Friday, December 19, 2008

Karl Meyer and natural rights

The annual holiday letter from Karl Meyer arrived this week, and he graciously gave permission for it to be posted here. I like what he relates...

December 4, 2008

Dear fellow creatures,

My annual letters often tell stories of being arrested and jailed for trespassing on lands or properties claimed by others, usually in the name of The People of the United States, or subordinate jurisdictions. I confess that I was not arrested anywhere, for anything, this year; yet I still return to my familiar theme with this tale of –

The Trials of the Nashville Greenlands Twenty-Two
(With a tip of the hat to my old friend, Fr. Dan Berrigan, SJ, author of The Trial of the Catonsville Nine)

In these cases the defendants were thirteen rats, eight squirrels, and one juvenile possum, detained and arrested in Havahart traps while trespassing in the vegetable gardens and orchards of our autonomous republic, Nashville Greenlands.

We admit that they were born on these lands, or in territories immediately surrounding us, and have a natural right to be here, yet we claim sovereignty and jurisdiction by virtue of the powers of possession. They ate most of our gooseberries and soybeans, and much of our tomato crop, before we could get control of the situation. Of course, we did not create these crops – we just planted seeds and plants, pulled weeds and mulched a little, and then waited for Earth, sun and rain to do the rest.

I still remember vividly the words of a Catholic priest in Herscher, Illinois, in the spring of 1965, when I walked from Chicago to the State Capitol in Springfield seeking abolition of the death penalty (a goal we reached that year, though only for awhile). He left me standing in pouring rain on the steps of his porch, as he asked me through the screen door between us, “We shoot rats, don’t we ?”

Well, no. We don’t practice capital punishment at Nashville Greenlands. Here is where the irony and the contrasts begin, between the way we treat animal trespassers here, and the experience of protesters, immigrants, homeless people and others arrested in the United States for being in places where they are not allowed to be, such as the soybean fields of Iowa, or the tomato fields of South Florida, where they might be harvesting food for us to eat.

We give each rat or squirrel a prompt hearing, almost always within twelve hours of their original detention. They squeak and squeal in languages we do not understand, but wish we could. Unfortunately, English is the only language understood by the ruling powers here. We sentence them promptly and uniformly to thirty days of unsupervised probation for trespassing and destruction of property valued at less than $1000, and we warn them sternly that they may be sentenced to as much as six months of probation if they are found again on the property here. Then we quickly deport them at least a quarter mile into the fields and woods across the street, into jurisdictions claimed by the State of Tennessee and the United States of America, whence they will have a hard time finding their ways back to us (or so we think).

I admit to being a world class recidivist trespasser myself, though arrested always on properties allegedly belonging to the people : a nuclear missile base under construction in Nebraska; the hallways of federal courthouses while leafleting against the military draft, war taxes and imperial wars; the public wharf at the Bay of LeHavre, the streets of Muhlenbeck just north of East Berlin; a public subway platform in Chicago, while leafleting against a fare increase; a sidewalk in front of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; the steps of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, while inviting the Ambassador to share a meal of rice and lentils equivalent to a typical Iraqi ration during the period of economic sanctions; the grounds of the infamous School of the Americas; the Nashville office of Senator Bill Frist at the start of the current Iraq War. In contrast to our treatment of the Nashville Greenlands Twenty-Two, I have waited in filthy, crowded cells as long as twenty-six hours before seeing a judge for arraignment, as long as seven days in jail waiting for trial, and twice been sentenced to six months in prison for trespassing at military reservations. Of course, this was very mild if compared to recent treatment of people who dared to fight against the invasion of their countries, without being authorized by the U.S. Government, or people who come to this country to cultivate our fields and harvest crops for us, without the right authorization papers.

This year, as usual, I traveled north to Chicago for the autumn season and worked at carpentry repairs for old customers. [...]

Responding to the Housing Finance Crisis

I returned to Nashville, pulled out the cash savings I had been parking temporarily to prop up the flagging fortunes of J.P. Morgan/Chase Bank, and invested in cash purchase of another vacant house in our neighborhood (our fourth so far), that will be restored and owned by our friends Enrique Romero and his father, Felipe, highly skilled building tradesmen from Toluca, Mexico. Thus, a Catholic Worker style, direct action response to the housing finance crisis, sub-prime loans, and the need for affordable housing.

As the year winds down we are organizing locally against a proposed amendment to the Metro Nashville Charter that would make English the only language that could be used in any official actions, communications or publications of all Metro Government bodies.

Despite the inroads of our rodent friends, 2008 has been a year of bumper harvests from our gardens. Freezer, refrigerators and cabinets are full of preserved green beans, onions, beets, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, pears, peaches, cherries, almonds and chestnuts, while the garden cold frames still yield a generous supply of fresh carrots, beets, and greens.

And that’s the news from Nashville Greenlands, where all the men are good looking, all the women are strong, and all living things are held in reverence.

Fraternally, Karl Meyer

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