I met Sue when I lived in Virginia, as part of the community of people in our region who were working to oppose the order of business as usual. As a community we gathered at protests, panels and planning sessions to strategize and support each other in what were always linked struggles- against racism and militarism, NAFTA’s effects abroad and mountaintop removal in our collective backyard. Sue lived in a mountainous, rural area of Virginia where she was pursuing a PhD in ornithology. She had traveled to Argentina to study the populist social movement of early 2000, she had been arrested at the School of the Americas in 2003 for protesting the teaching of torture techniques to U.S. and foreign military, and when I met her, she wanted us all to go occupy a mountaintop to prevent its imminent destruction. She was also a longtime anarchist and activist on women’s rights who had spent a lot of time talking about how women can fight violent patriarchal oppression without resorting to participation in the police state.
In the fall of 2004 I went abroad to hike and farm and eventually I wound up in France, where I hitchhiked to Paris to visit with a friend from Bread and Puppet and celebrate Buy Nothing Day, french-style. On Thanksgiving I got word that Sue Daniels was missing. At first we all thought she had been disappeared by the government. However, it quickly became apparent that she had fallen victim to an even older and more entrenched institution, that of male violence against women.
Sue was murdered by a man who had been her friend and lover and who would not accept the boundaries that she repeatedly set for him. Although people in her community thought of him as a kind and gentle person who would not harm anyone, he scared her enough that she had created a safety net of trusted people to come to her aid in place of the police, because she did not believe in the police. The night before she died she challenged an audience: how do you deal with violence against women in your community? Before he killed her and himself he broke her phone, her one connection to that safety net.
Stalking sounds like a movie or TV drama crime, an invented phrase. Sue’s friend clearly stalked her. It sounds problematic, yet potentially romantic, except maybe someone will be hurt or killed. I think of stalking as a clearly identifiable set of actions by which one person uses the implicit threat of violence in order to control or possess another person. In some ways the storybook romance- a sort of indefatiguable pursuit deaf to the actual interest of the other person, an I-must-have-you pigheaded dedication- is stalkerish, especially in the hands of men. Especially or particularly, because the implicit threat of violence is a tool for keeping the status quo, for keeping power in the hands of the dominant group.
It pains me to say that I have now personally experienced this. I never would have thought that this would be the case. I never would have thought that power could be wielded over me in this way. And then it was.
I put up with it for too long before I finally went to the police. And the ensuing drawn-out and traumatizing legal scenario was all of the worst things I expected, and then some. But I feel like I have won, because I am alive, and I would fight again for my own safety, and again, and however many times it took.
Sue Daniels was a warrior. She fought against all of the social ills of our time, and in the end was killed by male oppression. I could also say she was killed by one man, mentally ill, who had internalized the disease of our culture, but what is the use of oppression if not a mental illness? When I met Sue, I was struck by the force of her presence. I had just read my poem, Botanical Declaration of Liberty, at a campfire in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, and she came over to tell me that she had liked it. The last time I saw her was in New York City at the Republican National Convention at St. Mark’s, one of the organizing epicenters.
Every year I read or recite this poem in Sue’s memory.
For Sue Daniels
Even the birds lament your absence.
Mountains lift their heads in proud remembrance.
In a clearing at the edge of woods,
ash marks where your cabin stood,
proving what conceals, reveals.
Appalachia, pueblos, the disappeared, chanting at the gate,
Shut it down. Become irate.
Loss is a fist to the sky, a stone by my foot,
voices in the waters, my tongue pressed to dirt.
All of nature cries dusty tears for her daughter,
Then erupts in green laughter, writing in viney script:
You cannot be erased from the earth who loves you.
We live in round, walking all about the holy ground.