On May 20 I was arrested for yelling “liar” and “warmonger” at Tony Blair as he spoke to the graduating one percenters at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, 50 miles from my Bangor home. As the cops led me away, before they arrested me, I calmly led fully 4-6 of them in a serpentine pattern weaving in and out of a line of planted stately trees. It took them about four or five trees to figure out I was yanking their chain. And as they led me away I continued to yell. Hence my arrest.
Much to my surprise the news shot around the world, thanks largely to an AP story that cited Blair’s current faux job of negotiating a solution to the Palestine problem. Never mind that he supported Israel’s 2008-2009 war on the people of Gaza.
The story of my arrest made papers in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Ukraine, Iran and Ghana. And it made the front page of the Bangor Daily News, my hometown paper, replete with my name and mug shot. That’s when things got interesting.
The next day I showed up for a previously scheduled substitute teaching gig at Hampden Academy, a public high school in Hampden, Maine, where I had been a substitute teacher for more than eight years. Before first period I was asked by a school administrator to keep a low profile. I agreed to do this, and I did. During the course of the day a half-dozen or so students asked me why I had protested Blair, and in a few short, calm sentences I told them. They uniformly supported me, and the students in general were more vocally and demonstrably friendly than normal that day.
The next day I got a call from a local TV reporter who said she had heard I might be fired from my sub job because of the Tony Blair incident, and she asked to interview me. Thinking it might be an opportunity to further publicize Tony Blair’s war crimes, I agreed.
I was wrong. All the reporter cared about was the possibility of my being fired. All my efforts to direct the interview back to the real issue at hand quickly and inexorably found their way to the floor of the editing room. The Iraq war is old news. It doesn’t sell.
Bright and early the next morning I called my supervisor at Hampden Academy and asked to come in and speak with him. My request was granted. In that meeting I was told that I was innocent until proven guilty but that my presence at Hampden Academy had produced a “carnival-like atmosphere” and that this was not needed.
In other words I had been fired. So much for innocent until proven guilty.
I had been called to sub 12 of the 16 school days prior to my arrest. After my arrest I did not get called for six straight days and I emailed the school in an attempt to clarify my status. I received a reply asking me to call the school and I did. I was then told that I should apply to sub elsewhere and that the school wanted things to “calm down a little bit.”
So I went public. In the week following my arrest the Bangor Daily News ran no less than three op-eds about my arrest, one of them by me. A local talk radio station had me on. And there was the aforementioned TV report. Clearly there was media interest in the story.
I fired off a press release, and I got two bites and one nibble that has yet to play out. The Bangor Daily News wrote an online piece that will likely make its print edition, and the same TV reporter called and interviewed me again.
Some people are a little slow to learn, and I am apparently one of them. Again I thought this would be an opportunity to talk about a war that has killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, has killed almost 5,000 Americans, has gravely wounded some 30,000 Americans, has wrought considerable environmental destruction, and has utterly squandered an estimated $3 trillion of national wealth. Meanwhile Hampden Academy is laying off personnel.
But the media cares not one whit about all this. As had happened the week before, they wanted to talk only of my firing and the mechanics of my arrest, not the real issue at hand – Blair’s extremely costly lies.
And so ends my more than eight years of unblemished subbing at Hampden Academy. In January I was fired from my other job after my heavy and much publicized involvement with Occupy Bangor. I was simply told my services were not needed for the time being, until further notice, but that I would be called back at some point. But when the state Department of Labor investigated my unemployment claim it was told the law firm had no intention of calling me back. And so it is that for the last eight years of my work life I can expect no reference letters.
As devout CounterPunch readers may know, my father was fired from his professorship at George Washington University because he was a member of the Communist Party when he was a doctoral student in history at Harvard. None other than J. Edgar Hoover himself was on the GWU board of trustees at the time, and he insisted on vetting all applicants for professorships. I have thought about that quite a bit in this last week, and I have come to the conclusion that given 100 chances I would do what I did 100 times.
But I will say this. To all Occupiers, and to all others who will buck the system that will, if unchecked, take this world down. Do not have the least bit of faith that any venue of the mainstream media will convey even a shred of the message you wish to convey if you give it the least bit of an alternative. Do not get sucked into the interview trap. If your actions are interesting they may want to cover it. If they are not, they won’t. Give them the message you want to convey – and only the message you want to convey, nothing more – in written form. Supply them with your phone number, but unless you really know them and trust them – and unless they are not MSM – avoid at all costs the interview trap. Simply refer them to your written statement. Only in this manner can you shift the focus from the no-issues, horse race syndrome that so infects our political process.
Lawrence Reichard is a resident of Bangor, Maine, and an activist with Occupy Bangor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.