Emily Yates is on her way home to California after a rather unpleasant incident in Philly on Aug. 31. The Iraq war veteran, singer-songwriter and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War became something of an Internet celebrity after video of her violent arrest on Independence Mall. The reason for her dustup with federal Park Police? She demanded to know why she was being forced to stop playing her banjo following an anti-war-on-Syria protest. Yates, who had been in Philly for a gig, was detained for three days, then charged and released with a black eye and wrist injuries. Her right hand remains numb and unusable; she had to cancel the rest of her tour as a result. She spoke with CP on her way back home to recover.
City Paper: Was there a moment when you turned from soldier to peace activist?
Emily Yates: I joined [the Army] shortly after 9/11, but it wasn't because I was like, "Let's go get those fuckers!" I wanted to be a journalist. A recruiter got my name from the community college i was attending in upstate New York, and said "What are you studying?" and I said, "I want to be a journalist." And he said, "I can get you a journalism job in the Army."
I thought, "I can go and cover the shit that's about to go down." I wasn't joining to be a fucking soldier. I was joining the military so I could be a reporter on the frontline of whatever was happening — and then it turns out that, in the Army, a journalist is a public affairs specialist. I ended up being back in the states and then having to go to Iraq and write all these stories that would make it seem to the soldiers and the general public that we were doing awesome work in Iraq.
[Later, I was stop-lossed and sent back to Iraq for a second tour.] I was still being asked to report on this war like we were doing good there. And I looked around and saw that at best we were keeping good things from being done. All of the work that soldiers used to do, like cooking and cleaning, had been outsourced and privatized. I was seeing not only that the Iraqi people didn't want us there, and not only that my own well-being was being placed in danger for something I didn't believe in, but also how much of a huge financial waste was happening. ... And I'm making this newsletter to the troops, telling them how awesome of a job they're doing, and seeing this war being privatized, and used as a way for these multinational corporations to line their pockets.
CP: What were you doing in Philly?
EY: I was in the middle of my tour, and I saw that there were [anti-war-on-Syria] actions going on on the 31st, and I thought I'll just go to the rally and read Iraq Veterans Against the War's statement. And they asked me to play a song. … I was trying to be a concerned citizen on many fronts. …
Iraq Veterans Against the War has done a lot of actions around the healing and recovery of victims of the war, veterans and civilians. So a lot of the actions, I've been a part of over the last few years have been geared around promoting the end of war, so that we can begin to heal, and actions to highlight that people aren't paying attention to the human costs of wars. On the ninth anniversary of the Iraq war beginning, a group of us did an action around San Francisco City Hall: We laid out 400 boots representing California soldiers who were casualties, and blocked off the intersection in front of City Hall for one second for every suicide by military members since the beginning of Iraq war. We blocked the intersection for about an hour and a half. We try to educate people about what these wars are about.
CP: In those protests, have you ever had an experience like you had in Philly?
EY: I've never been arrested at a protest before. ... I have had interactions with police that are positive. But at Occupy Oakland, I witnessed a fellow Iraq Veteran Against the War member get shot in the head by the Oakland PD, so I'm aware that police can and often do take really aggressive action against people protesting. But I've never in my life experienced aggression like I did that Saturday. I went to war two times and I've never experienced aggression like that.
CP: What's next?
EY: I'm hoping to get back to my music, as much as I can, and activism. ... All I want to do is get back to some semblance of normality, so I can be a good wife and a good person — not an angry one — and not constantly closing my eyes and thinking about getting beaten and feeling like the world is a shitty, shitty place.
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