Dear Ed and Members of the Olympia Community,
RE: An Open Letter to Ed Sorger on the Campus Email, May 23rd 2009 (Mideast Peace Demonstration / Detournement)
This email (below), and the implicit and explicit threats it carries - the threat to quell the right of freedom of expression on our campus, the threat of treating as unlawful those with whom we may disagree, and the threat, in fact, of monitoring and information gathering that is definitional of the phrase "police state" - this is simply unacceptable. Neither I, nor any member of the faculty, staff, and student body, should desire to live in, or work at, a campus where sending such a letter is deemed appropriate. The email itself is indicative of at best poor decision making on your part, Ed. It isn't enough to reply that it is the duty of your office to investigate all complaints that come in. It is also part of Police Service's job to use judgment in determining a) whether the complaint is reasonable, and b) how the complaint, if deemed reasonable by Police Services in consultation with other offices of the College, should be handled. It is clear from the sweeping and general nature of the email (ostensibly a request for any and all information pertinent to the Mideast Peace Demonstration / Detournement of May 13) that Police Services is in fact still trying to determine whether complaints brought to your office are reasonable. This is a backwards, highly subjective, and frightening way, to determine whether a complaint is credible. Certainly anyone with political ideologies contrary to those of the demonstrators / artists are now given legitimacy, ahead of the fact, to voice their complaints. Is your office just too lazy to actually, i.e., tactically on the ground and face to face, investigate threats deemed credible? Why otherwise this fishing expedition?
I do not want to work at an institution where it is perfectly reasonable to go on witch hunts. I do not want to work at an institution that cites criminal statutes during an information gathering communique in order to determine whether those statutes have been broken. That is far worse than simply being presumptuous - the presumption being that the parties are guilty until proven innocent. Why give more credence to those (who?) that have brought complaints than to those who performed in or simply witnessed as audience, without running to your office, the demonstration / detournement? That this email exists suggests a backwards presumption of guilt. However, the wording and citation, lest we were to doubt the insidiousness of it, show a blatant disregard for the rights of the demonstrators / artists. Where's the email to the Evergreen community, if we are treating the event from a foundation of freedom of expression and presumption of innocence, that celebrates these values and mentions the many non-complaints, say, even non-complaints not received by your office? What about the many comments, both written and in conversation, that cite the effectiveness of the demonstration / detournement or the artistry of the work performed, on the part of the demonstrators / artists? Where is that email? Two would be nice, say, fair and balanced. One that is fair and contains this nuance would be better--saves time. None at all from your office at this juncture would be appropriate. As it stands, I wonder how many complaints you received, what the nature of the complaint(s) are, and who made them? I would encourage someone within the Evergreen Community to file a freedom of information request--it'd be one of the few filed that wasn't itself a witch hunt.
I don't recall emails of this nature being sent about the abortion protectors, save for Art Constentino's constant refrain that Evergreen should judge, yes, but cherish our freedoms of speech and expression, that these freedoms, lest they be shattered for all, need be extended out to those with whom many disagree.
But of course, what is perhaps most shocking--demonstrated by this email as well as that complaints have been made at all--is that so many here at Evergreen ignore the important fact that this event was a performance, a detournement, or, if you will, an apparently very effective work of political performance art. A piece, wherein none of the statutes listed in your email, were broken. "Weapons" were clearly toys. Nobody, during the time I was standing by and watching (I was there for most, if not all, of the performance) was obstructed in passage; nobody was threatened either verbally or physically; and there was at no time any sense that would cause an individual or individuals to be placed in "reasonable fear" for their safety. That was part of what made the performance so effective. It managed to disturb us psychically and emotionally and express the sense of blockage of egress, the sense of imminent danger, and of pervasive violence that one, indeed, encounters at military checkpoints. That no laws even came close to being broken should not be surprising; two of the actors in the performance were former U.S. military who operated checkpoints in Afghanistan (now turned peace activists) - they were very wise to plan out the work such that it was clearly a performance, yet gave one the feel of what it might be like to live in an occupied or war-torn region. That we do not face these horrific realities every day (most of us), in my estimation, is what causes us to so easily confuse reality and art. It isn't that we are more sensitive to brutality; it is that we are sensitized Americans used to learning from our televisions. The work was so obviously staged that it pointed to places where all those RCW 9's are not only broken, but non-existent. That we do not critique our own discomfort I find revolting, and yet rather typical.
I urge you, Ed, and all members of the campus community to read Kaia Sand's “Poem/NonPoem” (link below), an article which speaks to the efficacies of political art – its particular urgency in this economy, in “these” times. Sand, a well-known poet who has read here, both for the PRESS Literary Conference and for Evergreen programs, is part of the extended Evergreen “community.” She is also a member of NONSITE COLLECTIVE, a peaceful organization of artists, activists, writers, and alternative learners who seek new ways to do precisely what this group of students managed, in their own way, to do.
http://nonsitecollective.org/node/603 - Kaia Sand, "Poem/NonPoem"
Member of the Faculty
Visiting Professor, Bard College
Editor, Wheelhouse Magazine & Press
At Police Services, we have received many complaints from community members about the demonstration that occurred on campus Wednesday, May 13th. It appears that many people were victimized and I wanted to forward applicable violations of state law regarding this demonstration.
If you believe that you were a victim or have information to share concerning this event and have not done so, please contact Officer April R. Meyers by calling x5151 or emailing her at email@example.com. She will follow up with you as soon as she can.
Director of Police Services
RCW 9.41.270 – Weapons apparently capable of producing bodily harm – Unlawful carrying or handling.
It shall be unlawful for any person to carry, exhibit, display, or draw any […] weapon apparently capable of producing bodily harm, in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.
RCW 9A.46.020 – Harassment
(1) A person is guilty of harassment if:
(a) Without lawful authority, the person knowingly threatens:
(i) To cause bodily injury immediately or in the future to the person threatened or to any other person; or
(iv) Maliciously to do any other act which is intended to substantially harm the person threatened or another with respect to his or her physical or mental health or safety; and
(b) The person by words or conduct places the person threatened in reasonable fear that the threat will be carried out. "Words or conduct" includes, in addition to any other form of communication or conduct, the sending of an electronic communication.
RCW 9A.84.030 – Disorderly conduct
(1) A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if the person:
(a) Uses abusive language and thereby intentionally creates a risk of assault;
(c) Intentionally obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic without lawful authority