Katie Yow doesn't know why she has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury next week. But she has no doubts about refusing the order, although it could land her in jail.
"I have been an anarchist for nearly half my life. My convictions as an anarchist inform every part of my life, and being part of the anarchist movement gives me all the strength I need to resist this subpoena," says Yow, an activist and former teacher and bookstore proprietor.
Yow, in a statement
, says she received the subpoena July 10, ordering her to appear before a federal grand jury on Monday in Greensboro. As of Friday, her lawyer had not been able to reach the U.S. Attorney's Office to ask about the subject of the grand jury.
Yow's action is part of a larger movement rejecting the broad powers and secretive nature of grand jury proceedings, which opponents say are used to intimidate and surveil dissidents.
"I cannot begin to explain what defending the land and the people I call home means to me, but I want to express that my resistance to this grand jury comes from my fierce love for them. I was raised in movement by bold and resilient elders, inheriting histories of resistance that taught me what it means to fight from where you stand," Yow's statement reads.
Grand juries are different from trial juries in that they do not determine whether a person is guilty, only whether there is probable cause that a person should be tried for a particular crime. Proceedings are kept secret in part to avoid a person being tipped off about an impending indictment.
Proceedings are closed, which means a witness can't have his or her attorney in the room while being questioned by an attorney for the government and the grand jury. A witness can leave the room to consult with his or her attorney, as long as doing so doesn't impede the hearing. A witness can invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating herself and be given immunity in exchange for testimony.
But that's not really the point of intentionally defying a grand jury.
"As state repression escalates, I know that all of us are struggling with the trauma and the grief that comes from the forces we fight against, and the vulnerability that we feel to the state in its despicable efforts to attack us," says Yow. "What I also know, what I believe with all my heart and everything I have, is that we have the strength we need to take care of each other and to fight back until we win."
Refusing to comply with the subpoena could mean Yow is held in civil contempt of court (as a means to compel her to testify) and fined or imprisoned.
Yow's supporters will gather on the steps of the federal courthouse on Market Street in Greensboro at nine a.m. Monday. Tomorrow, The Pinhook in downtown Durham will host an informational workshop on grand juries at seven p.m.