Monday, January 18, 2010
A letter to Federalist Society friends from the John Yoo event
Lindsay is a great young Catholic Worker. She has already impressed me with her always cheerful demeanor, and quiet and strong spirituality. I thank her for this powerful letter, which reminds me what it's all about.
Lindsay Hagerman, New York, NY
Friday, January 15, 2010: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday
Dear Roman, Simone, Greg, Phil, David, and the rest of the people who shared a table with me at John Yoo's talk this afternoon:
I wish I had enough foresight to hand you a note when I left our table. Since I did not, I am left to pray that this letter reaches each of you.
This afternoon at twelve o'clock, I joined your table in the center of the banquet room for John Yoo's book signing and luncheon/talk. We chatted for about a half an hour until the speaking began. Soon after John began to speak, my friend Bob stood up by his table behind us. Some of you looked back and saw him standing silently with a black hood over his head, holding a sign that read "Indefinite Detention = Torture = Illegal." After about two minutes, a security guard asked Bob to leave the room and Bob complied. I waited a few more minutes then I excused myself from our table and stepped into the center aisle. I made sure that I stood directly in John Yoo's line of vision. I pulled a black hood from my purse and put it over my head. I silently stood holding a large piece of paper that read: "Legal arguments cannot mask torture." I silently prayed for you, for me, for John, for the victims of torture around the world, and for all of our families.
Before I had time for much else, a security guard grabbed my waist. With the guard behind me, I very slowly processed with hood and sign until I left the room. During that slow walk, I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed for forgiveness from God and from torture victims throughout history. I prayed for all of us in that room, including myself, who are or have been complicit with the sin of torture, whether in our presence or in our names.
In the stairwell as I was leaving to join the outside demonstration, I sent up a prayer of gratitude for Dr. King's life, for his work, and for the opportunity I had today to express my love for all of God and Her creation.
Even though we clearly disagree in our opinion of John Yoo's work, I genuinely enjoyed our conversations and would love to have more opportunities to share back and forth. Unfortunately, there were times in a couple conversations where I was not able to be forthright with you, especially when some of you asked me questions to which honest answers may have "outed" me as a protester. I regret having "deceived" you and want you to know that the vast majority of information I shared about myself was truthful.
My name is Lindsay Hagerman. I am 26 years old and was raised in Dallas, Texas. I graduated from Highland Park High School (an elite public school in a very white, very Republican community). I graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA and then did my graduate work in American history at the University of Delaware. It is true that I have relatives that have urged me to go to law school. I do live and work at a House of Hospitality for homeless women and children in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Roman, I was moved by something you shared with me from your years at Stanford Law School during the Vietnam War. You spoke with resentment about protesters who repeatedly called you a "fascist." I mourn how name-calling from all sides undermines our ability to understand one another. I have continued to reflect on your story, as well as conversations I had with others of you, and here are a couple more things I want you to understand about me and what I did today:
I am like you. No matter how much you may want to lock me away in the neat and tidy "protestor" stereotype, I feel "at home" with you. Sitting at that table, even I was taken aback by the ease with which I slipped back into the "polite" social norms of "my past." You reminded me of members of my family, people in my neighborhood growing up, classmates and friends of mine. Despite Yoo's joke about his students (caricatured as Jon Stewart-watching liberal activists) not doing their homework, I did mine. I did it well in "good schools" with a large percentage of conservative teachers and professors. But the more I tried to understand the experiences of poor people and people of color, the more I questioned basic fundamental "truths" I'd been raised to believe. Before long James Baldwin's words rang true with me:
"People who imagine that history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world. This is the place in which it seems to me, most white Americans find themselves. Impaled. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence."
When we embrace "torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" as acceptable methods for dealing with any human being, we embrace incoherence. I don't see any of you or John Yoo as evil—to the contrary, you are my brothers and sisters. I love you too much to stand by while you continue to impale yourselves and destroy the lives of our other brothers and sisters. I had a moral obligation to act as I did today precisely because I can "pass" in settings like a Federalist Society gathering.
Please, please feel free to contact me next time you're in New York City. I would love to take any of you out for coffee or tea. Either way, my prayers are with you.