July 30, 2010

Bushell’s Case

In my previous blog post, I noted that I was dismissed from jury duty by the judge. Judge Richard Klaus had a series of standard questions that he asked of all the potential jurors. I had heard the questions during my first day of jury duty, so I had had a chance to think about them when it came my turn to answer them mid-week. They included the basic tenets of innocent until proven guilty and that the defendant does not have to testify, which I agree with. There was a question about whether I would give equal weight to all witnesses, police officers included. Yes, indeed. Then came the question that I could not answer in the affirmative: would I follow the instructions of the judge and apply the law, whether I agreed with it or not? Honestly, no.

I believe in the rule of law. I do not think people should punch others in the face, much less rape or kill each other. Yet there are a lot of bad laws on the books; generally I try to challenge them through the political process. But there’s another way to challenge the law, and it is called jury nullification. If a juror or jury does not want to enforce the law, Bushell’s case from the 17th century provides a precedent for them to “nullify” the law, regardless of the judge’s instructions. Bushell’s case arose from a trial of the Quaker William Penn and his co-defendant, William Mead, in 1670 in London. They were accused of unlawful assembly. The jury in the trial returned a verdict of “not guilty,” which the judge did not like, so the judge had them locked up and fined! Most of the jurors, after several weeks, paid the fine, but Edward Bushell refused. He subsequently challenged the case in the Court of Common Pleas and Chief Justice John Vaughan ruled that the detention and fine were contrary to law.

I wrote an article about this case in 1981 called “Does Conscience Matter More Than Law?” in Update on Law-Related Education, when I worked for the American Bar Association in Chicago. I am being lazy here and quoting myself: “The liberty of the jury to decide as it sees fit–even if it decides differently than the judge would or ignores the law in coming to its verdict–is central to our system of justice. Juries introduce a wild card into the system, but one that is necessary if the system is to have public support.” I still agree with what I wrote thirty years ago (and with Judge Vaughan), so I told Judge Klaus that I might not follow his instructions. He said, “Ma’am, you may go.” I have to say, I was a bit disappointed.

Bushell’s case got quite a bit of attention in the 1960s when juries refused to convict draft resisters; of course, jurors could also ignore laws that I believe should be enforced–thus I am unsure (along with a lot of others) about informing jurors about Bushell’s case. It seems worth stressing, though, that the jury is a political as well as a legal institution. To quote myself again: “Jurors must, as the conscience of the community, be permitted to look at more than the mere letter of the law.”

September 4, 2009

Aim High

Aim High poster

Aim High poster

I have been obsessing about this challenge today. This photo, taken by a student in a first-year class that I am co-teaching, captures it well. There’s the goal on a pole, but the pole is rusty and without a top. The conflict I feel is that the efforts I and many others make to “engage” with “community” fall so far short of appropriate responsive-ability (as Meiling Cheng called it in her book, In Other Los Angeleses) that I almost don’t want to aim at all. Meiling meant that reciprocity in relationships–built on trust with some equity of power if not equality–is crucial for partnerships that address key social concerns. The homeless know about being homeless, I do not. The poor know about poverty, I do not. The hungry know about hunger that I can only imagine, and not very well. Compassion and empathy of course matter.  Listening matters. But when it comes to action, how do we create a give-and-take that taps into economic and social resources without taking away power from those who must access it to move out of painful, systemically-nurtured situations? How can I be part of the solution and not part of the problem? It takes courage to “aim high” because one so often misses the mark. So many people have no choice but to keep on aiming, despite the high failure rate. Giving up is not an option.

March 14, 2008

The Elusive Urbana Public Arts Commission

On Monday March 10 the Urbana (IL) City Council tabled consideration of creating a public arts commission. This was somewhat discouraging for the public arts task force. At least the Council didn’t vote it down. For what it is worth, here’s what I wrote to the Council about the importance of supporting the arts in Urbana (and the world.) I have added some images and I was fortunate enough tonight to see the play by Ruth Nicole Brown, “Endangered Black Girls.” (It was a really packed house.)

The public arts task force has worked for the past year on crafting an arts commission structure and mission that I believe will put Urbana on the map for its leadership in supporting the arts and for its recognition that the arts are integral to a healthy, vibrant community, economically and otherwise.

As an arts educator, I have had the opportunity to work in art-related fields for over twenty years. I use the term “art” broadly and would like to share three examples of how the arts
-not only offer students new ways to communicate and thrive,
-not only offer people compelling reasons to move here and remain in town, and
-not only offer visitors reasons to return to Urbana,
BUT ALSO how the arts contribute significantly to addressing issues of common concern. The arts are not an “extra” except in the sense that they are often extraordinary in their ability to draw people into conversation, into action, into new understandings.

Current local artistic activities include powerful expressions, but they occur because of the dedicated commitment on the part of a few. Forty North is an important partner in some of these activities, but that organization, too, would benefit from municipal recognition of their efforts. Often, local artists produce one-time events by cobbling together support from existing groups, but there is no continuity, no public rehearsal space, and few affordable outlets for youngsters to learn music, dance and visual art, for example.

EXAMPLE #1: This week the Inner Voices Social Issues Theatre (sponsored by UIUC Counseling Center, McKinley Heath Center, and the Department of Theatre) is performing the work of a local playwright, Ruth Nicole Brown, called “Endangered Black Girls,” based on the lives of local young women, at the Armory Free Theatre. While it is fantastic that this play is being produced, we need more of this sort of contribution. The time to understand what Dr. Brown’s work has to communicate is now as WILL’s Youth Media Workshop has made abundantly clear. Young people in our town do not see the community as offering any resources to help them achieve their goals. Angela Evans, who almost single-handedly coordinates “Black Stars” for girls has told me that she is desperate for accessible rehearsal space, for instance. Making space for these activities is supporting the arts in ways that are not happening now.

EXAMPLE #2: Cecilia Vicuña, a Chilean artist, has been collecting seeds from native plants since 1973. This 35-year project is part science, part art, part politics, in that after her exile from Chile in 1973, she moved to England and continued to collaborate with scientists there to promote plantings that would stop the denuding and erosion of the central areas in Chile with which she was most familiar. She has continued to promote her work through the publication of her poems, through public speaking, and through her sculptures and performances. She now regularly returns to Chile from California. This too is art and this too fosters change for the better, I believe.

EXAMPLE #3: California-based artist Suzanne Lacy worked for ten years in Oakland, California, on a series of workshops and performances that involved local youth. One of the key areas of concern in that diverse city was the tension between young people and police. Lacy creatively mixed parades, video interviews, basketball games, and face-to-face conversations between young people and police officers (1991-2001) to create awareness of different viewpoints, funding for youth activities, and roles for young people in creating policies that affected and supported them. This too is art.

With these examples, I hope I have shown how diverse artistic activities may be, how they can appeal to a wide range of people, how they promote new attitudes that increase human potential. Urbana needs a public art commission for all these reasons. Thank you.

November 24, 2007

The Political Equator 2

Champaign, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana, and then back again. I was really tired when I got home.
The idea of this event was truly fascinating: “an exploration of the intersection between sociopolitical and natural domains, foregrounding the notion of collective territory, but also a territory of collaboration that transgresses hemispheric boundaries. At the core of such trans-hemispheric sociopolitical and economic dynamics is the conflict between transcontinental borders and the natural and social ecologies they interrupt and seek to erase.” So many interesting folks came together for this mobile symposium, but the end result was disappointing. It took a lot of energy just to move 80-100 people around, and the logistics of being able to hear, have time to pee and eat, and still have time for dialogue were too much. So maybe Political Equator 3 will allow for more time, more silence, more women, and less strutting. The highpoints for me were the show that Nick Brown and Ava Bromberg put together at LACE, “Just Spaces,” and then the bus tour of Tijuana, which was a city I had never seen before. But I came home still wanting to know about the community of San Ysidro, just on the border, and what actually might be happening with the Tijuana River and the watershed in that area. There were no specifics; just a lot of architects and artists networking in what Sarah Kanouse rightly called “transnational intellectual stars.”
On the flight home I read T.C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain, a chilling and powerful depiction of undocumented workers nose-to-nose with the wealthy folks who live off their labor.

November 19, 2007

Teddy, Tacos and Talk

One man after another, talking and talking. The tacos were fantastic and Teddy Cruz must be thirty times more tired than I am. What energy and passion that man puts out, bilingually and all over the map. At the start of our journey from LA, Teddy noted our tendency to “hide beneath weird complexity.” It just stayed complex for the next four days…fascinating, frustrating, and fragmented. Probably no other way it could have gone, with 120 people trailing after Teddy’s enthusiasms. Metro, train, trolley, walking, buses, and more walking. Definitely the weirdest for me was the HaudenschildGarage in La Jolla. Suzanne Lacy said she collected “language”–phrases like “archipelago of enclaves” and “critical insertion.” I met Ava Bromberg, New York-based urban planner Al Wei, CCA architecture student John Manzo, Tijuana architect Rene Peralta (who contributed to Here is Tijuana), Emily Scott of the LA Urban Rangers, Christina McPhee, Christina Ulke of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, many of Suzanne Lacy’s students, and enjoyed time with Sarah Kanouse, Nick Brown, Monica Mayer and Suzanne. Almost as a corrective to the train ride from Los Angeles to San Diego, and the party that night in La Jolla (which was over the top), was my bus ride across LA on Sunday, on the Number 33 city bus along Venice Blvd. It felt everyday, and slow…19.62 miles according to Mapquest.

October 23, 2007

Community Informatics

My friend, the artist Ryan Griffis, took this photograph of a telephone pole covered with staples and bits of paper from fliers, posters, and remnants of announcements past. With it, I am trying to capture the essence of community informatics–a phrase that brings a puzzled look to many a face. This is an image of messy vitality, of conviviality. Imagine the meetings, the missing pets, the items for sale, and the interconnections that all these staples represent. This image probably does not “sell” community informatics adequately, but perhaps it will prompt others to choose their own depiction. What follows is a list of phrases that I came up with in an effort to get at some key concepts of CI.


September 16, 2007

Arlene, Love, and Flares in Community

Arlene Goldbard posted a new message for Rosh HaShanah on her blog. Here’s an excerpt that rings true for me:

“I know someone who has been saying that the world offends him. He means that our society seems off-course, with unworthy people exercising social power while many who desire a more just and merciful world despair of affecting things. Like many of us, he works in what they call the helping professions. He sees people with willing hearts and abundant gifts who have acquired the habit of dialing themselves down, accommodating themselves to a diminished world. They stop expressing the fullness of their dreams, bringing their creative power to bear on their communities, or asking people to meet them in a higher and deeper place, because they no longer believe these things are possible. Then they have a lot of trouble loving the shrunken or distorted self that is the residue of their disappointment.

To me, the deepest value of spiritual community is the way it can support us in remembering who we really are, in drawing on our highest and most remarkable selves to regain our power to heal ourselves and the world.”

Last night we lit flares in memory of Cope’s father. Seven of us watched the amazing light shift and sputter and change colors. We talked about Plato’s ideas of color, Harry’s love of life, and I thought of Laurie Long too.