Episode 130

full
Published on:

9th May 2024

Blockades and Bail Conditions

Mskwaasin, a Dene activist, shares her experience of being arrested during a recent railway blockade in Toronto in solidarity with Palestine. She highlights many of the common struggles faced by Indigenous communities in so-called Canada and Palestinians, both under settler colonialism.

Its clear Police were targeting Indigenous activists both with arrest and what Mskwaasin calls unconstitutional bail conditions. Despite the tactics used against her, she continues to encourages escalation in activism and unity among different movements for collective liberation.

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Transcript
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Greetings, friends. My name is Jess McLean, and I'm here to provide you with some blueprints

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of disruption. This weekly podcast is dedicated to amplifying the work of activists, examining

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power structures, and sharing the success stories from the grassroots. Through these discussions,

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we hope to provide folks with the tools and the inspiration they need to start to dismantle

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capitalism, decolonize our spaces, and bring about the political revolution that we know

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we need. Good morning. My name is Miss Gwassen. My name is Redstone and I'm an Anishinaabe

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Muin. I'm Korean-Denise from Salt River First Nation. My English name is Jessica. And that's

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important because the Toronto Police released that recently. But that is not the name that

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I go by every day. My name is Miss Gwassen. Well, you brought it up. Now we got to talk

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about it. The Toronto Police release your name because you were picked up. during an action

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that we've actually talked about on the show briefly. It was on April 16th on the rail lines

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in Toronto. Do you want to tell us about that experience? Yep. So on April 16th, there was

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a railway blockade calling for the arms embargo between Israel and Canada. It's a common US-Canadian

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freight system that carries weapons. manufactured here in Canada, and that's how they're transported.

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And so it was a deliberate way to take action. And it was also very close to A15, which called

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for a worldwide escalation to call for an immediate ceasefire. A15, that was April 15th. I know

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the Toronto action was one day later, and that escalation call was specifically for, you know,

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economic. implications, right? To stop the flow of weapons and dollars, to make more of a disruption.

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This was on the heels of a few more arrests of some organizers within the city that we

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talked in detail about, Desmond Cole and Anna Lippman. Toronto police moved in on this action

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as well, which isn't uncommon on railway blockades, right? We've seen this tactic used before.

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Sometimes there's a little bit longer leeway given and an injunction is almost always guaranteed,

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but cops gave you just a few hours and moved in, is that correct? That's correct, yeah.

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I mean, typical within the City of Toronto that happens, I think rail blockades and other locations

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tend to last a little bit longer depending on where they are. Where it's on like defined...

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Mohawk land. It gets a little bit touchier with the OPP. They need extra permission, but that

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wasn't the experience there. Yeah, the OPPs were afraid to encroach on that sooner than

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a few hours. So yeah, the cops came almost right away and there was a lot of them. How many

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protesters were there? I would say about 100 to about 150. I still haven't heard the number

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yet. Yeah. That's always hard to gauge, right? It's like the last thing people are thinking

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about is counting heads and, or taking photographs so you can count everybody up because not everyone

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wants to advertise they were there either, right? So, so you were on the line from what we've

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been told there were like warnings issued, but for 150 people, how many people were arrested?

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Only four people were arrested. So yeah, the Toronto Police Services, they... got me with

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five charges, one of them being mischief, two of them being under the Railway Act, one of

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them being unlawful assembly, unlawful assembly while wearing a mask. Oh, that again. Yeah,

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so it's five. And there's only four of us arrested. And what's interesting is that they had actually

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arrested me and my partner first. And we were the only two arrested on the rail. They had

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issued warnings. They started pushing people back when that time finally came. And it seemed

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like me and my partner were picked up and then everyone else got pushed back. And I'm not

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really sure what we did differently than everyone else, but I have a feeling that bringing our

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warrior flag there that day and tying it together with the Palestinian flag and, you know, wearing

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what... our camo. I feel like maybe that was some sort of intimidation towards the police

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or that's how they interpreted it. And I think it like profiled us that way. And you know,

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looking back, I have no regrets on that. You know, I'm not afraid to be proud of who I am.

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And you know, I am really proud that we were able to tie the unity flag together, the Palestinian

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flag together that day. But definitely, you know, we were the only two arrested on the

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actual tracks, and then everyone else got pushed off. So it felt a little bit strange considering

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that there was like a whole line of people and a whole line of cops themselves. I feel like

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you're dancing around saying what sounds like they targeted you for being Indigenous, right?

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Yeah. Well, I mean, we were clearly Indigenous, right? So, I mean, like, there's no mistaking

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that. Like defiant indigenous, right? That's not allowed. Yeah. Well, and that was the point

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is that we wanted people to know that indigenous people stand in solidarity with Palestinian

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people. And, you know, I don't want that to be mistakeable. So we were there. Yeah. Intentionally

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and visibly indigenous that day, if that makes sense. It definitely makes sense. Santiago

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and I went down to the encampment yesterday. And We heard that message over and over again

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at the beginning of the teach-in. But if you would like to explain to the audience why there's

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such a large contingent of indigenous folks that are not figuratively standing in solidarity,

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but quite literally, yes, putting their bodies on the line for the Palestinian cause, not

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just now. They have been for a long time, but it's just extra evident right now. Yeah, so

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one of the things about Toronto is that there's Indigenous people from all over that kind of

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just come here. So you're seeing solidarity from many different nations, which is a really

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beautiful thing. And what it is our common lived experience and our collective, you know, injustice

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that I think that our communities share. The parallels are pretty uncanny. When you look

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at settler colonialism, the agenda looks pretty much the same all over the world, you know,

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right from our education to our children, to our incarceration rates, everything. So for

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example, you know, the 215 happened not too long ago and they're still digging up our ancestors.

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And you know, what's happening in Palestine is really a war on children. We're seeing images

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every day of children being massacred. And that's not a coincidence. We're seeing people being

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taken prisoner, just pulled off the streets by the IOS. We don't know what's happening

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to them. And it's happening in mass. They say that there's over 9,000 prisoners. I think

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that there's probably more. We know that Indigenous people are incarcerated more than anybody else

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in so-called Canada. They're calculating the amount of calories that Palestinian needs to

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live. You know, and I think about the food insecurity that, you know, our relatives in the north

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face, right? We're on year 28 for the community in Ashgagana for them having a boil water advisory.

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I mean, we're talking about Canada and people not having access to water. And you're seeing

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the same thing in Palestine. you know, being right beside, you know, enormous wells, and

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yet they don't have food or water and they're, you know, literally like caged in by checkpoints

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and there's roads that are only accessible by settlers. And we've seen that here in so called

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Canada, we call them reserves. That's the land that nobody wanted. And at a time in this country,

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you couldn't even leave the reserve unless you had permission from the Indian agent, you know,

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residential school and taking the children away and not letting people speak their language

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and not letting people be who they are. You know, it's we're seeing that. We're seeing

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that Israel is forcing their Zionist agenda and at any cost. you know, it seems like for

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them to practice their agenda, they're willing to remove Indigenous people from their land.

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And that's the thing, is that, you know, we're both Indigenous people. Myself as a Dene woman,

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a First Nations woman, and Palestinian people are Indigenous to Palestine. And, you know,

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I think a lot of people want to argue that and contest that. But we can see it in the way

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that Palestinians protect their land and how hard they fight to go back to their homelands.

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It's pretty evident who the Indigenous people are. By the way, they treat the land. Yeah,

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exactly. You drew so many parallels, and I think it's such an important point to make because

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there's a lot of people that continue to be puzzled. as to the Canadian response to the

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genocide. I mean, the official Canadian response, not what we're seeing at universities and on

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the streets and whatnot, but particularly liberals and conservatives supporting Israel or not

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taking a strong stand here is that colonial kinship the two states have and how uncomfortable

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it makes settlers. to see indigenous fights for liberation. And so that point can't be

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made enough. You just touched on it briefly, but the over-incarceration is really pertinent

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to your case here because yeah, out of 150, we've seen different kinds of targeting at

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actions where there are dozens or more of people and organizers are targeted. That's a common

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tactic. Cops don't know all the time, but they try to watch what folks are doing, how many

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people they're talking to, and we'll see them grab on the other side of the line or in sit-ins

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with Anna Lipman and Desmond Cole months later. They got the ringleaders or so they think.

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But in your case, I think the indigenous profiling and the tying of both of these movements to

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inherent violence, right? I mean, you call it a warrior flag and it is, right? But I guess

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in this case, the Palestinian flag could be seen as one in the same war of resistance.

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Yeah. Absolutely. My uncle, he was kind of giving me shit the other day. He goes, it's not a

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warrior flag, it's a unity flag. And I was like, oh, my God, why didn't I call it a unity flag?

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And you're right. You know, I mean, our own community has. has to kind of come to an agreement

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of what we're going to call it. But I mean, I was like, in the spirit of what we were doing

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that day, calling it a unity flag would have made a lot more sense. But yeah, the violence

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that, you know, Indigenous people face in any form of resistance, it shows you, you know,

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what the police think of Indigenous resistance, right? Like, whether you be Palestinian or

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you be Indigenous and their supporters, right? you know, like my bud there, Anna, you know,

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she's a Jewish and she's outspoken about, you know, the Zionist agenda, right? So you don't

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even have to be Palestinian or Indigenous, you can be targeted, so long as you're speaking

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out and making noise. It was interesting because not only were we the only two arrested on the

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tracks and we were the first two to be arrested, but it was actually the conditions that we

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received. So, I mean, a lot of them were pretty no contact with your co-cues. You know, I can't

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have a gun. I can't walk around with weapons, which is, I mean, living in Toronto, it's fine.

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Unfortunately, you know, my partner does like to go fishing and be out in the bush and stuff

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like that. So we're looking into that as well. The major thing, oh, and there was the $3,000

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if we break our conditions. The major thing though was having the right to protest, assemble,

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or associate with... with like a demonstration for any cause. It was my understanding up until

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a few days ago that they haven't done that in Toronto since Landport Stadium. But I'm being

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told that other people that passed eight months since October 7th have also been given these

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conditions, but it appears that they haven't been as vocal about it, which is totally understandable.

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This condition that they've put on me is completely unconstitutional. And if it was not for me

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having, you know, my almost my 24 hours at the 23 division there, I probably would have said

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no, but it looked like I was going to get my next bail hearing in Vannier. So I decided

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that I would try to fight it after I went home. And I mean, this is a tactic used to silence

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people, right? And it's kind of funny because it's like so typical of the colonial agenda.

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is to, you know, silence people, right? And especially Indigenous people that were here

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and that were standing in solidarity with Palestinians. I think that they're scared. I think that they

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see that and it scares the shit out of them. And in a way that that's really beautiful,

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but in a way it's also really scary because if it could happen to me, it could happen to

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somebody else. And if they think it's okay to do that, they think it's okay to, you know,

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break our constitutional rights. and that, you know, with impunity and no one's going to be

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watching them, I mean, they're going to keep doing it and they're going to keep doing it

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to other people in the movement and it's going to happen to people that are really integral

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and doing really amazing work in our community, right? And so that's the really scary part.

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The other scary part too is it seems like they're targeting racialized people with these conditions.

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So that is what's scary to me. Well, we talked with Anna too when, in terms of challenging

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the bail conditions, there's so many different factors that play into it. And there is a certain

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level of privilege built into it that not everybody has the ability to stay in jail, to wait for

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a bail hearing or make those challenges, right? And quite often police will offer to release

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you a lot faster if you simply just. agreed to the first conditions they try to levy. And

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of course, they'll throw everything at the wall, particularly if you don't have representation

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right away. And so for folks listening that are like in those conditions, yeah, like we

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encourage them to challenge these unconstitutional bail conditions. But you hear straight from

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Ms. Kwasin that there, it's not always possible. And so there's a lot of... good folks out there

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that right now are being prohibited from participating in the movement in a lot of ways. And I imagine

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it's kind of like not clearly defined and what is a protest and what is political in nature.

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So that's tough. So you are currently under those conditions until you can successfully

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challenge them at another hearing. Is that right?

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up and out and about and community. And I mean, there's a part of me that's like, how are they

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going to enforce this, you know, and really wanting to push that and being like, do you

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do like set these or do I just keep going? They just keep showing up, right. And that's something

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that's really hard to sit with as well. But it was interesting, too. And the reason why

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I said my guppy earlier is because it's no secret now like It's out there. The first thing they

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did was release my first and last name, my age, my charges and my conditions were. And I did

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that to my other co-accused as well. They released your bail conditions as well? That's almost

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like inciting people to be watching you and to know, like to police you from the outside,

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like the public to play that role of your... Absolutely. I mean, I haven't gotten any like

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crazy Zionists. threatening messages in my inbox, yeah, but we'll see. Well, let's hope it stays

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that way. It's also to warn other people, I think, like, oh, this is what's gonna happen

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to you, right? Like, it's both those things, it's sending the message, like, it's pure intimidation.

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Absolutely, absolutely. Have you been able to access the Toronto Community Justice Fund,

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or do you have legal representation? I do. I have a great lawyer with the CJC. They're fantastic.

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And they've actually done work doing legal defense for other Indigenous land defenders that have

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done similar actions. So I feel quite confident in that way. Also the community response and

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our movement here in Toronto was really solid. After a long night of eating cheese sandwiches,

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there was, you know, a group of friends waiting outside for me. So that was really beautiful.

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And they had a cigarette lit for me. So that was also really beautiful. Cause 24 hours,

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that's, Yeah, yeah. And I mean, I should say that, you know, I was getting support from

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MDC, had their number on my body, and this might happen to other people. I gave them the lawyer's

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number right away. you know, made it very clear that I want to speak to my lawyer. I actually

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didn't speak to a lawyer for 12 hours, maybe longer, and they had called all night long.

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And I don't think my lawyer is lying to me. I think, you know, I believe him when he says

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he tried desperately to call me all night. But I, you know, after me being in my cell, and

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they would come around, hey, how you doing? And I'd be like, actually, I'm not doing too

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good. I want to talk to my lawyer. You know, it's been too long. This isn't right. And then

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to, you know, to get my bail hearing an hour before they release me. And it's almost like

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it felt very deliberate because it was like, okay, if I don't accept these bail conditions,

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I know you've already got a potty wig and ordered for me to go to Bandier, right? I'd like to

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go home. Or I can accept these bail conditions and fight them later. And so it kind of left

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me in a really... I'm sitting there contemplating, I'm like, do I go to Banyay or do I stay and

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go home today? So, and I mean, they do that on purpose, right? We'll keep you here as long

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as we can. We'll push you as hard as we can. So you accept the conditions we give you, right?

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That's how it felt. And then to like outright deny me my lawyer in life, it was pretty crazy,

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so. you know, oh, we left them voicemails and they haven't gotten back to us. I wonder, because

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like part of jail support is often broadcasting the division phone number and asking people

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to call. Like, surely they were getting calls, but I wonder if they just then take it off

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the hook and stop it. But these are tough bail conditions considering your co-accused is your

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partner. Yeah. So... Again, they tried to do like a no contact, but we were able to get

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that figured out because we do live together, so it would have been being homeless. So we're

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pretty happy to be able to go home and see each other that day. Yeah. Okay. So yeah, you were

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able to push back on some, but I would love to see you successfully challenge these bail

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conditions. Well, the way I see it, right? It's not just me that's being affected by these

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charges in these conditions. It's the whole movement, right? And so I'm hoping that I can

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encourage other people to speak out with me so that they don't feel empowered to continue

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to do this to other people in the movement. Yeah, of course, I mean, I'd love these charges

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to be dropped. We shouldn't have had to go out there on, you know, a rail line to begin with.

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We've been calling for this arms embargo for months and months and months and everything

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that they promised us has been completely symbolic. You know, we're not asking you to finish these

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contracts, we're asking you to stop completely right now. Right? That's the urgency of it.

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My way forward is thinking about the movement as a whole, thinking about other people possibly

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getting these conditions in the future. Also, yeah, drop the charges. If they're not dropped,

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I mean, nobody wants to have a criminal record, of course. That's not the goal. But I still

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have no regrets of what I did that day. And, you know, I felt good to stand in solidarity

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with other movements across, you know, Turtle Island and other parts of the world that were

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doing the same thing, responding to that call to action on April 15th. You know, I guess

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my main message is like, don't give up. don't let them silence you. This is a tactic that

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they've been trying to use for a long time. You know, we just gotta keep going, but we

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gotta make some noise about it too. They can't just act without impunity and do whatever they

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want. They're here to answer to us. That's what they say, right? Is that they're here to serve

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our community. We know that's bullshit. We know that's not true. So we gotta hold them accountable.

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Absolutely. And I think... It's another reminder to folks who, if you've not entered the fray

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and stepped into these spaces or taken part in direct actions, it's never too late because

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it's been months and as you see these folks are facing battles. Who knows how many activists

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have been charged and like prevented from participating and silenced in all these different ways. So

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it's important for folks to pick up the slack and not... be daunted, it's so nice to hear

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you say like you don't have regrets. And not that I expected you to have regrets, but the

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last thing we want to do is to scare people from taking action, you know, because that

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is the whole point of these bail conditions, not just to remove you, but like Santiago was

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saying, you know, to discourage other people, especially the two extra railway charges. You

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know, because The unlawfully well-masked, we've already unpacked that. That is such bullshit

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in the face of COVID and everything else. But economic disruptions, railways are foremost

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in our mind, especially here in Ontario. Other folks have port lands that are more direct

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routes to stop the arms flow. And they don't perhaps have the same laws around them as railways

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do. But I guess anytime you stop the flow of dollars, we see this kind of police response

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one way or another. But those extra railway charges are interesting consideration for people

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planning those actions, right? But again, you got to do what you got to do. Yeah, I released

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a statement on my own social media shortly after I was released. And one of the things that

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I said to people is that, you know, we got to continue to escalate. And there's so many ways

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to contribute to the movement. Like, geez, like, you know, there's a lot that you can do sitting

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at home if you can't be there physically for whatever reason, right? I mean, we all have

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life going on too. You're in a position where you can, you know, take direct action, then,

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you know, go for it. And, you know, it's like... I have, of course, all my community and my

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friends and people who love me telling me, you know, be careful because people are concerned

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for you, right? But at the same time, that's so frustrating because you just want to continue

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doing the work. So, and it's, you know, I'm hoping that other people understand that as

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long as we hold them accountable and we keep talking about it and we challenge them. so

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that we can continue doing the work, right? And I mean, there's even eight, but what really,

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it's not even about taking direct action. They're saying to me that I can't even go to a protest.

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I can't even hold a sign, you know? So that in itself is like, it's really troubling. Troubling

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probably doesn't even sum it all up, right? Because you have this pull to do something

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and... I know you say you can do lots sitting from home, but I know this has gotta be just

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killing you. Yeah, it's pretty frustrating. And I mean, especially we're seeing like these

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students just kick ass and they've got the same cut that the people circle. And I know that

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my community is also there doing really amazing work and building really important relationships

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right now. And, you know, it was also really incredible to see the footage of Zionists trying

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to harass these students. And... you know, Indigenous women, like, putting them in their place. And

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that was really satisfying to see the footage of that. And I think, you know, that's kind

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of, like, where I see this going as well is that this is actually just going to make our

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community stronger. We actually want to push back harder. This is a lit fire under my ass,

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for sure. You know, to keep talking and to let people know, like, hey, I'm not backing down,

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I'm not giving up, and I'm going to fight in whatever way I can. Thank you then. Yeah. Is

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there anything that you didn't get to talk about? I mean, I really want to highlight our collective

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liberation struggle in the sense that I look at, OK, for example, the Balfour agreement,

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right? And we're still a crown under the British here on Turtle Island. And they're still dictating

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our lives. And so that commonality, I think, needs to be understood by not only others,

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but my own community as well. So, you know, if you're out there and you're Native and you're

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not standing in solidarity with Palestine, I suggest that you look into that and ask yourself

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why. And if you stand for Indigenous resistance, then, you know, you've got to stand for Indigenous

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resistance worldwide because none of us are free until we're all free. I want to talk about

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our collective strengths as well. you know, together, you know, Palestinians, they really

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know how to protest, man. They really know how to throw a rally. They're awesome people. They're

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out there in the streets of the thousands, you know. And I'm like, man, if we put our forces

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together, that would be like unbreakable. And I'm just really excited to see where this movement

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is headed here in Toronto and all the amazing work that I know is being done. I'm looking

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forward to it. And, you know, I'm also thinking about Rafa. We seen all the news yesterday

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and our heart breaks every day and we're just sitting here watching this genocide go by and

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you know and those feelings of despair and powerlessness you know I want you to know that there's liberation

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and taking action and it feels amazing and so I continue to say to people keep escalating

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keep pushing and don't be afraid your community's got your back. That jail support was really

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important to you, wasn't it? It was. I mean, like they had my favorite snacks and everything

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waiting for me. It was like letting you know that like, yeah, this sucked and you took a

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risk, but you've got these people here for you that love you and your community loves you.

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And this is why we do the work is because we're fighting for those systems of community to

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have them back, right? That's what we're fighting for. And so it's important that we also model

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that amongst ourselves in our organizing too. Absolutely. And it really resonated with me

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when you talked about your family, like telling you to be careful and though you appreciated

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it. You really want them to push you out the door and say, go get them, right? To be brave

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for you. I know what you're talking about because your comrades understand. Your comrades know

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that it's all. a relationship about keeping each other safe. And you will do that, but

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that isn't necessarily what you want to prioritize in that moment. But it should be built into

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the organizing. But I don't know, just hearing you talk about that coming out and them having

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a cigarette ready for you, it just reinforces what we've told, just more like textbook, like

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you've given a real personal feel to it, what it feels like to come out and see that jail

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support. And... how that gives you strength to keep going, even under these bullshit bail

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conditions, right? You've still got a fire in you that you're not able to extinguish. Yeah,

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and let's not forget that the prisoner is being tortured by the IOWA, right? Like, you know,

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no matter what we can do or experience here in Canada, compared to, you know, what our

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relatives are going over, or are going through over in Palestine. and being kidnapped and

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taken and tortured. And their family doesn't know where they are. Like, you know, yeah,

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it sucks being arrested. It sucks being in a holding cell for sure. And, you know, that

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experience in itself is traumatic and I would never downplay how that could affect someone

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in their life, right? But what I'm saying is that, you know, when you're in there, that's

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something that you think about, you're a reminder of why you're there. It helped put things into

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perspective for me. And it also like, I get a lot of like writing in my head, so to speak,

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it gave me some time to think about things while I was in there. They won't give you a pen and

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paper that no, no? No, no, you gotta memorize it all. I appreciate you coming on here and

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not just like being vulnerable and sharing your potentially traumatic experience. But the fact

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that you've got such fire in you and the encouragement that you're giving the audience to. do as much

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as they can with what they've got. We're happy to share these kinds of stories, even though

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their ending will be happy, right? Liberation will be ours, but they contain some scary elements

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and protesting isn't always smooth sailing. But yeah, that community, that community just

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seems so important. That's that critical piece, because if you had gone into that holding cell

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and you had no legal support waiting for you at all, and... and you had exited under those

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bail conditions with nobody waiting for you. It would have been a completely different outcome

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for you psychologically. And that would have then a greater impact on the movement. Kudos

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to both you and your comrades for the action and how they handled your arrest. Yeah, and

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just another note, I'm looking about our relatives over that medicine line in the US. and what

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those students are going through and how hard they're fighting. I'm like, you know, we gotta

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be solid with each other now and prepare for the worst, right? So, that's part of it. Thank

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you very much. Thank you. That is a wrap on another episode of Blueprints of Disruption.

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Thank you for joining us. Also a very big thank you to the producer of our show, Santiago Helu-Quintero.

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Blueprints of Disruption is an independent production operated cooperatively. You can follow us on

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Twitter at BPofDisruption. If you'd like to help us continue disrupting the status quo,

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please share our content. And if you have the means, consider becoming a patron. Not only

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does our support come from the progressive community, so does our content. So reach out to us and

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let us know what or who we should be amplifying. So until next time, keep disrupting.

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About the Podcast

Blueprints of Disruption
Blueprints of Disruption is dedicated to amplifying the work of activists, organizers and rabble rousers. This weekly podcast, hosted by Jessa McLean and Santiago Helou Quintero, features in-depth discussions that explore different ways to challenge capitalism, decolonize spaces and create movements on the ground. Together we will disrupt the status quo one Thursday at a time.

About your hosts

Jessa McLean

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Host, Jessa McLean is a socialist political and community organizer from Ontario.

Santiago Helou Quintero

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Producer