How I Became an Activist

in activism •  last month

by Hope K

About the same time I stopped playing with baby dolls and started watching news, the USA decided it needed a lot more atomic bombs. Business was booming at the nearby nuke factory while I was having neutron nightmares.

In my dreams, I would see giant red mushrooms in the sky and barren fields white with fallout. Thanks, American propaganda! You made a little girl a nervous wreck so you could make some money.

Most other people didn't seem to care about the threat of nuclear war. If they did, they didn't talk about it because so many families depended on the nuke factory for their financial survival. There were exceptions, though.

A Catholic priest who rode around on a white horse decided that making weapons of mass destruction just might be immoral, and he convinced a lot of people to protest the nuke factory. I watched nuns get hauled off to jail on the nightly news. They were my heroes, along with the MTV stars. They were going to stop the nightmares.

The last protest I remember was when they sat on the tracks to block the white trains that carried the bombs. One of them got his legs cut off by the train. The thought of that was as haunting to me as Armageddon.

Shortly after the amputated legs incident, we moved to Arkansas. The state was plagued by corruption and poverty. Kids at my new school whispered of coke-fueled orgies at the Governor's Mansion, and we didn't know it, but Central American death squads were being trained out in the forest.

Instead of being outraged at their human oppressors, though, these folks were worried about demons. An abandoned chapel with misspelled graffiti on its walls was supposedly where the devil worshippers sacrificed their victims, always virgins or babies. No bodies were ever found, so I just ignored that weirdness until it reared its evil head later on.

My first act of protest happened in the middle of the night during the first Iraq war. My friend and I thought it would be a good prank to take the ubiquitous yellow ribbons of war support off people's property and tie them to gas pumps. I feel kind of bad for stealing people's ribbons now, but it was a good prank.

My second act of protest put me and my friends on the front page of the newspaper. Oliver North was speaking at the college. I held a sign that said, "Heroes don't sell weapons to our enemies." If I'd known then what I know now, I would have made a more accurate sign. Maybe "This criminal traded arms for drugs that he literally had dumped on our state."

About a year or so later, an occult bookstore opened. This was roughly the same time that three eight-year-old boys one county over were horrendously murdered in what was said to be a Satanic ritual (see, I told you we'd come back around to the devil). The bookstore was forced to close, and we had a Witch March down Main Street. Pagans came from all over, and I sat on a curb and watched as counter-protesters blocked their way with a giant wooden cross.

The father of one of the murder victims preached about the evil of the occult and how three devil-worshipping teenagers had sacrificed his son. A couple of months later, the judge in the case changed the venue to my county, and the trials were held in the same courthouse where the Pagans had completed their protest march.

I knew the three teenagers didn't kill those boys. I also knew they were in big trouble.

The trials were a carnival of horrors. Based on hardly any evidence other than the fact that they were poor, wore black clothes, and listened to Metallica, a 16-year-old boy was sentenced to life and his 18-year-old friend got the death penalty. I took their side and was called a murder groupie, along with others in little huddles behind the courthouse with the families of the accused. I told the families that I would help them any way I could.

Their chances weren't good, I thought.

At that time I didn't notice the documentary film crew and I knew next to nothing about the internet.

That summer I went off to college in Chicago. My new city friends were intrigued by my Southern Gothic "Witch March" and "Witch Trial" stories. Imagine my shock when one of my city friends said that he had just watched a movie called Paradise Lost that was about the witch trials in my hometown. I got a copy of it and showed that movie to everybody who would watch it.

I started making phone calls to lawyers and politicians. The Innocence Project freed two men from death row in Illinois, so I called them.

I found like minds in chatrooms on the internet. We discussed theories, did research, sent postcards. The internet is an invaluable tool. Back then I never ever worried about the wm3.org domain possibly getting shut down. That's the kind of thing you have to consider now, though.

I moved back to Arkansas and kept up with the case. Famous people got involved. Rock stars at the county courthouse! The tide was turning. Even some of the victims' parents didn't believe the West Memphis Three did it.

Things happened rapidly after my high school friend's dad became the West Memphis Three's judge. The now grown men entered Alford pleas and walked free that day. They had spent their entire adult lives, 18 years, in prison.

I had spent my entire adult life supporting them.

Why?

I felt sorry for everyone involved at first. And then I wanted to win. Let me tell you, there is nothing like fighting a rigged system for 18 years and then winning. Nothing even comes close to that feeling.

It's hard to feel depressed or anxious when you're helping advance a cause you believe in. It's all a bit selfish, to be completely honest. But it's selfish in a good way.

Lately I've been making memes on my phone in support of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks publisher who has been arbitrarily detained at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for years. I've contacted all kinds of people on Twitter, asking them for support. I joined an online group, Unity4J. One of the Assange supporters I follow on Twitter wrote this morning about the horseback-riding, anti-nuke priest of my childhood. Isn't that something?

Last weekend I printed some of my #Unity4J memes and put them in special places around town. Right before I took this picture, I saw a black butterfly with blue markings flutter by.

![IMG_20180901_141228.jpg](

I think it's a good sign. I believe we can win this.

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