VIDEO: Mariam goes to jail
Mariam Asad will appear before a judge in November to answer for her crime.
She stands accused of criminal trespassing and obstructing police officers.
On Aug. 10, Mariam gathered with other members of Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, stuck her arm inside an improvised lock box inside a trash can and sat in the driveway Mark Harris’ home.
Harris, a Gulf War veteran, had been evicted by his lender, Fannie Mae, an act the Occupy group calls “shameful and immoral.”
Avondale Estates Police arrived and began removing the Occupy protesters. I sent Avondale Police an email asking if they’d like to comment for this story. I haven’t received a response.
After an hour, officers dismantled the box and carried Mariam, her arm still encased in a PVC pipe, off to the DeKalb County Jail.
Mariam, a Georgia Tech PHD student, said she was putting off an important paper because her friend needed her help.
It wasn’t an arbitrary decision. She told me that she weighed her options, thinking to herself, “Well, I’m sitting on the lawn of my friend who got evicted. I have a paper to do, or I can get arrested.”
She sat across from me on the patio of Dancing Goats in Decatur, Ga., on Aug. 23, a rare sunny summer afternoon.
She wore her dark hair the same way it appears in her mug shot, a copy of which I found on the DeKalb County Sheriff’s website. Mariam is cognizant of the optics of her actions.
“I don’t really look like a rabble rouser,” Mariam said. “I’m a PHD candidate, a student. I’m kind of little, unassuming, and to have that image of that human being getting dragged away by cops in front of this man’s house, I think would be enough to get people to say, ‘Wait a second.’”
Pictures of her arrest appeared in my Facebook feed a few Sundays ago. Mariam is an acquaintance I know through mutual friends.
I’ve always thought of her as pleasant company, but never got the sense she had deep political convictions, or cared for politics at all.
In the photos, there’s a world-weary expression on Mariam’s face as the police officers drag her limp body across Harris’ front lawn. As we go over the details of her arrest, I consider her with a newfound awe that’s mixed with my own ambivalence toward the Occupy movement. Mariam said she’s mostly played support roles within Occupy Our Homes, an offshoot of the larger Occupy group. She believes housing is a human right.
I want to believe this is all for the greater good, that Mariam’s legal bills are a small price to pay for social justice. Seeing her photos inspired me.
But Mark Harris has lost his home. Mariam’s mom worries about the effect the arrest, combined with her heritage, will have on her daughter’s future.
Let’s face it. It’s a shitty world. Even the people who are well meaning can get chewed up and spit out by it.
Mariam sees her circumstances differently. Her family fled Kuwait for Canada when the Gulf War started, the same war that Harris fought.
“I was just thinking about all the belongings on the lawn,” Mariam said. “He’s got daughters. He’s a father. He’s a veteran. He fought the war that incidentally, I was sort of tied to, and I realized that as a PHD student at Georgia Tech, I had certain degree of privilege. I would be employed for the next couple of years. Even if I were to have a record, Georgia Tech has a certain degree of prestige that, whether or not it is deserved, it exists.”
She said the stark differences between her situation and Harris’ helped her make up her mind.
“This was a cause that I believed in and now was the time. If evicting my friend at gunpoint wasn’t enough to get me to do something, then nothing was.”
I’ve often wondered how far I’m willing to go for my own beliefs. What would I risk?
Nearly a decade ago – has it really been that long? – I was part of the Iraq War protests at the University of Alabama’s Tuscaloosa campus. When it became clear that war was inevitable, I proposed my own act of civil disobedience, though I wasn’t quite sure what form it would take. Should we lie down end-to-end in the middle of University Boulevard and stop traffic? (Actually, that probably wouldn’t have stopped traffic in Tuscaloosa.) Should we chain ourselves to the door of one of the big buildings on campus?
I was rebuffed by organizers who said the disruption would not be worth the risk.
The war happened, and probably would have regardless. Our anti-war movement was mostly symbolic and not nearly as focused as Mariam’s.
I wanted to write about Mariam’s arrest this week because it coincides with an important anniversary for our country. It was 50 years ago this week that Martin Luther King delivered his stunning “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
King was a potent symbol of a movement that practiced civil disobedience repeatedly to draw attention to inequality, specifically the treatment of blacks living in the South.
It’s easy, with a roof over my head and a laptop in my hands, to argue that Harris’ eviction was his own fault. I don’t know all the details, but telling myself that he has responsibility for his situation would be easier than considering the broader implications of Mariam’s actions.
Mariam believes housing is a human right, but housing also is the underpinning of American capitalism. Houses are a product that we mass-produced, oversold and bundled as investments. New home construction remains a key economic indicator, a measure of our recovery.
She doesn’t wear a mask and start arbitrary fires, but Mariam acts in defense of a radical concept.
I don’t think “housing as a human right” is something we’re ready for. It would require a different way of looking at all kinds of things: how we fund government, our sense of personal achievement and our security.
But I see what happened to Harris, and I can definitely understand Mariam’s point of view.
I don’t mind the thought of a world where veterans aren’t evicted from their homes because Wall Street investors placed bets on the value of their mortgages.
Who knows? Martin Luther King probably wouldn’t have bet money on having a black president to note the significance of the 50th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Maybe we’ll get there sooner than Mariam dreams.