked me or teased me, "Where's your ankle alarm, Nakada?" Students with records felt we had something in common and my best-behaved students looked at me with disappointment. "You, Ms. Nakada? You got arrested?"

I tried to place my actions in the context of others like Ghandi, Dr. King, Cesar Chavez but what I did was so small in comparison to freedom fighters who stood up before me, often alone, enduring days, months, or years in jail. They risked being beaten or killed and all I did was spend 10 hours in custody.

At the end of the day when the teacher next door asked me how I was doing I wept. Even though I knew I'd done the right thing it weighed heavily on my heart because my actions changed nothing in terms of the big picture. But it had changed me.

I experienced a little bit of what so many of my students of color must feel when the police stop them, cite them, or arrest them. I knew a little about the pressure, the heavy weight of this system designed to break you. I understood the power of the police state and all that you can lose when you break the law.

I don't know what I expected that Friday morning as I drove through the quiet LA streets to be arrested. Nothing can really prepare you for that kind of experience but I'll never be able to travel like I did that morning with no jewelry, cash or cards, no cell phone or keys. Teachers were still laid off and hundreds of district administrators continue to walk in and out of the high rise where I protested far away from the students I teach everyday.

Now, I carry a new weight with me, no matter how lightly I try to travel.

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