What If They Threw a Trial and Nobody Came?

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Angelo Mike's writing always inspires me. His latest column on jury 'dooty' is no different. When reading it, I immediately sensed the creepy coercion inherent in government and the good citizens who worship it. The feelings of revulsion I get from government are worse than ones I get from seeing a snake slither, an adult abusing a child, or gory road kill, perhaps because it is on such a massive scale as to be incomprehensible. 'Stockholm Syndrome and the State' brought back memories of my own painful interaction with the 'just us' system, as well as a few chuckles. I'm glad I can laugh about it now; at the time, there was only outrage.

Tyranny is like a frightening but memorable episode of 'The Twilight Zone.' In it, an innocent-looking, little, blond girl could make people permanently disappear if they didn't cater to her every whim. She'd smile and say, 'You'd better be nice to me!'

In a similar vein, government buildings are constructed to appear official and upstanding with large, stately columns. There must be justice within them! Look at the fancy architecture! They spare no expense! (Isn't it easy to spend other people's money?) Government must really care--everything inside is done in such an official, orderly fashion that it must be good, right and fair. Good citizens have been going along with government pretense for so long that they're not even aware they only do so out of fear. When pressed, they will admit that it's not perfect, but they'll defend it by saying that it's better government than can be found in other places in the world. That's not saying much. People willingly pay for fertilizer too; that doesn't change what it is.

I had first been summoned by the powers that be soon after the birth of my first child, some 18 years ago. I resented the hell out of the fact that some powerful, anonymous entity could, from out of nowhere, step into my life and try to make me 'dance,' like in the old West when a bully would shoot at someone's feet. I never thought that was funny either. It was like a bad episode of 'Star Trek' where the voyagers beamed themselves onto a planet that seemed normal, but was actually run by an invisible, powerful, arbitrary, childish being for his own pleasure. Does this sound like government to you?

The summons contained a lengthy questionnaire. The state wanted to know all about me. If I didn't answer all the questions truthfully and reply on time, I could be arrested and fined. It was truly criminal. In fact, I couldn't have had a more violent reaction if the return address had said ' IRS ' rather than 'U.S. District Court,' and the IRS is as scary as it gets for me. They have so many guns!

Besides the prima facie horror of the situation, the court was located in downtown Detroit . You can imagine the parking, expense and traffic hassles, not to mention the thought of putting my life in jeopardy just to get there.

At the time, I was breast-feeding my baby. The state expected me to put his health and well being on hold so that I could serve them. What kind of fool attempts strong-arm interference between a mama and her baby? The state could do a lot of harm to me and get away with it, but make a move against my baby and you'll see the claws come out.

I knew the state would not hesitate to use deadly force to teach me a lesson or make an example of me if it so chose. The thought of being imprisoned and thus separated from my infant didn't work for me, either. All other good reasons aside, there was absolutely no way that the one person I loved most in this world was going to be traumatized for the smooth working of the machine of the state. If he grew up and chose to make himself fodder for the criminals in Washington , that would be his choice, but as a babe in arms, it was mine and it was going to happen over my dead body! All last illusions of justice evaporated for me. The state had drawn a line in the sand and now I was at war.

The first notice I'd gotten was friendly, almost an invitation, if you can overlook the prying questions and mild threats, nothing personal, mind you. The verbiage in the jury summons was almost as if they were asking me not to inconvenience the state by forcing it to issue a bothersome bench warrant for my arrest. (Insert Twilight Zone tune here: do-do, do-do, do-do, do-do. I hear this music a lot ' every time I read that a politician has decided to 'do something' about any 'problem.')

The notice of jury summons was not unlike an invitation to a 'party' where you need to bring your checkbook (Tupperware, Longaberger, books, purses, lingerie, etc.). At these 'parties' (sorry, ladies, but no man has ever issued me such an invitation), women think it's ok to 'invite' their friends to buy things for their own gain. Is the abhorrent practice of voting goodies for yourself at the expense of others so different? (How many seniors and welfare moms are living off your paycheck?) Government was inviting me to a fancy 'party,' but I had traded in my statist ball gown for a nursing robe and was in no mood for dancing.

The second notice was not nearly as friendly--more like an irritated parent reminding you to do your chores or else. On the last day, I filled it out in ink rather than pencil as instructed. Could that get me 30 days in the County Hilton ? I was so angry when I colored in the little dots that tiny tears appeared all over the computer-legible form. Some bureaucrat must have decided that it wasn't worth bothering to process by hand, and I never heard from that particular bureaucracy again. For every stupid law there will always be a way out for people who insist on being free, and there are a lot of stupid laws.

Government goes to great lengths to pretend that everything is fair. The next time I was officially 'summoned,' my son was feeding himself. A slightly different bureaucracy actually got me into the building. (There is no danger of extinction of these animals.) I felt like a head of cattle. My lot wasn't the worst, though, and my time not completely wasted.

I struck up a conversation with the fellow seated next to me--the one person of color in a room of 150 or so people. He told me he was sick of being called for jury duty every two years since he turned 18 (what the powers that be have 'legally' decided that they can do to you. See what you get for applying for a driver's license?) He also told me that he'd been 'randomly' selected out of 150 to actually sit on the jury every single time.

I asked him if he really thought that he could be one of 12 randomly chosen people picked out of 150 every time, or was he 'randomly' chosen because he was black? I only asked because I could see that the question was already there in his eyes and in his mind. I handed him a nice little pamphlet entitled 'Jury Nullification,' which is produced by The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA.) I'm sure he kept showing up for his summonses because he was afraid of ending up just another black man in the prison system. Sure enough, he was 'randomly' selected to sit on this jury as well.

I left another copy on my seat at the end of the day. We were generously paid $15 for the day--taxable, naturally. What an insult! Fifteen bucks hardly covers gas and parking, provided I possessed transportation at all. My time was apparently worth nothing to the state.

No car? That's no excuse from being summoned by the omnipotent state. Find yourself a ride there (an hour drive, one way) and back. On which day it will be, and at what time we may allow you to leave, we can't say. Small children? Tough ' find yourself a free sitter indefinitely at a day's notice. You're a sole proprietor of your own business? That's too bad for you; nothing can interfere with the working of the government. Your duty is to the omnipotent state. You have been chosen.

My time in the Libertarian Party brought me my last jury summons. During my spin around the political dance floor with the LP, I ran for office. Naturally, such a good citizen's name gets flagged for jury 'dooty.' The LP isn't totally without merit--it is where I learned of jury nullification and obtained the FIJA forms.

An LP lawyer told me never to ignore a jury summons. I did. I think it's high time other people did too. Isn't civil disobedience our real duty? What if they threw a trial and nobody came? Eventually they'd have to stop arresting us because there would be no jury, no room left in jails and no wages left to confiscate to pay for it all. The farce of a justice system we have in this country would fold faster than a fiat currency.

When I came of age, I was not nearly as psychologically free as I consider myself to be now. Since then, I have filed numerous forms, instructions, summonses and commands from on high into the kitchen trash bin. I even inspired a friend to do the same with her jury summons, and assured her that the state police were not on the lookout for her license plate (luckily they're a bit too busy minding other people's business--we're all criminals now.) We were so successful that we inspired another young friend to similarly 'file' his notice for registry with the Selective Service, which carries a possible five-year prison sentence and quarter million dollar fine. He's pretty sure they'll be sending another one, and another . . . .

Civil disobedience is contagious--catch it! By simply following the directive of my own heart, I've inspired people around me to do the same. I hate to brag, but as I'm already tooting my own horn here, last but not least, I was once kicked out of a courtroom for laughing! My spiritual teacher told me that he was proud of me--that more people should laugh at pompous displays of self-importance. It is, after all, our responsibility to expose the nakedness of the emperor government. Yea, a little courage and 'eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.' (John Curran) What are you waiting for?

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Retta Fontana's picture
Columns on STR: 53

Retta Fontana is an atheist, anarchist, baker, potter and parenting teacher.  Children are her favorite people.