Center, with headband
It was beyond- hot that July day, a real scorcher. As dozens of us women marched down the country roads from the Seneca Peace Camp toward Seneca Falls, an eleven mile walk, my spirits instantly deflated. The road shimmered swimmingly ahead of me, as sweat freely flowed down my face and into my eyes. I was thirsty and hung over—my consumption of marijuana, which fueled my passionate indignation at the deployment of Cruise missiles, was constant, my daily intake increasing as our summer of protest built. The asphalt seemed alive with heat. It was not fun yet, self-referenced fun still being the prerequisite for gratification in my pre-sober brain.
But the real heat began in Waterloo. Although we had a permit deeming our march legal, the good citizens of Waterloo saw the situation differently. Scores of them had blocked off the bridge, making our exit from town impossible. Crowds of people, mostly men, standing behind police barricades, shouted and hooted their disgust at us. One guy, hairy-armed with a furious scowl across his tanned, whiskered face, screamed at us, “Cock-sucking lesbians!” My friend Becky, her British accent intact, quietly responded, “Not exactly,” sending a wave of nervous giggles through us.
Somehow we sat down, obviously a tactic of non-violence—I did not attend the daily workshops at the peace camp, instructing us in the ways of non-violence and communal living. Instead, I skinny dipped, had breakfast at the diner, perused a few women, and protested. I was mostly stoned during all those events. In the midst of social turmoil and unrest, I was having a great time. However, I was not having a great time right now.
The police encircled us. Warnings from bullhorns, unclear in my overwhelmed brain, were being shouted at us. Time, along with everything, was blurred and slow-motioned. Suddenly, in the flash of a moment, large sweaty hands grabbed me from behind under my armpits and began to drag me. I was being arrested! Another massive policeman grabbed my ankles. I struggled crazily, haphazardly thrashing and flailing about in futile movements. Oh! Perhaps struggle wasn’t an accepted tactic of non-violence? With this realization, I collapsed, wrenching my back in the releasing. Struggling seemed easier than letting go. After being tossed into a darkened police wagon (a paddy wagon, my father would call it, I thought anxiously), and driving down bumpy roads, the heat insufferable, I and my other faceless and silent colleagues—women I did not know—were let out into a large roofless outdoor courtyard of the Seneca County jail. I walked into the open courtyard, blinded by the sun.
Eventually more and more other women petered in, released from their own “paddy wagons”. In the spirit of the women’s movement we held meetings and then a few more meetings, talked about our process and then about the process of talking about our process. It was decided that we would all claim “Jane Doe” as our identity. Time passed. The heat increased. Horrid little stale white-bread bologna sandwiches were distributed. Long lines stretched to the one bathroom. I was headachy, bored, and desperately had to pee—peeing in a que was not my strength. Not having the capacity to become engaged in the process, I wandered dejectedly around.
Looking for some shade, I noticed a door on the other side of the perimeter. It had a shiny black handle. I wandered over and tried the door knob. Strangely enough, it opened to the outside! I stepped out, into freedom. The door swung closed behind me. I was free! I had escaped, fully freed, loose in Seneca County! Elation filled me up. A nanosecond later, my elation deflated, as I realized what I had done. I just locked myself out of the coolest protest in the women’s movement. I turned around and started banging on the locked door. “Let me in. Let me in.” Nobody responded.
And so it was—I was a Jane Doe, escaped. Crestfallen, having to pee, and sun-sick behind enemy lines, I managed to get in touch with the peace camp; those were the days of telephone booths and collect calls. A woman from the camp picked me up and drove me back for a “debriefing”. I was eyed with some suspicion by the camp elders. The 55 other Jane Does spent a respectful few days in jail, supported by Bella Abzug and others prominent in the women’s movement. I did my best “on the outside”, keeping my status as the escaped Jane Doe #56 to myself, wrapped in dejected shame. After a few days, their case (our case?) was eventually “dismissed in the interest of justice”.
Although this was my only official prison escape, I would endure a few more years of less literal but nevertheless dramatic escaping—from relationships, from responsibilities, from the moment. A few years down the road I would be blessed with the practice of no escape, the grace of sobriety.
Up ahead, in the unfolding of our new America, what might happen? More will surely be revealed. Whatever, I plan on being there for it.
And you, dear readers? How did this memory impact you? What do you understand about the art of protest? Please keep me posted.