We are only three Tuesdays away from knowing our fate and the fate of the world. Do I overdramatize? Maybe, but I don't think so. I want to say that I'm worried, but in truth, I have already begun the task of resigning myself to a deeper level of Bush fatigue. I have received two emails over the past week urging me to visualize a Kerry victory, to repeat the phrase "President Kerry," to imagine America returned to her liberal principles, our troops streaming home, and so forth. While I cannot dismiss the power of positive thinking, my sense is that we are going to get the government we deserve. Does that make me a "nattering nabob of negativism?" Then you can call me -bob. If my nattering is for naught, I'll be dancing in the streets with you on November 3.
Yesterday I was invited to participate in the production of a DVD for PILOT TV, a project described as "Experimental Media for Feminist Trespass!" The email invite went on, "PILOT TV is a hybrid activist convergence taking the form of a do-it-yourself television studio. We invite you to take part in 4 days and nights of participatory, creative problem-solving to rethink how we 'stage' protest. Help us turn this three-story Chicago building into a fully functioning Hollywood studio, replete with fantastical sets, collaborative crews, and improvised madness. . .PILOT will be an open-ended space for those of us involved in the global anticapitalist movement to come together in sweat-space, build momentum, and strategize our biopolitical resistance on (and off) camera. With friends and strangers gathering from across North America, a schedule packed with over 70 planned TV shows, workshops, and countless ways to participate ..the weekend is live with possibility!" Of course, I said yes, i wanna play.
The segment I was involved in had a brilliant conceit: the use of Eeyore, the blue donkey from the Hundred-Acre Wood as a symbol for Political Depression, i.e., depressed Democrats. He was a kind of mascot and Greek chorus for the rest of us as we explored "feeling good about feeling bad." Much of ensued was chaos, as I expected it would be. The set was built as the audience gathered, and too many techies played with too many wires for far too long and still managed to lose microphones and background visuals. In what was surely a middle-aged moment, I found myself annoyed by the lack of organization. After a little arm-wrestling with my own high hopes and expectations, I found levity in observing, as an anthropologist would, the interactions of a tribe very different from my own: the multiply pierced and tattooed "alternative" folks who filled the audience. (They were the ones I always felt an affinity for when I was a teacher.) As we waited for the actual filming to begin, one guy, filling out a questionnaire, was trying to think of the name of that guy who sang "Let the Eagle Soar" in Farenheit 9/11. "John Ashcroft," I offered. "Your attorney general." One of the production crew played a tune on the kazoo and asked the audience if they knew it: "The Internationale!" I blurted out. Often, when the audience was laughing, I just didn't get it at all, but I enjoyed the irony of my freak status in a warehouse full of rough-hewn artistes. My persona for the talk show was The Sentient American, and I was followed by the Revolutionary Spaniard, whose discussion of the effect of the Madrid train bombing on the election I listened to with great interest, even though nothing he said was revolutionary.
Late in the production--too late--the discussion turned serious. Some in the audience got fidgety and left, but I was riveted. Among people who had participated in the mass demonstrations against the RNC in New York, there was a feeling that fear had been internalized and that the street form of protest was ineffective: the protesters were too well-behaved. There was some real struggle in the minds of all the participants in the room with the question of what constitutes a meaningful act of dissent. They tried to assess whether sheer numbers of protesters were enough, and what, if anything, was changed by their protest. As soon as this level of engagement with hard questions began, time was up and the production came to a halt. No one really wanted to think about it too much. Even in this post-ironic, I-hate-it-but-I-love-it TV production, there seemed to be an underlying acknowledgement that protest was pretense.
After the outrage in November 2000, the rules changed. The old forms of protest no longer mattered, and if you doubt this, consider the massive, world-wide demonstrations before the invasion of Iraq. For thirty years, an increasingly rightward press has managed to conflate protest with drugs and rock & roll, to the point that now even protesters eyeballing their own ranks are distressed by the presence of grandparents and middle-class parents pushing strollers. Everyone described a moment in which they were looking around thinking, "But I don't have anything in common with these people!" What more do we need to have in common to unseat the boy king than a shared desire to do so?
As I was driving home, I realized that the Chicago protests in 1968 were powerful because of the awareness of the fact that "The whole world was watching," not because of the demonstrators per se. What the Republicans have done is to turn off the cameras, or to turn them to the khaki backdrop they want us to see. My personal response to this is to see it for what it is and to speak out at every opportunity, but to skip marching in the streets. I was distressed beyond reason to hear a couple of comments about not voting at all as a sign of "protest." If many people think this way, then, indeed, the terrorists have already won.