Interview with Katie Sierra
interview with suspended student from sissonville, wv
Indymedia Interview with Katie Sierra
By now, most of you have heard of Katie Sierra, the Sissonville High School sophomore suspended for having flyers for a proposed anarchy club in her possession and for wearing a shirt with the message "When I saw the dead and dying Afghani children on TV, I felt a newly recovered sense of national security. God Bless America."
Katie has received a great deal of harsh criticism for her views opposing the massive bombing of Afghanistan. Letters to the editor have labeled her "a threat to all humanity." School board members have called her a traitor. And her principal, Forrest Mann, repeated the inaccurate gossip of fellow students that she wanted America to burn and Afghanistan to win. If Mann had taken the time to even look at her proposal he would have realized that Katie's club was pacifist and opposed to violence in all forms. But instead, he chose to spread misinformation to his students.
As anyone who has lived there can tell you, Sissonville is an ultra-conservative town, notorious locally for its intolerance, and for Katie to take a stand in such an atmosphere is an incredibly courageous thing. Since the news of her case has spread, Katie has received messages of support from fellow high school students, anarchists, and activists worldwide.
Katie is currently taking classes at home due to threats and assaults from students at Sissonville. She is suing the school board for the right to wear her shirts and to start the club. She is also seeking to have the suspension removed from her record. A jury trial has been scheduled for June 24th.
Indymedia - Why did you choose anarchy and what were the goals of the club?
Katie - We chose the word anarchy because we wanted to study anarchist theory and the goals for our club were to have a discussion group, start a "food not bombs" program, start a newspaper, and do community service.
I - Is there anything that you feel has been reported inaccurately by the media so far?
K - Well, the fact that my principal said that I wanted America to burn and that I wanted Afghanistan to win.
I - You've been accused of trying to "force" your beliefs on others by giving out flyers...
K - Oh, I didn't!
I - ... then I heard your lawyer say that it wasn't true
K - Yeah, they were in my purse the whole time. I got called to the office because of my shirt and he asked if I had any flyers on me.
I - So how did this all start?
K - Well, I met the principal the day before [to propose the club]. Then the next day, a guy got pissed off at my shirt. I was sent to the office and he asked me if I had any flyers on me and he said just because I had them in my possession that I was getting suspended.
I - And then what happened? You were suspended...
K- Yeah, I was suspended. I went home and cried and was like, "They'll never accept me." So then I made an agreement with the school not to have the club, not to wear the shirt and all this stuff, and they agreed. So then I went back to school and then I got suspended. They said they didn't agree. I don't know what that was about. Then they allowed me to wear the shirts, then two days after that, they told me take off my shirt again. The first time it wasn't an anti-war shirt, but the second time it was.
I - And that's the one they showed in the Gazette?
K - Right. It's so confusing. They suspended me for having the shirt on, but then they allowed me to wear it again, but they won't take it off my record. But they let me make up my work, because they were wrong. But they won't take it off my record. It makes no sense.
I - Do you know what the actual Kanawha County dress code says?
K - It pretty much says, from what the judge said, that I can wear my shirts. But then it says that whatever your principal or administration doesn't agree with is also... so, if he doesn't like the color red, you can't wear a red shirt.
I - Which pretty much makes the rest of the code irrelevant.
K - Exactly.
K - I can see them banning my shirts if they wouldn't allow any other political messages.
I - Do they allow pro-war shirts like "I support our troops" or "Get Osama?"
K - Yeah, like "Osama: Dead or alive."
I - So, basically, they're saying that the issue is too disruptive, but they'll allow one side and not the other?
K - Right.
I - From what I've heard, your principal has something of a tradition for grandstanding with suspensions. Didn't he suspend a girl for having Tylenol at school?
K - He suspended a guy for having a cough drop and it went to the Supreme Court and he suspended a girl for having a butter knife with her lunch.
I - How do you think you've been portrayed in the local media? There were some pretty nasty things said on talk radio.
K - Well, they said that I should be shot in the head, that I should be sent out of the country, that I've had my fifteen minutes of fame—I don't even care, that's the thing. I turned away MTV. I hate it. I don't watch it. I don't watch TV.
I do some radio talk shows, but the guys on there turned out to be major pricks. I did one last night. I'm so used to it now and can make them sound really bad. I did one last night, and they're like, "Oh, why did you put anarchy? That's stupid." And I'm like, "You know what? I think you're really stupid." And I was getting all upset.
I - There has been a bunch of people who have written in to the local newspapers, saying that you're against the government, but now you're using it to protect you.
K - Well, it's not like I'm against the government. It's not like we were going to start a club to... I mean, people ask why I chose anarchy. I'm not necessarily an anarchist. I wouldn't consider myself an anarchist until I've... and I don't. And I'm still reading about it everyday. And it wasn't a club to "be anarchists." It was a club to learn about anarchy.
I - You said that someone on talk radio said that you should be shot in the head. What show was that on?
K - I can't remember. My mom heard it. It was on 99.99, a "family station". I remember one was like, "you're not much of artist." I guess they saw my shirts. I'm not trying to be trendy. I'm trying to wear my clothes that I want to wear.
I - Would you say that the misrepresentations of you by your principal caused the treatment you received at school?
K - Well, no one had a problem with us or anything or an anarchy club until he said that I wanted America to burn and got all those redneck rebel flag... all pissed off. And he won't even admit to the school he was wrong.
I - Didn't he claim to the Gazette that he had?
K - See, in court, he was like, "it was said like that." I mean he congratulated the reporter on such a good article. If it was false, why would you congratulate someone?
And another thing, they somehow managed to slide the little anthrax threat into my article. We had an anthrax threat the day I was suspended. It's right in the middle of my article. It makes no sense.
I - Like it was linked to you?
K - Yeah, and I had nothing to do with it. I think they were supposed to take fingerprints of the bag or something. But they never cleared that up, either.
I - What happened at the board of education meeting?
K - Well, after waiting three hours for my turn to speak, I got up there and explained what I meant by the club. She wanted me to speak from my point of view, so I said what I though and what we wanted. Then I read the definition [of anarchy] and what everyone else thought it was, then I explained what I meant by it.
I - And what does it mean to you?
K - Well, like I said, I'm still learning a lot. I think it means not necessarily an absence of government, but an absence of government with leaders, and I think to work together... peaceful.
That's what it means. It comes from a Greek word meaning "no leaders". It doesn't say anything about "no government." It's "no leaders." People freak out.
I - And somehow associate it with terrorism.
K - Right. I'm not a terrorist.
I - For the record, you're not a terrorist?
K - I am not a terrorist. Yeah, I get called that a lot at school all of the time, "terrorist", "gay-lover", "nigger-lover." It's stupid.
I - And what happened after you read the definition?
K - Then they interrupt me. "You think you're funny. You're trying to overthrow the government," comments like that. Then parents just started screaming at me, talking about KKK and rebel flags, and I'm like, "What?!?" And I'm a nervous wreck. There's like a hundred parents behind me and the board in front of me. I'm all shaky and stuff, and then some lady stands up and says, "If you're so bored, start a car wash." And everybody started screaming at me. I just started crying.
I - Is there anything you'd like to say that you feel hasn't been covered so far?
K - I'm not against America. I just don't agree with it... on a lot of things, just like any other country. I don't want America to burn. And I don't want Afghanistan to win, because I don't want there to be a war at all.
I - So you're definitely not "a threat to all humanity?"
K - No, definitely not. I'm pacifist. I don't fight. That's why I'm not in school. The school can't protect me.
Contributions to Katie's legal fund can be sent to:
West Virginia ACLU
P.O. Box 3952
Charleston, WV 25339
(Be sure to specify that the donation is for Katie's case.)
Letters of support can be sent to:
P.O. Box 2148
Charleston, WV 25328
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