Creative Nonfiction: The Unfinished Protest

By Christy Tending

You get pinched before you make it to the door. The car following you wasn’t all in your head. They really are out to get you. The bank shuts itself down before you can chain it closed. The cops beat you at your own game and blockade the entrance before you can get in place. There is something tragic in an unfinished protest. To blockade a building, you could stand shoulder to shoulder or could link arms or legs. But I prefer a lockbox. It is appropriately intimidating especially if you have, as I do at first glance, the badass quotient of a newborn lamb. It is also strong enough to withstand someone trying to break your arm. (Or so I’ve heard.)
Begin with a pvc tube. (Perhaps you want something stronger, like steel, but unless you have a strong welding background, I recommend starting with the pvc.) Test it to make sure you can get your arm inside. If you’ll be outside, make sure you can fit your arm inside while wearing a raincoat. Drill two holes in the round tube halfway between the two cut edges, straight through. Screw a bolt through the two holes, and secure the bolt with duct tape (to hold it in place and make sure that no one snags themselves on the bolt). Stick your arm in the tube and grab onto the pin. The edge of the tube should rest in the crook of your elbow. Now, cover the box in white painters tape and write your message on the tube: Climate Justice Now! NO on SB 1080! (Your mileage may vary.)
The unfinished protest will always have a whisper of what might have been: a conspiracy interrupted. Evidence not of the crime, but of your failure, of the limits of a person’s willingness to put it on the line, maybe. It will become the anecdote you will use in trainings to illustrate your point. A hard-won lesson. And you will try to make it mean something, so that it can exist as something other than the shame of failure and timidity that lives in your little rabbit heart.
So try not to get pinched.
Sometimes they’re trying to pull your arm out of the lockbox before you’ve even had a chance to sit down. The quickest blockade deployment I’ve ever done was eight seconds. The security guard didn’t even make it out from behind the desk. To actually lock yourself into the lockbox, you’ll need two carabiners and two smallish lengths of cord, knotted into a circle and tied to the carabiner. Loop the cord around your wrist, stick your arm into the lockbox and clip the carabiner to the pin in the middle of the box.
How do they get you out of the box? Like a magic trick; they think they know the secret. The jaws of life. An angle grinder. But then, at the last minute, Ah! You find the trick to the puzzle box. You unclip before grinder meets flesh.
Sometimes, they don’t know what’s coming. People in San Francisco know too much. Everyone is, perhaps, a little too prepared. So if you want to buy yourself a little distraction, fill the lockbox with flowers. And decorate it with gift wrap. It will look like a bouquet. At the last moment, rip the paper and cast the flowers to the marble floor of the lobby. As you sit for hours, you will feel like a celebrated diva as the flowers slowly wilt.
At one Wells Fargo shareholder meeting, we never got to unwrap our bouquets. We never locked down. We never had to unclip or turn around to have plastic cuffs applied. Never had to be fingerprinted or sign a citation. But we all went for lunch afterward anyway, stealing fries from each others’ plates.
There is something empty about an unfinished protest. A hunger nothing can satisfy but another crime.