Sunday, June 13, 2004

Political Culture and Protest as Art

In "'Hey Hey Ho Ho Those Old Protest Tactics Have to Go'" in NYTimes today, Randal Archibald discusses new tactics protesters are planning for the Republican National Convention. Some include using the little bells often found at weddings, in lieu of bubbles or rice, to symbolize the Liberty bell and/or alarm, another is wearing red bandannas as a sign of solidarity.

After posting her red bandanna idea on a protest group e-mail list, Ms. Strauss, 34, received a "deluge'' of support, she said, as well as messages from a few dissenters who objected to the idea because it smacked of a dress code.

She said she chose red bandannas after reading that striking coal miners in the 19th century wore them as a sign of solidarity. It should make a powerful, "all-American" unifying emblem, she said.

"It is very important to have a grass-roots symbol people can connect to and people can see," she said. "When Republicans come they can see a much bigger opposition."

Likewise, the organizers of the Ring Out project searched for a unifying symbol with patriotic overtones: the Liberty Bell.

One point that struck me about this article is how these new tactics often invoke American political history for innovations in patriotism and what it means to be "American" making sure to include dissent in the definition of patriotism. The "Peace is Patriotic" over red/white/blue yard signs created after 9/11 as a response to the stifling of dissent also comes to mind.

Another part of this that interests me is how the senses are being utilized in the protest with the ringing of bells and the visual se/a/e of red bandannas this photographer suggests. Archibald's article also talks about the mini-dramas held in protests, such as the "Die-Ins" - explicitly performances. Walter Benjamin talked about war as fascist art, especially imperialist war, a way for the masses of workers to express themselves without changing the property-owning structure of society.

Protest I think goes along with this theoretical impulse as a way for the working masses - me included - to express ourselves without changes to the property-owning structure. However, I wouldn't suggest that is the only thing going on here in a crude reductionist fashion. I think the artistry of protest is interesting in and of itself. I think it also deserves distinction separate from the art created as protest (i.e. "Guernica", selected John Lennon or Marvin Gaye songs, poetry by Poets Against the War). At some of the Anti-"Chief" protests I have attended on our campus, one performer in particular is worthy of Russell Simmons "Def Poetry Jam". In this way, protest contributes to changes the existing discourses while it also continues to reproduce it, sometimes doing this simultaneously (i.e. patriotism).

I wonder if these are the kinds of protesters on which the "microwaves" (see 'Public Sociologists for Sale?') are meant to be used.


At 8:27 AM, Blogger Goesh said...

Theatre of the Absurd:
Indeed a unique vehicle of expression as an alternative, collective voice. The parodies and exagerated portrayals, being devoid of direct moral confrontation, forces an opposing camp to at least hear the message. Passive participants should carry small US flags and freely wave them - after all, one wants to be patriotic these days. Least the opponents in the opposite camp become confused over the flag waving, participants can chant things like, " You go, girl" and, " Free the Conservatives now!". The Hippies were real masters at this.

I have yet to hear of a prayer service for the liberation of the minds of the ultra right, fundamentalist folks - that could be a real treat. Yes, there should be a Patriotic Prayer Service to maybe lure some of the citizens out of Wal-Mart wherein they could maybe at least hear prayers imploring the Hosts on High for an exorcism on behalf of say Rumsfeld or Powell. "Oh Lord, ease the pain of the hemorrhoids affliting your servantDonny Rumsfeld so that he may better serve the nation and remove the cloud of locusts from his mind.....etc. etc." Never deny an opponent his/her humanity is a wise adage to follow, and theatre of the absurd is a fun mechanism to enhance solidarity.

At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of this emphasis on protestor fashion can be linked to the issue of media access. Reporters and editors often prefer "sensational images" over goals and platforms for their stories. So, sections of each movement intentionaly posture and "ham-it-up" in order to be covered by newspapers and television (see "The Whole World is Watching" by Todd Gitlin or articles by William Gamson).

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