Sunday, March 04, 2007

Disturbing the Peace: When Theatres Fold

I am posting this personal narrative written by a good friend of mine just last week. It's long, but regardless of your political sensibilities, it's worth the read.

As most of you know, Colin Powell came to speak at Purdue this past Thursday. After propagating the administration’s lies for war in the infamous theatre of the UN, and after having excused himself from the subsequent theatre of war, Powell is now making the big bucks on the lecture circuit, making his way finally to the Loeb Theatre at Purdue. I have never taken Powell’s resignation as any kind of repentance for his deep culpability in manufacturing this war; this is evinced by his refusal to come out against the drive to war in an unqualified manner. AB and I (names have been changed to protect the innocent) decided to make our own little protest; so we bought poster board and four-dollar markers to make signs: “Colin Powell: Live Your Life as a Redemption”; “Colin Powell: Live Your Lies in Redemption”; and some death-count figures as well on US soldiers and innocent Iraqis. Later, the cops would take our four-dollar markers, and we would never see them again. As an assembly of two, AB and I headed to the Stewart Center to talk with people. It is important to note that when we arrived, we walked up and down the line holding our signs over our heads and talking with individuals and groups.

AB and I already decided that this would be a pedagogical confrontation—we would ask why people were attending, what they thought of Colin and Dick, and whether they supported the war or not. Additionally, I was begging for an extra ticket so I could go inside to hear more of Powell’s cute little self-deprecating lies. It wasn’t long until a small group of local anarchists showed up and some others willing to protest Powell. As AB will tell you, since he and I were already in the middle of things, I ended up serving as the de facto protest leader, so the cops were especially watchful of me. I walked up and down the line of folks who were waiting to enter the theatre—sometimes shouting diatribes against Powell’s “honored guest” status in our corner of the military-industrial-educational complex, sometimes talking with groups of people about Powell’s lack of repentance for his lies—while AB continued chatting with folks in his honest-talkin' ways and hunting for any extra tickets. The cops “warned” us consistently of where we were allowed to stand. After almost 45 minutes of this, AB yelled from the front of the line that he had a ticket for me. That’s when I started to get nervous—you know, like someone called my bluff.

When I walked up to the entrance with my ticket and my smile, the cops started to freak out, yelling at each other: “He’s the one with the sign! Here’s the one! He’s the one!” They scrambled into “position” and put me up against the wall and thoroughly—I mean thoroughly—searched me: It felt more like a molestation than a search, since the cop twice grabbed my genitals and kept running his hand down my ass in an attempt to humiliate and intimidate me. The cop doing the search warned me that I would be “removed” if I caused a commotion.When I got inside, I had to sit in the balcony; there were two cops on one side of my row, just staring at me, and two cops on the other side of the row. I looked back and saw a secret service agent at the balcony door. Even more nervous than before, I decided to keep a low profile and determine my course of action based on events as they occurred. [University President] Jischke was introduced to introduce Powell, and in his opening remarks, Jischke delivered the most egregiously cruel irony: He invoked Eisenhower as a comparison to Powell! As if Eisenhower never gave his farewell speech warning against the military-industrial complex! As if Purdue is not deeply embedded in the massive war machine that drives us toward perpetual war!

So Powell was finally introduced, and finally he came out. However, he said something very very odd: He looked out over the sold-out theatre and commented on how many people were in attendance, and then he said (for whatever reason), “This reminds me a lot of Vietnam.” While I had no idea what he really intended by this comment out of context, I decided to read the comment as if suggesting that Iraq is much like Vietnam. And so I started clapping… real loud. But despite my attempt to get others clapping with me, it turned out that I was the only one in the entire auditorium clapping. One person turned to me and said, “Why don’t you shut the fuck up!” And another said, “This is not the time!”As it turns out, though, if you clap when EVERYONE ELSE is clapping, there is nothing wrong with that. If you clap by yourself, they read that as a subversive political gesture. When Powell said, within a couple of minutes after the Vietnam remark, that he should be home with his wife, again I clapped. And again, I was the only one to clap. That’s when the pigs (ur, cops) grabbed me and dragged me out of the theatre! One on each side of me, and I wasn’t even resisting! But they dug their meaty little hands into my arms and starting tugging me and pulling me—my guess is that they were like puppet masters trying to make me look like I was resisting. When we got outside the theatre, other protesters starting singing nice solidarity songs for me, and I thought I was going to be arrested—luckily, though, they just took my license number, name, and my ticket! Fargin’ barstiges!

So we stayed and continued protesting, and I was leading everyone in my favorite chant: “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like” (it’s important for people hear this reminder). When we concluded that particular chant, I started into a little Cherokee Pow-Wow dance my grandpa taught me long ago when he took us to pow-wow in the San Joaquin Valley. That was enough for the cops, because they all lined up and marched toward us commanding us to leave the building, saying I had finally become disruptive (you know, as if there isn’t something far more disruptive going on with the whole damn war). As we were backed against the glass doors, we resumed the chant of “Show me what democracy looks like”—but this time, ironically.

[My wife] laughed, later on that night, pointing out that it wasn’t signs, the shouting, the political commentary, the banners, or any of that which got us kicked out by the cops. It was simply the clapping and the dancing. Colin Powell moves from the theatre of war to the theatre at Purdue, and I’m the one hassled for clapping. I guess they don’t like the theatre of their politics to be disrupted by our political theatre. CLAPPING AND DANCING… subversive gestures: political theatre against their theatre of politics. The next day, of course, there was zero media coverage of the protest; in fact, the Purdue Exponent ran a fawning tribute to Powell, with its headline reading, “Four Star Charm.” Meanwhile, as our metonymical theatres fold across each other like so many palimpsestic performances infinitely deferring any real responsibility, the REAL OF WAR continues to rage on, killing hundreds a day and driving millions into deeper poverty.

It’s not us who should be arrested for “DISRUPTING THE PEACE.”


Anonymous said...

Two other items of related interest:

War Protesters Arrested at Washington Port

Police arrested three people early Monday during a protest of Iraq-bound Army vehicles at a Washington state port. Zoltan Grossman, a geography professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia who was observing the protest said he didn't know what prompted the arrests. "There were no rocks, no weapons. People were not carrying anything but signs. We were on public space, on gravel, and there was a white line that police had told us not to cross. I didn't see any of the protesters cross that line."

Regarding Jischke's Eisenhower invocation, Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! interviewed CIA analyst, distinguished scholar and best-selling author Chalmers Johnson who argues that US military and economic overreach may actually lead to the nation's collapse as a constitutional republic.

Johnson notes: "It seems to me that this is also the same warning that Dwight Eisenhower gave in his famous farewell address of 1961, in which he, in quite vituperative language, quite undiplomatic language - one ought to go back and read Eisenhower. He was truly alarmed when he spoke of the rise of a large arms industry that was beyond supervision, that was not under effective control of the interests of the military-industrial complex, a phrase that he coined. We know from his writings that he intended to say a military-industrial-congressional complex. He was warned off from going that far. But it's in that sense that I believe the nexus - or, that is, the incompatibility between domestic democracy and foreign imperialism comes into being."

Monica said...


Thanks for this info. Yes, you (or, Johnson) are right about Eisenhower giving that same warning about the military industrial complex -- I think that is the irony of Jischke's invocation of Eisenhower, especially in introducing Colin Powell, and exactly what prompted my friend to respond, by clapping, to the irony.

I should note that, like many Americans, I have mixed feelings about what has happened in Iraq (though very distinct feelings about what is happening now) -- mixed because I come from a military family. I support our military, but have some very big problems with some of our government's decisions. But the biggest reason I posted this (other than the fact that one of my good friends was disrespected and violated) is because the shutting down of dialogue, and the arrest of peaceful protesters (if we can even call the act of clapping protest), to be in direct opposition to what people in the military believe they are fighting for. That is what really gets me . . .

Anonymous said...

It sounds as though this friend was more interested in "getting noticed" rather than really making a difference. There are more tasteful and appropriate ways of approaching these types of situations...

Michael Nehora said...

Anonymous: I see where you're coming from regarding "getting noticed," although barring the ability to get inside Monica's friend's head, I myself would hesitate to guess what his/her "real" motives were.

Also, regardless of whether one judges the method of protest appropriate, I don't think that's the point of the friend's narrative. Rather, it's that the police response to his/her protest was wholly disproportionate. Taking away markers and signs--okay. Ordering a protester to leave--okay. Taking a protester by the arm and ushering her/him out like a nightclub bouncer--heavy-handed, but okay if the protester refuses to leave on his/her own. Grabbing the genitals repeatedly, dragging the person forcibly when no resistance has been offered--not okay.

If a protester shouts threats, throws objects, rushes the stage--then the use of force (within reason) would be justified. But if we're to take the friend at his/her word, none of those things occurred. The issue here is not so much suppression of dissent (although that may be the officers' motive) as it is excessive and unwarranted use of force by police.

Anonymous Redux said...

To the second anonymous comment:

It is a typical right-wing response to frame political discourse and critique in terms of sophistic power struggles and “cheap PC chitchat”; pundits like Coulter and Limbaugh and Hannity and Bortz will always attempt to lessen the impact of genuine critical, social, economic, and liberatory efforts by dismissing them as simple egoistic and narcissistic theatrical gestures.

How dare you reduce civic participation, in a culture dominated by corporate media values, to acts aiming simply at “getting noticed”! Of course we are trying to get noticed! Why the hell else do you protest, march, “disturb the peace”—and what peace anyway? The irony is that all of this is anonymous anyway, so M’s friend is hardly gaining any personal reward for getting harassed by the cops!

Such responses as you make are cowards’ responses—cheap responses of easy cynicism that allow us to continue our everyday indifference in some kind of disingenuous reverse “slave morality.”

You think there are more “tasteful” ways of making our voices heard—like the way our voices were even acknowledged by corporate media in the drive to the Iraq invasion? Read the damn post from M’s anonymous friend: The individual clearly states a “pedagogical” efficacy to the protest—is that not “tasteful” enough for you? Read your Foucault and witness the history of the uses and abuses of “taste” as a means of excluding the voices of the poor, the colored, the sick.

Cornel West, this weekend in NYC, defines what it is to be a “leftist” in 21st century; it is work quoting at brief:

“So that if you are concerned about structural violence, if you’re concerned about exploitation at the workplace, if you're concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, if you're concerned about organized hatred against peoples of color, if you're concerned about a subordination of women, that's not cheap PC chitchat; that is a calling that you're willing to fight against and try to understand the sources of that social misery at the structural and institutional level and at the existential and the personal level. That's what it means, in part, to be a leftist.”

There is more than one way to “fight for your country”—and it doesn’t involve picking up a rifle and protecting KRB and Halliburton employees, or any of the private security industries profiting in the billions from the war on terrorism.

If you stand up and take your freedom of assembly and your freedom of speech seriously, you are frisked, listed, hassled, intimidated, threatened—not just by the pigs in uniform but by super-cynics like you who cannot see their cynicism as, itself, the symptom of a broader political mobilization by the right, of a deeply reified and naturalized discourse of selfishness.

Come on, yo, take responsibility for your shameless cynicism and quit with the empty, cheap ad hominem attacks of suspicion.

~signed, anonymous redux

BTW, check out the pic of Colin Powell before the UN with his lies... talk about just trying to "get noticed"

Monica said...

At this point, all I can say is that Anonymous Redux, you rock my world.