Defend ALL or Defund ALL! Tales from a 70 year old #BadAssGrandma 

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Ok, so I’m not your everyday elder white lady. 

People often question what led me to be so involved in movement work. They wonder at this fierce older white lady who is willing to stand up for what’s right, yell at the police, defend our precious land and water with her body, say what others are too scared to say. I often say that I came out of my Mother’s womb intolerant to any/all injustice followed by, “My poor Mom!” 

My life as an ACTivist began in 1965 at age 12 after witnessing the horrors of the Vietnam war daily on TV. We were in the middle of a 20 year bullshit war with what at the time felt like no end in sight. I asked my parents why we were killing kids in a country I never heard of on the other side of the globe. The reply was always “because our president said it was necessary and so we wave the flag and cheer on our soldiers.” 

Aghast by that answer, I knew life could never resume as it had been on the day before I asked that question. Now what?  Soon thereafter I heard on TV there was going to be an anti-war rally in downtown Milwaukee. “I know,” I thought, “I’ll  take my allowance and walk a few blocks to the Ben Franklin 10 cent store, get some poster board, and figure out later how to take a bus to the protest.” 

Long story short, my parents found out what I’d done. My dad called me a communist, grounded me, and forbid me from attending future protests. Needless to say it didn’t work. After that first awakening, there was no going back. 

At this same time a growing civil rights uprising was happening nationwide. The marches to end inequality,  segregation, repression, and police brutality competed with the Vietnam War for airtime. Every night my dad bellowed out bigoted, racist, and obscene remarks at the television. Again our perspectives clashed. I saw hundreds of thousands of African Americans peacefully and respectfully bringing awareness of their plight and their right to live with the same dignity as White America. I saw beautiful people – women and men, in their finest dresses, suits, and hats,  speaking, what would later be called, ‘truth to power.’ And then I witnessed the police take over their marches with tear gas, billy clubs, and excessive brutality as my dad cheered on the police.  

And make no mistake, though President Lyndon Johnson oversaw the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he also in 1965 launched his ‘War on Crime’ sending militarized police forces into impoverished Black neighborhoods. Then in 1970 four unarmed college students, engaged in a mass protest against the Vietnam War at Kent State University, were killed by the National Guard. These blatantly oppressive and undemocratic actions served as a kind of tipping point for many around the nation, and from there, I knew my life’s calling was to find a way for all of us to live free from the tyranny of the violence and racism of white supremacy. 

Those years formed the Bad Ass Grandma (as I was dubbed by some of my GenZ comrades) I am today. Amerika was not free, justice was merely a fictional concept, and contrary to the claim of Justice For All, I’ve witnessed a whole lot of people being locked up, brutalized, or killed for nothing more than simply not being rich, white, or male. And time and again, often just when we feel like we may have made some headway into winning one fight, something else comes along to remind us to keep going, keep fighting, keep crying out for real justice. 

One of the most egregious examples of this came in 1982, when the Supreme Court adopted language that made the doctrine of qualified immunity much more vague, state friendly and open to subjective interpretation regarding the rights of government officials to violate a citizen’s constitutional rights. In terms of the police, this doctrine over the last 40 years has largely meant cops can kill people for the same reason a dog licks its genitals – because they can!  

I have seen the detrimental and tragic effects of such policies too many times in my life. Here in Milwaukee as in other major cities it happens all too frequently that police murder -mostly unarmed – people in the ‘line of  duty’ , averaging 1,000 a year from 2017-2023. I’ve come to know many of these families as I joined a sustained 400+ day march with The People’s Revolution after the George Floyd execution. I’ve sat in many a courtroom as these families seek fabricated justice in an extremely flawed system. 

One of the things I’ve learned throughout my life of activism is that making noise, making bold statements, forcing people to interact with new ideas is critical to changing the narrative.  I’m known in movements for my posters having made many hundreds of them. One night while making posters for the next march, four words came to mind,  END POLICE SPORT KILLING. When a cop shoots to kill, chokes to death, or beats to death the unarmed, that’s predatory killing for sport. I made it my mission to make so many of these posters the media could not avoid getting them on film. The next poster I made showed a cop at home playing video games and it said, LIVES ARE VITAL, NOT VIRTUAL. I’d ask the cops which avatar in the video game Call of Duty they identified with. While these kinds of actions may seem trivial, they are the kinds of small yet mighty ways in which we impact the thinking and behaviors of the masses. Many people don’t ever stop to think about these kinds of connections and comparisons, but they are often the kind that once you are exposed to you can’t unlearn or unsee. 

I later learned that I was on an unconstitutional “TARGET LIST.” During October 2020 the village of Wauwatosa in Wisconsin implemented an illegal city curfew and declared a state of emergency anticipating trouble after a “serial killer” cop was found innocent of the  third killing of a civilian of color. Numerous law enforcement agencies across the  state as well as National Guard troops, and the U.S. Marshals Service occupied the city. The second night of the curfew I was profiled and ambushed by 6 cop cars, ordered out of my car, and surrounded by at least 12 uniformed enforcers including 2 U.S. Marshals. I was taunted as to why I as a white woman would be affiliated with ‘terrorist groups’ such as Black Lives Matter, The Peoples Revolution, and Antifa. My response was to tell them that “the only terrorists I see are YOU… you bring the terror and chaos.” Needless to say I was handcuffed  and arrested, taken to the police department and questioned by the FBI (but I don’t negotiate with terrorists so I told them to call my lawyer for any questions they had.) 

And these kinds of violent interactions, which generally begin peacefully, and then are escalated by the police in order to justify their violence, are not uncommon in my life as an ACTivist. Another example comes from the Spring of 2021 when I answered a call from the Indigenous nations to convene in  northern Minnesota for what they called the Treaty People Gathering. The Canadian multinational corporation Enbridge (an international oil cartel responsible for over a million gallons of oil ‘spilled’ in the midwest) was about to construct a new tar sands oil pipeline segment through over 100 watersheds. About 3,000 people arrived for the June mass protest actions to protect their pristine land and water from Enbridge’s  “weapons of mass destruction.”  I went to 3 of these actions throughout the summer and was arrested each time. Roughly 1,000   Water Protectors were arrested before we eventually and unfortunately lost the battle  and the pipeline was allowed to be established under hundreds of miles of pristine land and water. My third arrest while protecting the mighty Mississippi River was carried out by Clearwater County Deputy Alexander Yocum (whose alter ego I believe was Thanos in The Avengers) was unnecessarily brutal. This arrest was witnessed by millions when it went viral on social media. Many commented they could not watch it’s entirety or reported crying as he deployed 5 pain compliance techniques on me which has caused multiple permanent injuries. 

I emphasize this story because as a white person, it can be easy to forget that often attention and sympathy on a wide scale for police brutality comes only for those who this system is designed to recognize as deserving of rights. Remember the public outrage, for example, when the media reported that a 75-year-old white man suffered a fractured skull after being shoved to the ground by Buffalo New York police during a George Floyd protest in June of 2020? Why? Because the cops had crossed a socially maintained line.  Imagine! They harmed an old WHITE guy! Man!? And, while my run in with police violence didn’t capture  mainstream media attention (don’t want folks to know about the pipeline, right?), it did circulate rapidly across social media platforms. Why? Because they crossed that last invisible line – now they brutally and violently injured an elder WHITE WOMAN! 

These kinds of incidents and this kind of awareness is why I continue to stand up against the police. They help to shift narratives and make people who are comfortable with the status quo challenge what they believe to be true. WTF happened to Officer Friendly? That harmless guy in uniform who warned us to be Safe Street Walkers  and to look out for Stranger Danger? He came to schools drawing lessons on the board like, ‘look both ways, live more days,” and handed out coloring books and baseball cards. He even let children in squad cars and sometimes took them for a ride. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my life is that he never existed. That these systems are only here to serve you if you are okay with the ways things are, complacent with the dehumanization of Poor, Black and Brown people, and oblivious of the exploitation of our planet. 

While institutional racism has always been a cancer in policing, the psychological profile of cops today is beyond disturbing. As former police officer, Dr. Darren M. Slade, writes “the training and culture of law enforcement often turn otherwise “good” people into pragmatic sociopaths who lack any and all empathy for other human beings….A cop is trained to view themselves as  always in charge, always right, and always justified in hurting others – even their own spouses.” This is not the kind of finding that we should turn away from casually. It is a call for all of us to pay attention, push back, and begin to prioritize the kinds of policies that actually bring safety and peace to our lives. 

So what do we do when our rights are under attack? STAND UP FIGHT BACK! I say, #DefendALLorDefundALL,  #EndPoliceSportKilling, #ENDQualifiedImmunity. WE MUST DEMAND police accountability, transparency and oversight.  This is no time to weaken our drive as laws are rapidly being enacted across the U.S. to severely criminalize protestors and label us instead as rioters or domestic terrorists. I am neither.  I am an ACTivist -I take ACTIONS to call this nation I call home to a higher standard.

I began this journey 59 years ago, a perplexed young girl with more questions than answers about the world around me.  Looking to my elders for understanding, their answers just didn’t square with what I was witnessing. I know now more than ever that the kids call me the Bad Ass Grandma because they are used to seeing so many of their elders stay silent in the face of pure evil. That’s not something I’m willing or able to do. I’ve waited and prayed decades for a REVOLuTion. I feared I’d pass on and grieved the prospect of no one to ‘pass the baton’ to. And behold, just in time, this generation of badass activists rose up from the rubble to meet the urgency.

 As I’ve learned, sometimes it is our elders who can show us the way, sometimes it is our young. There is no age limit for seeing the beauty in our world, in one another, in doing what is right, for speaking truth to power, to acting up, and refusing to comply when lives are on the line. I could not be more honored in my twilight years than being lovingly dubbed BadAssGrandma and expanding my family with thousands of eager committed beautiful humans.