Fly High Like an Eagle

Criminal statute of limitations: A criminal statute of limitations defines a time period during which charges must be initiated for a criminal offense. If a charge is filed after the statute of limitations expires, the defendant may obtain dismissal of the charge.

Alright, I think we got the important stuff out of the way. When I was a teenager some friends and I defaced a statue at a private establishment that was notorious for showing oppressive racism to certain minorities in and around the community. Whew. As far as I can remember, it went like this: We had this Black friend. (To be fair, we had a lot of Black friends. I am not stating this to then go, “So obviously I am not racist”, I am stating it to make sure that you are aware that this was not a “white only” kinda town. It was a pretty diverse town, actually, for it being Kansas and all. But the point is, at least a quarter of the population is minority and they were/are discriminated against on the reg.) Or maybe our friend was of mixed race, or maybe it was a family member of a friend, either way, we knew someone who was denied acceptance into this club on the basis of their skin color, or so we had heard. That is to say, we didn’t know if this organization was racist, but we had a pretty big hunch. Our friend’s story was one of a dozen or so other stories that floated around our community in the 1980s and 1990s regarding this club, that is part of a bigger group called: The Fraternal Order of Eagles.

The Fraternal Order of Eagles grew out of a theater troop in Seattle, Washington in the late 1800s. They engaged in performing arts and were instrumental in making Mother’s Day a national holiday. The most fun thing about their history is that, at one point the only rules of membership were as follows: One must be 21 years old, possess a good character, not be a communist and be a caucasian.* So, yeah, our hunch was probably accurate.

Anywho, The Fraternal Order of Eagles #55 sits on the corner of 20th and Choctaw Streets in my hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas. I spent many summer days swimming in it’s pool with a number of friends whose parents or grandparents were members. When I was kid it was much preferred to go to a pool a Fort Leavenworth to swim, the Leavenworth Country Club, or The Eagles (as it was affectionally called) as opposed to one of the gross, public swimming pools, and lucky me, I had connections all over. But this particular pool had a twisty slide that really filled up the fun meter. I never even noticed that there weren’t any people of different skin colors there. I just ate popsicles in the sun and took turns looking for that Polo nerd with my friends.

‘The Eagles”
The eagle sits right out front near the sidewalk.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager and heard the grumblings around town, and met actual people who had been banned, or asked to leave, or told they couldn’t come into the pool area, that I started to realize how racists those SOBs were. That’s also when I was called to take action.

One summer night my friends and I were hanging out at one of our houses when someone (I won’t name names here, but she knows who she is, we will call her LouAnn) had the grand idea to make The Eagles pay for being the racist SOBs that they were. She suggested that we walk the few blocks from her house and vandalize (gasp) the eagle. I was a bit nervous about being on foot, so I suggested that our friend, whose grandmother was a well-known member, should drive the getaway car instead. We all agreed.

Next day we got out hands on the brightest, most obnoxious spray paint we could find, gassed up the car, and all piled in. I believe there was five of us, including the driver. We all wore black, and we had a flashlight. After all, it was nearly midnight and we didn’t want to risk being caught, likewise, we didn’t want to risk me tripping over a rock and having to scream at them as they ran back to the car, “Just leave me! Leave me, damn it!” They would have felt guilty. I think.

We rolled up to The Eagles parking lot quite slowly. I wish I could tell you, dear reader, that this was our first foray into misdemeanor-ing, alas, it was not. We were a rowdy bunch, who routinely enjoyed rolling around town in a hot-boxed car looking for trouble, and trouble did sometimes find us. Thank the good, baby Jeebus this was well before Snapchat and Instagram and the like. In fact, while I was already a budding photographer and amatuer filmmaker, I left all that at home this night. If this were today, of course, I would make them all pile around the eagle after the deed was done and take a group selfie. I have very little shame.

Rachel, damn it I mean the driver, rolled to a stop with the headlights off, slammed it into neutral pointed toward a small incline, and said, I’m leaving your asses if this goes south. Ever the supportive friend, that one.

LouAnn hopped out first, always eager to get the party started. Followed by the other two. I took a little longer contemplating my move. I could always just stay here safe in the car with Rachel, damn it, I mean the driver. I mean, I was a lot slower than the other three. If someone did pass by and happen to see, I had no doubt they could take off in a hurry and hide. I sat motionless weighing my options until Rachel said, Go bitch, let’s get this done. Then I rolled out of the slowly moving car.

LouAnn and the gang were already at the eagle when I caught up, out of breathe and wheezing a bit. The eagle just sat there in all its iconic majesty. Should we sing “America the Beautiful” I wondered to myself.

Do it, someone said.

And so we covered that tired-ass eagle in bright orange spray paint, the kind utility workers use to draw lines on the grass.

Fuck you, Eagles, someone screamed into the darkness of the building.

Fuck you, Eagles, we all thought, as the paint made its way from person to person, all taking our anger and indignation out on this statue. This is for our friends, this is for our community, this is to send you a message, you racist bastards!

Soon enough the spray can was out, and Rachel blared on the horn as she circled the lot, a cue that someone might be coming. We ran fast back to the car. I don’t remember running that fast before that day, or ever since. My heartbeat pounded in my ear. My feet hard on the pavement, as I had pulled my flip flops off to run faster.

That night we drove through the streets of our hometown, laughing, and screaming, and singing No Doubt out the window. Sappy pathetic little me, that was the girl I used to be, you had me on my knees…

The next morning the Leavenworth Times ran a pic of the eagle on the front page. They said it was an affront to the town. They wanted to know who was repsonsible. Of course, we were already told about the eagle by the driver’s grandmother, who had cursed on the phone to her Who would do such a thing? As far as I know, the mystery was never solved.

That was 20 years ago, and I can’t tell you where all the people in that car are today. I’m not even sure if the Eagles is still the same old racist hold-out that it once was. But I can tell you, knowing what I know now, we weren’t as wild as we thought we were, and thank goodness for that. Still, those were exciting times, even when we weren’t fighting for social justice. Something changed for me that night. I realized that I had this power. Now I know it as white privilege. I understand now that I can use my life and my work and yeah, even my streak for vandalism, to fight for others who are ignored, bullied, and just plain made to feel shitty about themselves for no reason other than the color of their skin. We called bullshit on all that the night we turned that eagle orange, and I would do it again, with those same people, in a heartbeat.

Be kind, y’all. And use your power for good. Don’t spray paint eagle statues. There are cameras now. 🙂

M.

*As of 2019, membership is open to any person of good moral character, and believes in the existence of a supreme being, and is not a member of the Communist Party nor any organization which advocates the overthrow of the United States government. Uh huh…

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