My current artistic work and research evolves around tactics, props and gestures used throughout the history of arts and activism as well as contemporary manifestations of what I am calling 'gestures of defiance". I'm using this blog as a platform or archive where I can document, remember, reflect upon, compile and communicate examples that I see as exciting, urgent and relevant.
For more on my own work you can visit my website at www.marycoble.com
Energy Transfer Partners was not too happy this morning when some Texas water protectors built a pipeline in their office hallway. They wanted it dismantled and taken away for some reason. Imagine that...
The pipeline was for the ETP VP of Government Affairs, Grant Ruckel. It reads, "Grant, you can still choose to stand on the side that supports life or you can continue to reap the heavy consequences of supporting an industrial complex of death and destruction. Future generations, especially your childrens, may still one day look back and thank you for having the courage to join the side that supports life. You have a chioce."
ATXEJ Texas Water Protectors contend that the locally-based VP of Government Affairs for ETP, Grant Ruckel, holds considerable responsibility for disrespecting and violating human rights, Indigenous Rights, and governmental processes during the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Trans Pecos Pipeline, and Comanche Trails Pipeline. Documented failures include:
Another less documented, but highly likely ethical failure is (ETP VP of Government Affairs) Grant Ruckel's direct encouragement of Morton County and the State of North Dakota's backing of shamefully violent and war-like behavior by so-called "officers of the peace".
WASHINGTON (ABC7) — Christmas decorations are popping up left and right, but one street in NW Washington has a different kind of decoration this season—rainbow flags.
“A respectful message showing, in my case, my disagreement with some of his thinking,” said Ilse Heintzen.
The ‘he’ Heintzen is referring to is Vice-President Elect Mike Pence. Pence moved into a house on Heintzen’s block where he will stay on-and-off until he moves into the Vice-President’s mansion on the grounds of the Naval Observatory next year.
Neighbors started hanging the pride flags after the VP-Elect moved in because the LGBTQ community has criticized Pence’s policies regarding LGBTQ rights.
Heintzen has gay and lesbian friends, so when one neighbor suggested ordering a pride flag, she and others asked for their own.
“I have no idea what [the Vice-President Elect] will think about, but I hope he will change his mind.”
There are roughly a half-dozen pride flags hanging on the block, and more are on the way.
“This is one way that I can show my disagreement,” said Heintzen.
ABC7 reached out to the transition team’s public relations people to get a comment from the VP-Elect, but so far we have not heard back.
As many as 2,000 veterans planned to gather next week at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to serve as “human shields” for protesters who have for months clashed with the police over the construction of an oil pipeline, organizers said.
The effort, called Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, is planned as a nonviolent intervention to defend the demonstrators from what the group calls “assault and intimidation at the hands of the militarized police force.”
The veterans’ plan coincides with an announcement on Tuesday by law enforcement officials that they may begin imposing fines to block supplies from entering the main protest camp after a mandatory evacuation order from the governor. Officials had warned earlier of a physical blockade, but the governor’s office later backed away from that, Reuters said.
Loreal Black Shawl on the Veterans Bridge in Mandan, N.D., in August.
LOREAL BLACK SHAWL
The evacuation order issued on Monday by Gov. Jack Dalrymple cited “anticipated harsh weather conditions.” It came before a winter storm dumped about six inches of snow and brought strong winds to the area on Monday, making roads “roads nearly impassable at the camp sites,” according to Doualy Xaykaothao of Minnesota Public Radio, who was cited by NPR.
The governor’s statement said, “Any person who chooses to enter, re-enter or stay in the evacuation does so at their own risk.” The order was effective immediately and was to remain in place indefinitely.
The veterans’ effort will also run up against a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to close off access to the protesters’ campsite and create a “free speech zone.” Federal officials said anyone found on the land after Dec. 5 could be charged with trespassing.
“Yeah, good luck with that,” Michael A. Wood Jr., a founder of the veterans’ event, said in an interview.
Mr. Wood, who served in the Marine Corps, organized the event with Wesley Clark Jr., a screenwriter, activist and son of Wesley K. Clark, the retired Army general and onetime supreme allied commander in Europe for NATO.
Mr. Wood said he had initially hoped to attract about 500 veterans; he had to stop sign-ups when they reached 2,000. He said volunteers are from diverse backgrounds: “We have every age, we have every war.”
An online fund-raiser has drawn over $570,000 in pledges as of Tuesday afternoon to pay for food, transportation and supplies for the veterans’ “muster,” which was planned for Dec. 4-7.
One veteran, Loreal Black Shawl, said the mission to support the protesters was intensely personal.
Ms. Black Shawl, 39, of Rio Rancho, N.M., is a descendant of two Native American tribes, the Oglala Lakota and Northern Arapaho. She served in the Army for nearly eight years, finishing her career as a sergeant.
“O.K., are you going to treat us veterans who have served our country in the same way as you have those water protectors?” Ms. Black Shawl said, referring to the protesters. “We’re not there to create chaos. We are there because we are tired of seeing the water protectors being treated as non-humans.”
The authorities have used rubber bullets, pepper spray and water cannons against demonstrators, hundreds of whom have been injured, according to protest organizers. The clashes have been highly contentious, with the police and demonstrators leveling accusations of violence at each other.
Some protesters filed a class-action lawsuit on Monday against the Morton County police and others, alleging excessive use of force and seeking a court injunction to prevent the authorities from using rubber bullets, explosive grenades and water cannons, according to The Atlantic. One woman was injured and in danger of losing her arm after an explosion at the protest site this month.
By spotlighting issues such as the use of force by the police, national energy policies and the treatment of Native Americans, the protests have garnered national headlines and widespread attention on social media.
Ms. Black Shawl acknowledged that the operation could prove problematic because the veterans and the police both have military or tactical training. She said she had a “huge, huge nervousness and anxiety” about possibly being injured and what could happen to other veterans.
An “operations order” for participants outlined the logistics with military precision and language, referring to opposing forces, friendly forces and supporting units. Organizers encouraged attendees to wear their old uniforms.
Mr. Wood said they were discouraging active-duty service members from attending. “There’s no reason for them to get into hot water,” he said.
In a break from military custom, the gathering will have a “chain of responsibility” instead of a chain of command, he said. There are no ranks, and participants will refer to one another by their given names.
Mr. Wood said the early stages of the event will be logistical: setting up tents and organizing food supplies. The first arrivals are expected on Wednesday.
The premise is for the veterans to be fully self-sufficient, he said. “There will be civilian and tribe members watching us from behind but nobody supporting us,” the operations order said. “We are the cavalry.”
A spokesman for the North Dakota State Highway Patrol, Lt. Thomas O. Iverson, said in an email on Monday, “Law enforcement is aware of the upcoming event planned for December 4-7.” He added, “If the group remains lawful and refrains from blocking the roadway, there will be no issues.”
Some officials expressed the hope that the demonstrators would move on.
“The well-being and property of ranchers, farmers and everyone else living in the region should not be threatened by protesters who are willing to commit acts of violence,” Senator John Hoeven, a Republican, said in a statement on Friday, The Associated Press reported.
The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, said in an email that he had no concerns that tensions could escalate.
“Everyone that comes knows our intent — to remain in peace and prayer,” he said.
We are in a circle, sitting on the floor. We are in a circle, sitting on chairs. We are in a circle, standing up. We are throwing a ball in a circle and catching a ball in a circle. We are speaking to each other in a circle, listening to each other in a circle, holding hands with each other in a circle. We are drawing, thinking, sharing, questioning, reflecting, writing, breathing, in a circle. We are making small circles and big circles; circles with everyone, and circles in groups. When we are walking around the room, or sitting on our own, we are still in a circle. We are in a circle, together.
We have now had five sessions together, and the dynamic in the room has become focused in energy and interest, as we move forward with an enquiry chosen entirely by the collective of young people. It feels like an engine room already – bodies weaving in and out of each other, a collage of voices filling the space with sound. It feels like the beginning of something important, almost like tending to a living organism: it demands that we go where it goes, rather than shape it to fit our own artistic agendas.
As we gather together every Wednesday in the studio at Tramway, I’m starting to read the act of turning up for something as political. To make a journey to the same place every week, to gather with the same people, to engage in a process and work towards something all seem like deeply politicised actions. Seeing bodies in a space – young people in a space – is to see the power of standing together and having purpose in a world that may be losing its agency. We are a force together, and it feels like a great privilege to embark on a process of placing things under the microscope for scrutiny, making art about the things we struggle to understand.
‘Make performance art pertinent to a new generation of potential activist-artists. They may eventually have to save us from the very monsters and pitfalls that we, their arrogant forefathers, have either created or allowed to happen.’
Let me return, then, to circles. For many members of Junction 25, this is the start of a familiar process, another circle, but reframed. There are new people in the circle, and there are people missing; the circle is being held by new facilitators, Gudrun and Rosie; we are exploring the circle differently, with a new enquiry; where we stand in the circle is different from where we stood in June. This idea of a circle from June until now (the start of a new Junction 25 process) feels weighted by the politics around it: we performed ‘A Bit of Bite’ for the last time the day the UK voted for Brexit, and we started to make a new work the day Donald Trump was elected President. Somehow, this coincidental patterning of events reaffirms the need for us to reflect, question and explore the issues that are important to us as a collective.
The most vital circles, however, are the circles of confidentiality we form at the beginning and end of every session. We check in and we check out, speaking into the room for as long as we need about what’s alive for us, what feels present in our lives. This is a practice that often directs the journey of the session and builds the dynamic in the room, creating the safe space needed to lay the foundations of collaboration. The check in/out is a ritual that connects us to our surrounding circles: it maps us to the members of Junction 25 that have gone before us, and invites us to consider ourselves in relation to our ecologies. At times of despair, or when we feel as though we have reached a nadir – like earlier this month – the circles we make and hold together are a reminder that ground-level, community-based resistance will stand up and step forward.
Patrick Burke, a legislator in Erie County, has named the proposed law the Prevention of Emotional Neglect and Childhood Endangerment (PENCE), according to WBFO.
“Mike Pence is probably going to have the most power of any vice president in the history of our country and he has openly advocated for conversion therapy,” Burke told the new outlet. “I want that to sink into people. I want them to realize it’s a serious issue of abuse of children, Flatly, whether they are gay or not, it’s abuse. Then you have a man who is going to have enormous power over all of us, who advocates for it.”
Conversion therapy attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual through psychological treatments or counseling.
In 2000, when Pence was running for Congress, his website said money was aside to help HIV/AIDS patients be “directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” according to the Washington Post.
Poland has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Recently, a government-backed bill sought to go further, punishing women who had abortions with up to five years in prison. Last month, Polish women responded with a one-day strike. On Oct. 3, tens of thousands of people, most of them women dressed in black, protested in major cities.
Poland is run by a nationalist, right-wing Roman Catholic party that controls Parliament, has taken over independent media, is disregarding rulings of the Constitutional Court and now proposes creating a militia outside the command of the armed forces.
It would not seem to be a government that would listen to such a protest. But three days later, its legislators voted down the abortion bill. Why? The government saw the size and speed of the mobilization, and its high concentration of young people, as a threat — one it worried could grow.
The current relevance of this to America, which enshrines in its Constitution the right to peacefully voice protest to check government power, will escape no one. The Republican Party will soon control the presidency, Congress, most governorships and state legislatures; in all probability, there will be a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Given Donald J. Trump’s approval of advisers from the white nationalist far right, following his vitriolic attacks on the policies of the Obama administration, Democrats, independents and even some Republicans are bracing for assaults on — everything.
Yet they are not powerless. Seldom, in fact, has an out-of-power opposition been able to count on more resources — in broad support, political clout and moral authority.
But how these resources are used is what matters.
If the purpose is to allow despondent or angry people to vent and show solidarity, then the anti-Trump protests going on in major cities already do that. But they will not reverse the election results, or alter what President-elect Trump seeks to do.
Protests can change policies, however — and often have. In other countries and throughout American history, ordinary citizens banding together have triumphed over governments, even when a single party holds sweeping control. Many of those protests used resources that the opposition to President-elect Trump enjoys today. They can learn from how those victories were won.
Plan, plan, plan. A half-century after the street struggles in Birmingham, no American movement has yet surpassed the strategic mastery of the civil rights movement. Civil rights leaders were fighting a war — nonviolently, but a war nevertheless — and they planned it as such. They mapped out protests to create escalating drama and pressure. They ran training schools for activists, teaching them how to ignore provocations to violence, among other lessons.
Provoke your opponent, if necessary. The turning point for civil rights came when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference allowed children to march in Birmingham (a decision criticized by many, including Malcolm X). Bull Connor, the city’s commissioner of public safety, ordered the police to turn attack dogs, nightsticks and fire hoses on children marching peacefully — some of them 6 years old. The scenes made the nightly news and the front page of newspapers around the country.
The movement won by making a strong moral appeal to public opinion. It showed protesters making sacrifices for their cause. It lured opponents into violence that finally swayed the views of whites — a tactic similar to the playbook of Mahatma Gandhi in India, of forcing an oppressor to show his ugliest face. When that sight tips public opinion, government often listens.
Protestors organized by ACT UP on the street in front of the New York Stock Exchange in 1989.
TIM CLARY / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Think national, act local. Protests are most effective when they aim for an achievable goal in one location, knowing that the real battle is for national public opinion. Movements work on two distinct levels, Mark and Paul Engler wrote in their important analysis of nonviolent strategy, This Is an Uprising. On a local level, the civil rights movement often failed; for example, the concessions won by the Birmingham protesters were vague and modest. But it was Birmingham that finally gave momentum to the passage of federal civil rights legislation.
Use humor. In Serbia, the Otpor movement mobilized the country against the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by using pranks to cut through fear. Its daily fare consisted of street actions that painted Milosevic as absurd: When the tyrant dedicated a new bridge, Otpor built one out of Styrofoam and held its own ceremony.
Srdja Popovic, an Otpor leader, calls this “laughtivism.” (Here is a Fixes column about his strategies.) It does more than counter fear. Humor breaks down defenses, creating an openness that allows people to consider your argument. “If the joke is good, even the police get it,” said Ivan Marovic, another Otpor leader.
When appropriate, be confrontational. It is hard to imagine how marginalized people with AIDS were during the Reagan administration — and how hopeless their cause, both medically and politically.
No group more proudly claimed the title of “outsider” than Act Up, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, founded in March 1987 in New York. Many of its members were dying. They were despised and reviled.
The Englers call Act Up an example of the power of the extreme outsider strategy: change through confrontation. It was noisy and angry. It was the first group ever to close down the New York Stock Exchange. Members scattered the ashes of loved ones on the White House lawn. They held a “Stop the Church” demonstration in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Act Up’s polarizing language, actions and style put off even some influential gay men, who told the group it was hurting the cause. (The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had heard the same criticisms.) But even many who were repelled by Act Up’s approach still heard its message.
Although people condemn your tactics, they can still support your issue, the Englers wrote.
By pulling from one extreme, Act Up shifted broad public opinion. The group started a global AIDS activist movement. It played a major role in changing the rules to expedite new AIDS medicines — and then it helped to bring down their cost. It forced insurance companies to cover treatment. It procured a patient voice in treatment. It was a major force behind the Ryan White CARE Act, a federal program for uninsured and underinsured people with AIDS.
Pull out the pillars. Gene Sharp, an American academic who is the guru of strategic nonviolence, argues that every leader, no matter his power, relies on obedience. Without the consent of the governed, power disappears. The goal of a civic movement should be to withdraw consent. Pull out the pillars, and the whole structure falls.
Senior citizens and his police were two of Milosevic’s most important pillars. Otpor members worked on both whenever they were arrested (which was quite often). Grandparents got angry when high-school students were repeatedly arrested or accused of terrorism.
And every arrest presented a chance to talk to the police. At the barricades, Otpor led cheers for the police. Over time, the police got to know the students they kept arresting, and some came to admire the youths’ commitment to nonviolence. “Police officers would complain to us about their salaries,” said Slobodan Homen, an Otpor leader. He offered some advice for Milosevic: “If later you order these people to shoot us — well, don’t count on it.”
This strategy also works for policy change. Advocates for gay marriage won early victories among many churches, the American Bar Association and child development experts. This helped transform influential opponents of gay marriage into influential allies.
The most important pillar on policy matters is Congress: Presidents need to pass their bills. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush failed to pass signal legislative priorities, despite controlling Congress. This was not because of grass-roots activism, but because of lobbying and spending by powerful and wealthy groups.
Under Mr. Clinton, health care reform fell victim to, among other things, “Harry and Louise” ads featuring a fictional couple, financed by the health insurance industry.
Mr. Bush’s top priority in 2005, when he had just won re-election and control of Congress, was to allow people to invest their Social Security contributions in private accounts. It was the focus of his State of the Union speech and town meetings he attended around the country. Yet he could not get it through Congress. “The simplest explanation is that President Bush overestimated the amount of political capital he had banked,” wrote William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution. “After all, he had prevailed by the smallest popular vote margin of any president re-elected in the 20th century. And there was evidence that the campaign’s bitter, divisive tone had taken its toll. As President Bush’s second term began, he enjoyed the lowest approval rating — just 50 percent — of any just-re-elected president since modern polling began.”
Exploit galvanizing events. During the 1970s, the United States built nuclear power plants. Lots of them. The first major protests came from the Clamshell Alliance, formed in 1976 to oppose the construction of the Seabrook Station plant in New Hampshire.
The Clamshell Alliance failed to stop Seabrook’s construction, but it gave rise to a grass-roots antinuclear movement. Groups around the country staged protests and sit-ins that slowed the pace of new reactor construction.
Then on March 28, 1979, Reactor Number 2 at the Three Mile Island station lost coolant and suffered a partial meltdown. The nuclear reactor industry never recovered.
Three Mile Island came 13 years after another partial meltdown, at the Fermi 1 reactor outside Detroit. Haven’t heard of it? One reason is that at the time, there was no movement ready to respond.
Events that galvanize public attention occur frequently. Most lead to nothing. But a few become sparks for sweeping change. What makes the difference is the existence of a prepared movement.
Thankfully, a galvanizing event need not be a nuclear meltdown. It does need to be an attention-grabbing drama where one side holds the moral advantage. When activists don’t have one, they have sometimes created one: think Bull Connor’s dogs, or Gandhi’s Salt March.
President-elect Trump has no popular mandate (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin larger than John F. Kennedy in 1960, Richard M. Nixon in 1968, or Al Gore in 2000). Even many who voted for him do not endorse some of what he advocates or represents. Many traditional pillars of Republican administrations are less than firm in their support, beginning with the wary Republicans in Congress — and some are starting out opposed, notably much of the foreign policy establishment. The president-elect, as Mrs. Clinton said, can be “provoked by a tweet.” He is impulsive. His campaign set a new standard for what Galston called a “bitter, divisive tone.” He and his advisers hold bigoted views that overwhelming majorities of the American people reject as immoral.
What terrifies many people about a President Trump, in other words, is also what makes, for civil resistance, a uniquely promising moment.
Robin Bell didn’t show up at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters with anything specific he wanted to say about the Trump International Hotel. He was on hand at the invitation of the Sierra Club and 350.org to help protest the appointment of Myron Ebell to President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.
Ebell is a climate-change denier, as Bell—an artist who specializes in projections—spelled out in giant letters of light over the EPA building. But after an hour of protesting Ebell, the artist couldn’t resist taking a shot at the man who appointed him.
“While we were doing it, behind us is the Trump Hotel. I thought, ‘Maybe we should do something,’” Bell says. “I just literally mocked that up on the spot, turned the projector around, and just hit it.”
So for five minutes on Monday night, the façade of the Trump International Hotel was lit up with a basically legal, homegrown, historic protest.
Using Photoshop and his projection-mapping software, Bell whipped up something on the fly. The choice was obvious. “Experts Agree: Trump Is a Pig” might not register as the same zinger outside the District, but for the city’s punk scene, it’s something of a rallying cry.
That phrase has been popping up all over town over the last few weeks—and not just because Americans so recently elected to send a leader here who has bragged about sexually assaulting women. The message is a callback to a popular drag on U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese during the Reagan era. At the time, the D.C. hardcore music scene was at its zenith, while D.C. itself was stuck in its nadir. “Experts Agree! Ed Meese Is a Pig” posters were everywhere.
“The capital’s newest fashion craze: Ed Meese T-shirts,” reads a 1988 story in The New York Times, which quotes a bookseller who says that he sold 50 shirts in 2 hours.
Jeff Nelson, a founder of Dischord Records and the drummer for Minor Threat, launched the popular protest against Meese in the 1980s. Hundreds of posters were pasted across the city protesting Meese’s role in the Iran-Contra scandal and the Reagan administration’s treatment of AIDS patients. Washingtonianeditor Michael Schaffer, writing for The New Republic in 2013, described Nelson’s “Meese Is a Pig” campaign as a “pre-web meme,” one that eventually sold some 6,000 T-shirts.
Jason Mogavero, a performer in the always topical electropunk band Jack on Fire, may be responsible for reviving the slogan. Mogavero started printing “Experts Agree! Trump Is a Pig” posters and stickers in October, plastering them all over D.C.’s Shaw, Bloomingdale, and LeDroit Park neighborhoods. They’ve since spread further.
“It got used in a flyer for a punk show in Richmond, a benefit for an organization promoting abortion access and access to women’s healthcare,” Mogavero says. “With the projection, it’s gotten a bit more of a signal boost than it had before.”
Bell is also an activist, and he spent the summer traveling around the Midwest with the 1 in 3 Campaign, a group working to secure women’s rights to abortion and reproductive health care. With 1 and 3, Bell projected images on buildings and landmarks in in Texas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. “I have a feeling that we’re going to be pretty busy, fighting all the different positions that Trump has taken and who he might appoint,” Bell says. “We’re not stopping.”
Projection-as-protest is a format that echoes historically in the District. In 1989—in a story that is now D.C. lore—the director of the (now-defunct) Corcoran Gallery of Art canceled a show of photography by Robert Mapplethorpe in the face of threats from then–Senator Jesse Helms. Artists were furious: More than 900 people showed up to protest the Corcoran’s decision. Rockne Krebs, a D.C. artist known for using lasers in his art installations, projected images from the show onto the side of the Corcoran building for all to see.
D.C.’s punk scene is ready to be mobilized. A new generation of hardcore bands is ready to answer the call, as The Washington Post’s Chris Richards has documented at length; the scene hasn’t sounded this explosive since hardcore songs were all about Reagan. Mogavero says that there isn’t a center to D.C.’s musical genres anymore, but adds that “the whole scene is of one mind ideologically.” And the protests are only just starting.
“There’s more fun and mayhem in the wings for sure,” Mogavero says.