Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The first time I was arrested... Greenpeace days

Okay, it occurs to me that is an odd title for a blog post, but let's forge ahead anyway. The first time I was arrested was in 1980, in San Francisco. The Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior had been seized by the Spanish navy in international waters, and we wanted her back, thankyouverymuch.

Spanish Navy aboard the Rainbow Warrior, in port.
Scurvy dogs!
The crew of the Warrior had been out in small inflatable boats, placing themselves between Spanish whaling ships and the whales. That nation was killing well over its "quota" of whales and secretly shipping the meat to Japan. Spanish warships showed up in the international waters, and navy crew members boarded and seized the Rainbow Warrior, and escorted her to a military port in Spain.

Eight of us in the San Francisco office decided to protest by engaging in civil disobedience; in addition to this show of solidarity with the ship's crew, we also hoped to gain some attention in the US media to add pressure for the Warrior's release.

We made a huge U-shape out of plywood, painted it in bright rainbow colors, and took it to the Spanish Consulate. We set the rainbow over the courtyard door, and walked through it into the Consulate.

We explained to the staff why we were there: their nation had our ship, and we wanted Spain to release her. And then the eight of us sat down to wait until Spain did so.

When the police arrived, they did their best to persuade us to leave. "Otherwise we're gonna have to arrest you," the nice officer explained. "So why don't you just go? You've made your point." But we hadn't. We needed to be arrested to do that.

My friend Rusty Frank launched into an impromptu and impassioned explanation of the history of civil disobedience, a time-honored way for those with little power to stand up against those who wield it. She talked about the rights of citizens to peacefully protest injustice, and their responsibility to accept the legal consequences of that protest. Rusty started with Henry David Thoreau, referred to Rev. Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, called on Ghandi's protests, and invoked Rosa Parks. The police officer seemed interested in all this, genuinely so. Then he arrested us.

We rode in the back of a paddy wagon to the San Francisco jail, where the four guys went off to the men's unit and Rusty, Genie, Annie and I went to the women's. Fingerprinting, mug shots, all that. We were put in one of the cells, where we were soon joined by a lively, loud exotic dancer called Danielle and her boss, a more staid woman called Indian Summer. Danielle explained that the police had been busting their place of business regularly, and they'd get paid for their time in jail. She was in a chipper mood.

Danielle had recently watched "The Shining." When I said that I didn't intend to see it (too scary!), she proceeded to tell me the entire plot of the movie, in detail. This took quite a while, but we had nothing but time. I remember sitting on the top bunk, leaning against the wall, and Danielle standing with her hands gripping the edge of the mattress, looking up at me, her eyes wide. Redrum, Redrum! I'm still sure that Danielle's dramatic retelling in the San Francisco jail was better than the movie itself.

Butch looked like this...kinda ...
All of us tried to avoid eye contact with the woman in the cell across from ours. She scared us, even Danielle and Indian Summer, who'd had more experience with the seamy side of life. The decades since 1980 have taken all the shock value from the description I'm about to give, but try to harken back a couple decades: the woman in the other cell had a crewcut and wore a man's white sleeveless T-shirt, and--most unbelievable of all--she had a tattoo! Yes, a tattoo! Right on her arm! And her name was Butch! (Okay, I know...but back in the day? Crazy scary!)

We were glad Butch wasn't in our cell. Then came dinner time when we were all herded into a common room for hot dogs and beans. Despite our attempt to keep to ourselves and attract as little attention as possible, Butch sauntered across the room toward us. "She's coming over here! She's coming over here!" whispered Danielle, hunching down in her seat. Butch thumped down next to Annie and drawled, "So...what ya in for?" I sent telepathic messages to Annie: Say arson say robbery, say-- "Trespassing," chirped Annie.

Butch said an expletive. We were too scared to ask what she was in for. Anyway, we'd quickly learned that everyone else we talked to in the cell block was innocent. Apparently only us four Greenpeacers, and Indian Summer and Danielle, were guilty as charged. Butch seemed to like us anyway, and stayed with us until we were herded back to our cells.

It was after midnight when the four of us were released, and met up again with the four guys, in front of the jail.

And the Rainbow Warrior? We never did convince Spain to release her. In a feat of derring-do four months later, the Warrior would slip from port in the middle of the night and outrun the Spanish navy.

(Want to read more about Greenpeace days? Click on the "Search this Blog" box to the right and enter the word Greenpeace.) 


  1. DaveOnFidalgo ...May 2, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    Well, I guess sometimes you kidnap the Lorax and sometimes the Lorax kidnaps you...

  2. Love this story. The true honor of civil disobedience. Thank you.

  3. Whoa!  Great story---what a history to tell your children. Talk about great role modeling. 

  4. So what's the story of the second time? 

  5. Ellenmendoza_lidoMay 2, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Funny stuff, Pat.  I guess in the old days cops were less scary than butch women. 

  6. That would have been something to see you all walking down the street with the huge plywood rainbow .

  7. Pat, in those days one of our soundbites was "harpoons should be in the museums". Well, I was recently in La Coruña the home port of the then Spanish whaling fleet, and I found in the local aquarium's musuem the very same harpoon gun of the very same vessel we'd confronted with the Rainbow Warrior and our little rubber boats in that summer of 1980. The Spanish whaling fleet was dismantled in 1985, whaling was banned in the country, and the prophecy worked: the harpoon is in the museum! 

  8. Pat, these Greenpeace stories have to be your next book!

  9. Pat, you're my hero! The world owes you and your like-minded companions a debt of gratitude.  Thank you.

  10. Patricia LichenMay 2, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    Oh, Remi, I hadn't heard this--it is incredible! Thanks for sharing it--did you get a photo???

  11. Patricia LichenMay 2, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    Why, funny you should say that. I'm working on a novel now that is based on my experiences with Greenpeace (altho it is largely fiction). It's one reason why these GP stories are bubbling up in my mind right now.

  12. Patricia LichenMay 2, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    Ha! It is funny now to think of how she frightened us. Now the coffee baristas who serve up your latte make Butch look like a candy-ass.

  13. Patricia LichenMay 2, 2012 at 6:08 PM

    More to come...the funny thing is that Rusty Frank was also with me in a paddy wagon in DC and police station in Japan. (We realized this when we saw each other again after many years and sat down to talk story over a bottle of wine.) That woman was trouble, I tell you! 

  14. Patricia LichenMay 2, 2012 at 6:09 PM

    Why oh why didn't I take pictures???

  15. Patricia LichenMay 2, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    I look back on those days and think how fortunate I was to be a part of them. Gad, we were young and invincible. 

  16. Boy, I never would have guessed you doing this!  You were a brave young lady.  Exciting and scary.  I wonder what you would say if your daughter said she wanted to go with Greenpeace...
    and I keep trying to figure out which one thing you have not done on the list to the right...was it  discussing shoes in sign language with a chimpanzee?????

  17. Patricia LichenMay 2, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    Don't be silly, Rose! Of course I discussed shoes in sign language with a chimpanzee!  With Washoe, at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University, to be precise. Washoe had a great interest in human footwear. But I admit that "discussed" is stretching it. Mostly Washoe just demanded that I show her my shoes and added "hurry, hurry, hurry!" 

    No, it's the tap dancing. Rusty and I had thought we would be arrested in Japan for protesting whaling there, and would likely share a cell for several months while awaiting trial. Our plan was that she would use this time to teach me to tap (it would have been a challenge...I have two left feet--and she was not then the master teacher she is now). But although we would be detained, we were not formally charged and would never have the trial we'd anticipated. The Japanese officials had learned from the arrest and 3-month detention of our friend Dexter Cate (for freeing dolphins intended for slaughter-- like in the documentary "The Cove") that the longer he was held in jail, the more international public opinion grew against them. They wisely decided not to charge Rusty or me...and I never learned to tap dance.

  18. Pat, you were part of the change for the better!  Now,women like Butch can strut without fear!