Last September, as part of a larger protest, the 13 had locked arms, refusing to move away from the entrance of the Sugar House casino construction site in their city.
The Sugar House 13, as they are now called, included "several grandparents, two members of the clergy, and a few public school teachers, and veterans of the civil rights movement".
And at least one guy I know personally.
Jethro Heiko, a member of CasinoFreePhila, made me feel like family at the 2008 National Stop Predatory Gambling Convention just outside of Washington DC. The lone member of CasinoFacts.org and CasinoFreeMass at the convention that day, I was encouraged to join the party at the CasinoFreePhila table, to watch the presidential debates with them that evening, and to otherwise hang out and connect. In 2009 Jethro came to Boston to offer his help, as an organizer, in our fight. I still carry one of the "little casino factbooks" he left with us in my purse, and I've taken him up on his generous offer to reference his organization's website for anything I may need more times than I can count.
I've been following the Sugar House protest with interest, not just on account of Jethro, but because it occurs to me that this is where we'll end up in Massachusetts, that other Commonwealth, if the doors swing open to casino interests. Because that's where that road does lead, make no mistake. Standing in front of a judge because you had the audacity to stand up for the safety of that place you call home. The place where you live and work and raise your children.
Standing up to bulldozers. Becoming insignificant pawns in a political shell game. Watching your world tipped on it's side while everything you learned about democracy is gambled away in the middle of the night on the 4th of July.
But yesterday, in perhaps what may be a turning of the tide, the SugarHouse 13 were aquitted on all counts.
At one point in the trial, the prosecution tried to "prevent community members from presenting documents on predatory gambling,". The judge, however, allowed them.
Another familiar face of CasinoFreePhila, Daniel Hunter, said, "We do direct action not because we want to, but because the system has become illegitimate and corrupt," - which just may be the truest statement I've ever heard about why we begin and why we continue to fight predatory gambling.
I don't want to be here fighting, still, after almost 3 years. As USS-Mass president Kathleen Norbut likes to say, "It's not like I needed another hobby". But when something is this wrong, you either stand up to the bulldozers, or you allow them roll over you.
Fortunately, here in Massachusetts, we still have a choice. We can still prevent a day when the mere act of protecting our homes, our families, our communities - and even our democracy - lands us in front of a judge.
Individually, we can act now, with the smallest of noble acts.
Or, we can wait, and do nothing, with the hope that there will be others willing to lock their arms with ours when it's our turn to stand in front of the gambling industry's relentless bulldozers.
Which will you choose?