Homeland Security Spending: a Dallas Case Study

During the past fours years, activists in Dallas have pounded the pavement. We have protested continuously in front of Halliburton, the Dallas Morning News, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office, and recently, in the vicinity of the Federal Building where recruiters bring those being recruiter to sign papers. Of all the various permutations of confrontation that have been experienced, May 4, 2006, stands out as an especially noteworthy day.

Local law enforcement in the Dallas jurisdiction has done a remarkable job in creating and maintaining a neutral environment that allows us make our peace in very public ways. While it may be true that Senator Hutchison’s office has used the local police to keep any suspected dissenters off the premises by having them barricade the entrance and issue criminal trespass warnings, things have been relatively unscary.

Unscary, meaning, you can see excessive force coming. For example, when the SWAT team was positioned on the roof of the Senator’s office, they were easy to see from a distance.

What was the occasion for for the stepped up and elevated protection? Was it because the Roots and Shoots home school kids were having yet another combination birthday party-political action outside the Senator’s office?

No. Cindy Sheehan was on site.

The night before she had attended a banquet and received an outstanding service award from our local peace center. She was so worn out from all her speaking engagements, she really had no desire or moxie to get within range. Also true is the fact that she, like the Senator, has planes to catch and people to meet.

All of this changed yesterday. Two of the sisters from Women in Black were doing what we have been doing every Thursday since January 2006: From noon until 12:45, we stand on the public sidewalk outside the Federal Building and offer GI Rights pamphlets to those being recruited. We have signage that reads: “Is Your Recruiter Lying?”

Though no formal polls have been taken, most people exiting or entering the building, some in uniform, have shaken their head in agreement that military recruiters, do indeed, lie.

Yesterday, two of us were standing in the same place we always do when three Homeland Security cars hurriedly zoomed in. The first car came up so fast that the front wheel on the passenger side rode up on the curb He got out and approached rapidly, demanding to see our permit for protesting on Federal property.

When we began explaining our understanding of the law, that is, where we had been told by local law enforcement we could stand legally, he let us know right away that we were in a whole new realm; these cats supersede any agency. Period.

This is a hard jolt of reality. Dallas chapter of Women in Black prides itself on serious activism. This includes knowing the law and walking to the edge of it. We know intentionally breaking the law leaves immediate room for harassment and arrest. We have a general awareness that the moment a citizen can be identified as a dissenter, an obvious breaker from the status quo, the harassment will come on its own accord whether a person is actually break the law or not. Women in Black likes to cut down on this sort of thing so we can actually do the work we have set out to do; as of today, we will just have to try harder.

At this junction, I should probably not talk about the specifics of the harassment and the eventual ticketing, but I will say, we were truly scared because we knew in that moment that peace-loving activists in Dallas will no longer be afforded the “see it coming” protection we have assumed for so long.

Next week, we will return at the same time and the same day. We will be joined by other sister organizations in the Dallas area.

LARAY POLK is an artist, activist and founder of the Dallas chapter of Women in Black. She can be contacted at laraypolk@earthlink.net