By Kim Vanderheiden
I am a visual artist. I combine painting, drawing, and printmaking media and generally work on paper. Two and a half years ago, I was thinking of an upcoming exhibit I was planning at the Alameda County Law Library. I had a number of ideas, and had been debating for some weeks which direction to go, when a certain sentence that came to mind struck me rather strongly, “The Law is Love.” By that I understood that our legal approach had to be based in love, not punishment or fear, in order to have a system capable of achieving something that could truly be called Justice.
To use this thought as the core for my work seemed to me at the time too religious, idealistic, and naïve to be taken seriously by others. Furthermore, I had no background in law and no experience I could point to that would make me qualified to make this assertion –except perhaps for two things: I’m a mother, and I’m a citizen. At the time, however, I didn’t consider these two things to be of value to this argument.
Shortly after, I happened upon a book by Peter Gabel, “Another Way of Seeing,” and knew from the first paragraph that this concerned the earlier statement, which I had rejected. Peter’s writing showed me that someone with a scholarly background in law can talk in great depth about the intersection of spirituality, law and love. After meeting with Peter and taking more notes, I began an exploration of restorative justice, which further satisfied a concern I had for there to be a viable structure that can use love to address the painful and real daily situations that require intervention and an appeal to justice.
All right, I thought. Maybe I could do this.
I continued research and began working out sketches and concepts, and also wrote and rewrote and rewrote my concepts to clarify my thoughts about our present system and the evolution of Justice.
One thing I’ve felt from the early stages of this work was that a wide cultural shift in how the average person thinks about justice is needed. I suspect that right now, for all its problems, we do have the justice system that matches the average vision of “justice” held by the body of our citizenry. All of the activism, the Black Lives Matter movement, the diligent work of those lawyers, judges, counselors, and teachers who have been advancing in a new direction are each having their effect. Indeed throughout history the understanding of justice has continually developed and broadened. However, it is easy to go on social media today and read the commentary of those who are so full of anger, condemnation, and vindictiveness that I wonder, what could anyone, anywhere, using any tool or method, possibly do or say to shift this person’s thinking?
I don’t know the answer to that, but I do think it’s terribly important to hold up a vision. There are protests, which say “No,” and attempt to stop people from going an undesirable way. I think protest movements have been most effective when coupled with a “Yes.” A well-painted vision can lend strength to supporters, invite and welcome new followers, persuade the doubtful, and assist in the labor of forming a critical mass for change. Visions can be painted with anything, speeches, articles, posters, visual art, dance, plays, movies, songs, tweets, posted comments, and memes can all contribute to a collective vision.
To say the system needs to become love-based is to call for a restructuring of the very foundation, which presently is fear. Not only are teachers, lawyers, and administrators needed to make this possible, but also and especially the citizens.
Pando, which is Latin for “I spread,” is the name of an aspen grove in Utah that contains approximately 47,000 tree trunks from a single root system. It’s considered by scientists to be the largest single living organism. How would we change our formal justice system if we looked at ourselves as similarly, intrinsically bound together?
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Miranda v. Arizona, requiring that suspects in police custody be alerted to their 5th Amendment rights before interrogation. Subsequently, Nevada County District Attorney and renown letterpress printer, Harold Berliner and Deputy Attorney General Doris Maier, were called upon to write concise language that officers should use to comply with the Court’s decision. The result was the now famous Miranda Warning. Berliner printed and sold many thousands of copies of this warning on wallet-sized cards.
“You Have the Right to Remain Human” is an attempt to reframe the concepts behind Miranda in a way that shepherds humanity, integrity, and relationship. This language has been letterpress printed onto wallet-sized cards, which are available to the public by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Please consider keeping one in your wallet. Please feel welcome to reprint the Right to Remain Human text. No permission is required.
“You have the right to remain human.
What you say can and will be heard by people who care about you.
You have the right to kindness, dignity, and connection to others.
If you have caused harm through criminal intention or negligence,
you have the following obligations:
to listen and make reparations to the extent that you’re able;
to reveal your life openly to assist in preventing future harm;
to commit yourself to a path that prevents repeat offense.
If you are not willing or able to meet your obligations,
your freedoms will be restricted to ensure public safety.
Do you understand these rights and obligations?
With these in mind, do you wish to speak openly
about what happened and why?”