Responding to Authority: a story about the MTA

A few weeks ago, Miki Kashtan wrote on The Fearless Heart about responding to people in power [see the original post here]. She says:

Challenging authority with love can take the form of saying “no” without giving up on the person’s humanity or dignity, either personally or collectively. This is my deepest understanding of what Gandhi did with the British authorities, and what enabled them to exit without losing face. The more we want to change the choices of those in power, and, finding them unwilling to join us in peaceful dialogue, the more we must use nonviolent resistance, the more essential it is that we maintain a stance of uncompromising love within our hearts.

Miki requested that she “would value having people join in the conversation,” and  I had a very powerful experience of practicing NVC in the face of power about 7 years ago. The short version is that I was given a ticket ($75–which felt like a lot more then!) for accidentally entering the MTA system here w/out swiping my card (I did it swipe it, btw, I just happened to use a turnstile that, unbeknownst to me, would not work with my card because it was for handicapped use only, although it was not indicated). I asked the police officer, who’d already written the ticket, if he would be willing to come to court (in NYC, if the officer writing the ticket does not show, you automatically win the case). He seemed surprised by my request (given this) and agreed to turn up. 
Between then and the court date I practiced a LOT of self-empathy and did a LOT of role plays (I no longer remember how much – I’d say at least 6-8 hours worth). I knew, given my own history with “authority,” and specifically the police (as an activist and former union organizer, I have experienced many “triggers” over the years), that I would want to be prepared internally, esp. as I’d be facing two authorities at once– the police officer and the judge, and would be representing myself.

All that pre-hersal served me well. At the hearing I was able to stay self-connected and grounded. I listened empathically to what the police and judge had to say about the case (that I “should” have known the rules–even if not clearly marked!, etc) and then spoke, with some conviction, I think, about my needs in this case: to live in a city, even a city the size of NY, where there could be a level of trust, including around people’s intentions. I also had a photo btw of the turnstile, as an observation about it being unmarked (the MTA has now changed this btw! :) . The judge over turned the case and was so surprised herself by this decision (a first she told me in this kind of case) that she wanted a moment to talk to her supervisor about it because otherwise then he would not understand it and there’d be confusion later, when checking me/closing the case out. This indicated to me just how different this situation was, at least for her. The officer seemed surprised and even confused by the whole thing..I am sure he’s never been at a court hearing like this one!

I realize that there are some key differences here—I was not facing physical oppression from power-over and I had time to prepare/practice for the interaction. It’s still an inspiring example for me of what can happen, even in the face of power, when we have the resources to listen to the powers-that-be (maintain empathy) AND hold ones own ground and truth (and I say truth here meaning the “truth” and conviction of our own needs). While not as dramatic as much of what Gandhi dealt with in India in the face of British colonialism, the practice is pretty similar, imo. He went into the “powers that be” not judging them as evil, wrong, etc; he went in assuming they’d be “friends”– i.e. in a way I would consider neutral and calm, non-agitated; and stood his ground- dogged for his needs– for dignity, choice, independence, etc.

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