”Silence is the greatest of all crimes” By Mickey Z.
An interview with Peace Grandma, Rosemarie Jackowski
I've been extremely fortunate to attract an amazing mix of visitors to my blog...
...a crew self-dubbed "The Expendables." The matriarch of the Expendables is one Rosemarie Jackowski, a 67-year-old grandmother/veteran/writer from Vermont currently facing jail time for participating in an anti-war demonstration in 2003. Her journey from flag-waver to rabble-rouser is a palpable source of inspiration and an excellent illustration of the motivating power of example. When, in a recent e-mail, I wrote to her: "you rock," this was Rosemarie's reply: "Hearing that from you has made my day. Those were the words that my daughter, Christine, said to me after I was arrested. They were very special words that day because she, not too long before, had married into a Republican-type family. She means the world to me and, at the time of my arrest, I was not 100% sure of her reaction."
I interviewed Rosemarie via e-mail on October 23, 2005.
MZ: Why were you protesting and how did you end up in cuffs?
RJ: The date was March 20, 2003. It was my 66th birthday and also the beginning of the intense bombing campaign that our government named, "Shock and Awe." Prior to that date, there had been a big build up by the government. Most people forget that we were threatening the use of nuclear weapons. That is a war crime. On March 20, 2003, there were worldwide protests. In my little town of Bennington, others had planned events. I went to the center of town. There were a lot of people already there. Some others did street theater. I simply stood in silence, with my head bowed, holding my protest sign. It was the most difficult and the most solemn time of my life. Twelve of us were arrested because we were in the road at the main intersection in town.
MZ: What were you charged with?
RJ: The official charge was disorderly conduct with intent to harass and annoy. I was arrested, hand cuffed, booked, finger printed, and photographed. I would like to add here that at all times all of the protesters were peaceful. I often say that those moments, leading up to my arrest, were the most orderly moments of my life. The charge of disorderly conduct places a false image in the minds of many people.
MZ: What happened at the police station?
RJ: The act of conscience was a very solemn time for me but as soon as the man in blue said the magic words, "I will have to arrest you," my mood changed. I had conquered my fear, defeated the life-long held taboo against disobedience, and knew that my job was done for that day. When I arrived at the police station, accompanied by the mighty big guy in blue, he grabbed the protest sign out of my hands. I said, "Why did you do that" and he answered, "Because it's evidence." I said, "I know that it is evidence. It is evidence for me and that's why I need it." He was not impressed. He leaned my sign up against the back door and put me in solitary confinement. The cell was bare except for a built in wooden bench. Bolted into the bench was a set of heavy metal handcuffs. The big guy sat me down on the bench and put the cuffs on me. Then he left.
MZ: They left you all alone?
RJ: Yes, I looked around the cell and thought that it should not be so bare. It definitely needed a woman's touch. Perhaps a picture of Malcolm X would be the perfect decorating accessory. I glanced down to the cuffs that encircled my wrists. I started to examine them because I had never seen a pair close up like this before. Suddenly I realized, that because I am so small, I could easily slip the cuffs off. Ah, I thought, I have invented a new game... slip the cuffs off and then slip them back on. I played my new game for a little while but then the thought of my sign popped into my mind. I suddenly realized that I could slip out of the cuffs, go around the corner, retrieve my sign, and get back into my cell and re-cuff myself. Wow, visions of a jail break danced through my head. I quietly slipped out of the cuffs, tip-toed to the doorway of my cell, looked out, and made a mad dash towards the back door. All I wanted was my sign.
MZ: You didn't actually sneak out, did you?
RJ: Yes, but I soon heard the loudest, booming voice that I had ever heard shout, "Hey, where are you going? Get back in that cell." I told the big guy, who now appeared to be at least seven feet tall, that I just wanted my sign. I went back into my cell and re-handcuffed myself. Soon I was told to go to another room to be booked. During the booking procedure I was asked if I had any tattoos or body piercings. I answered, "No." Then I was asked if I had any aliases or was known by any other name. I first answered, "No" but then corrected myself and said, "Yes, sometimes I am called 'Mom.'" Throughout all of the proceedings, I continued to ask for the return of my sign. They kept refusing. Finally I told them that if they did not return my sign to me, the law required that they at least give me a receipt for it. I did not know if I was on firm legal ground there but it worked. I was given a receipt. Then, as I was about to leave the police station through the back door, one of the officers insisted that I go out the front door. I didn't know why but as I emerged through the door I was greeted by a group of supporters who waited and cheered each protester as he came out. It was a wonderful moment. I was asked to give a statement. I was not prepared for that but still remember what I said, "Bring the troops home now. We need them here to protect us from the government."
MZ: After hearing about all this, it's hard to believe you were once in the armed forces. Can you explain that transformation?
RJ: When I graduated from high school, I was filled with patriotism. I was a real flag waver. I believed everything that I had been taught. I was a total pacifist and that is how I wound up in the military. Hard to believe, I know. It was not until I was in my early 30's that I started to realize that what I had believed, all of my life was wrong. I felt betrayed by the system, by the schools, by the culture, etc. Since then, I have dedicated my life to unlearning what I had been taught in my younger years. It is one reason that I feel so strongly about what is happening in the schools now.
MZ: I'm not sure I understand how being a pacifist led you to the military.
RJ: I had been so brainwashed that I believed all of the propaganda about the U.S. military being the main protector of peace on the planet. Also, remember that this was before the Internet. Access to alternative publications was very limited. The flow of information is much different today.
MZ: Are you still a pacifist?
RJ: I am no longer a total pacifist. Because of the Shock and Awe bombing campaign and because I have seen the photographs of children with their heads blown apart by U.S. cluster bombs, I now believe that all of us must work to protect the lives of innocent civilians... in the words of Malcolm X, "By any means necessary."
MZ: Does your journey-from "brainwashed" to handcuffed-give you hope that others can make the same transitions?
RJ: Because I had been so affected by my school experience, I think that it gives me an advantage when I speak with students now. I have a genuine respect for the young people who hold different world views. I understand how they got where they are in their thought process because I was there once. I find it very easy to identify with and bond with some of the most right-wing students.
MZ: You certainly have genuine credibility as a veteran of both the military and the anti-war movement. Where do things stand now, re: your trial?
RJ: I was tried and convicted. The jury deliberated less than 10 minutes, which says something about the jury system. I have appealed the conviction in the Vermont Supreme Court. Currently, I wait for the decision of the court. If I win the appeal, the government will retry me. If I lose the appeal, I will probably go to prison.
MZ: If they offer you the chance to perform community service, will you choose that option?
RJ: No, and there is a reason. I have chosen to live the rest of my life in opposition, as long as the government continues to kill civilians. As I have stated in my courtroom speech, I and many others would gladly live the rest of our lives in prison if the U.S. would only stop bombing civilians. If I go to prison, I will be a model prisoner. That is different than performing community service. I do perform community service in many ways, but will refuse to perform government mandated community service. I see a big difference there.
MZ: I think many will saw you were performing community service on March 20, 2003. What can readers do to offer support?
RJ: I often say that even though a jury found me guilty, my trial was a success because the CBS-TV channel in Albany that covered the trial showed my photographs of the bombed Iraqi children on the news that night. More than anything, I want everyone to look at those photographs, which are available on the Robert Fisk site. About what will happen to me, I don't know. I would suggest letters to the editors of Vermont newspapers, but I know that most of the papers just refuse to publish them. I have been receiving a lot of support and it has made a big difference. No one will ever know how much I appreciate it. I am open for any ideas that anyone else has.
MZ: Any closing thoughts?
RJ: I just want to thank you and so many others who have offered support. I know that this is not about me. U.S. foreign policy has inflamed the passions of so many around the world. Now is a time in history when silence is the greatest of all crimes.
These are images Rosemarie mentions:
Mickey Z is the author of several books, most recently, "50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know: Reclaiming American Patriotism" (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at: http://www.mickeyz.net/