I try to go to as many political rallies as possible to do the same thing: I write on my body, walk around top-free and open myself up to conversations with anyone who asks questions—“Why are you doing this? And why do you feel this way?”—to talk about gender equality and allow others to question their own beliefs. Earlier this year, I was arrested for doing so.
It was March and Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were touring the western United States. My friend and I wanted to attend both rallies. We first went to Arizona to protest against Donald Trump because we wanted to let him know we’re not okay with his sexist, hateful speeches. That rally got insane and became hateful. My friend and I were partially topless, since you can’t legally show your nipples in Arizona, so we covered our nipples with stickers to keep it legal. Still, people surrounded us. Everyone was staring and saying things to us to the point where we didn’t feel safe anymore. We had no choice but to leave. After that, we attended Bernie Sanders’ rally. I made a statement over there, too, writing an anti-Trump speech on my body and waving hi to Bernie.
Afterward, I went back to Los Angeles, where I live. Los Angeles was Bernie’s last campaign stop, and I decided to attend again to do the same thing: to spread a message about equality. We started out by covering our nipples but later removed the stickers because it is, in fact, legal in Los Angeles to bare your nipples in public. We were legally protesting.
An officer gave my friend a warning, which was an unlawful order, to put on her shirt. There was no danger and nothing was happening, so we disregarded his warning and walked around the block to avoid the police officers. I didn’t want any trouble.
I knew my rights but I just kept silent because that was all I could do.
An officer then grabbed my arm. It was a shocking for a stranger to grab my arm and demand something of me. He tried to get me to put stickers on my nipples. I knew my rights but I just kept silent because that was all I could do. The officer took my silence as resistance and wrapped my arms behind my back, pushed me against a pole and threatened me with jail time if I didn’t follow his orders. It was a ridiculous request, so I decided to stay silent because I knew he was wrong. He didn’t know that it was legal for me to be there. That drove him to arrest me. It became a struggle. He pushed me down to the ground while a security guard handcuffed my friend and me and put us in the back seat of a police car.
We were arrested at 6:00 p.m. and booked an hour later. We thought we were just going to get cited and released, but they booked us for indecent exposure. I knew indecency laws only regulate exposure of genitalia—not breasts. We sat in a cell for about four hours before they transferred us to overnight holdings, where we weren’t given our rights to call anyone until eight hours later.
My friend and I wore shorts and the t-shirt’s we brought to the protest. I begged the officers for clothes because we were freezing and they denied us. It wasn’t until midnight that they eventually gave up and gave us some clothes. I also asked for pads and toilet paper, which they did not give to me.
Another person who was arrested for drugs was brought into our holding cell. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. The fact that he was brought in top-free and there was nothing wrong with it clearly identified why I was protesting in the first place. Why is it okay for him be top-free but not us?
My bail was set at $10,000. I couldn’t put up the money so a friend paid 10 percent to the bail bondsman. I ended up spending 25 hours behind bars. A month later, when I went to my arraignment, I found out they dropped the case.
I’ve been cited and detained in San Diego twice on two separate occasions and I’ve been arrested in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I have two ongoing cases for wrongful arrest: one against the city of San Diego and another against the city of Los Angeles. It may take a year before I get any response.
My Free the Nipple journey has taken me to a in-depth level of thinking about how Western colonization has robbed people of their identities and abilities to live without clothes and their ability to be different—to have different identities. It’s disgusting that everyday people normalize gender discrimination and act on it. I recognize this as my own spiritual journey, but I also want to inspire women to exercise their liberties—even when society is telling you what you can and cannot do. Fuck that.
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