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
For our first issue of 2017, we asked eight contributors: what can art do in times of social and political turmoil? This line of inquiry seemed undeniable – rearing its head in the poignant essays in our last issue Art + Citizenship, the driving force behind post-election actions across the country, and at the center of how we as an arts publishing organization were evaluating our own efficacy as an arts publishing organization.
We sought out a range of voices whose vocations include: art critic, curator, professor, radical organizer, visual artist. The responses we received surprised us. Taken together, these essays shake up the very framework of the issue as we laid it out, breaking up our well-groomed inquiry into a complex cluster of meaning. Too, there is a distinct personal tenor to the narratives in this issue, one we don’t often see in arts writing. I take this as a sign that those of us that teach, advocate, institutionalize, or historicize art should be asking ourselves the same question. Art can do a lot of things, but the real question seems to be: what can we do? Art is just one of many areas under serious threat in our current landscape. Looking to radical visionaries that came before us and those that walk among us now, many of our writers summon an incredible invocation of the future through their writing. Art can help us see differently, to imagine better realities. It’s time to put our imaginations to work, or we risk being implicated in fortifying the same systems we hope to crumble. Look to art. Act swiftly. As Vivian Sming notes in her essay, “Art can’t do anything if we don’t.”—Kara Q. Smith
President Donald Trump gave his first joint address to Congress last night, and the rows of Democrats sitting in the audience were dotted with women in white.
Many of the female Democrats who make up the House Democratic Women’s Working Group wore white clothing, dubbed “suffragette white,” in a nod to the women’s rights movement in the early 1900s.
“We wear white to unite against any attempts by the Trump administration to roll back the incredible progress women have made in the last century, and we will continue to support the advancement of all women,” Florida Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel, the chair of the working group, said in a statement.
The members are wearing white to show their support for Planned Parenthood affordable health care, reproductive rights, equal pay, paid leave, affordable child care and “lives free from fear and violence,” the statement continued.
Since the women’s rights movement, white has since become the color for celebrating women in politics at many points throughout history. A #WearWhiteToVote campaign on Election Day 2016 encouraging women to express their solidarity with those who fought for the women’s right to vote.
White was also the color Hillary Clinton wore at major campaign events, including the night she accepted the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention. She also wore white at Trump’s inauguration. Geraldine Ferraro wore white in 1984 when she became the first woman to accept the vice presidential nomination of a major party. Shirley Chisholm wore all white when she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress; she also wore white three years later when she became the first African-American woman to run for a major party’s presidential nomination.
Republican women appeared to be answering the move by wearing their own chosen color: purple. In political circles, purple has come to symbolize bipartisanship. Several prominent GOP women, including Callista Gingrich, wife of Trump adviser Newt Gingrich,Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), a member of the House’s leadership team, were dressed in purple.
Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the House Republican Conference, when asked about the movement of Democratic women, urged her fellow Congresswomen to “come together.”
“Typically, when a president is elected, you have that coming together as a country, which we haven’t had,” she said, “and I’m hopeful that people will listen to his message tonight and that they’ll be willing to come together, find the common ground, so that we can do the important work that the people expect us to do.”
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass) also wore a purple blazer, but perhaps for entirely different reasons. In addition to white, purple and gold were the official colors of the National Women’s Party and the suffragist movement. The colors were chosen deliberately, according to the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage’s statement of purpose:
Purple is the color of “loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause.”
Gold symbolizes “the color of light and life and “the torch that guides our purpose.”
White represents “the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose.”
The walls of women in white in the audience were a jab at Trump’s language and behavior toward women to date. “It’s really important to show that what candidate Trump said about women and the way that he has behaved toward women in the past is not an acceptable standard for a president,” House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-California) said. “We want a visual reminder to him that suffragettes wore white and we are not going to let him take us backward. We are not going to let men dictate the choices that we have in our lives. We are not going to stand for a president that doesn’t respect us and take our perspective into account.”
Representative Karen Bass, also from California, said Democrats wanted to express solidarity with women who have recently protested against Trump “and just women in solidarity with each other against a president who ran a campaign that was rooted in misogyny.”
A few dozen people marched across the warehouse floor, holding cardboard signs and singing in Spanish. “Stop the raids,” the signs read.
They were stopped halfway across the room. “You can watch,” said a man in the middle of the room, “but you can’t come any closer.” The group locked arms and sat on the floor. The man pulled at their arms and tried to drag them apart. The room echoed with shouts and singing.
Peter Pedemonti clapped his hands. “OK, let’s take a breath,” he said. The signs lowered, the line broke apart, and the 50 or so people who had gathered in the warehouse Saturday afternoon turned expectantly toward him.
They were here to learn how to disrupt a deportation. It was something that Pedemonti’s interfaith immigrant rights group, the New Sanctuary Movement, had been planning for months, ever since President Barack Obama’s administration announced a round of deportation raids, mainly targeting undocumented Central American adults and children. At the time, officials had said they would try not to conduct raids at schools, hospitals, or places of worship.
“But if Immigrations and Customs Enforcement comes to your house, you can’t leave to find sanctuary in a church or a congregation,” Pedemonti said. “So we thought: We’ll bring the congregation to you.”
The idea was to set up a hotline that immigrants could call if ICE agents showed up at their door – and to show up at deportations themselves, with a few dozen activists and a ready-made prayer service. Some would sing and pray and read Scripture; others would form a line and block the sidewalk, risking arrest. About 60 people signed up for the program, called “Sanctuary on the Streets.” But they were never called to a deportation, and considered scrapping the program.
Then President Trump was elected, with his promises to crack down on illegal immigration and on sanctuary cities like Philadelphia, which does not cooperate with federal officials’ detainer requests for undocumented immigrants charged with nonviolent crimes. New Sanctuary Movement sent an email to its mailing list, asking again for volunteers for Sanctuary on the Streets. This time, 1,000 people responded.
Pedemonti has been holding training sessions for the program twice a month since. The executive orders Trump signed last week -- which aim to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, hire 10,000 new ICE agents, build a border wall, and suspend the U.S.’s refugee program for four months -- have lent the program a new urgency, attendees said.
“I just want to help,” said Daoud Steele, a carpenter from West Philadelphia who was raised Muslim and said he knew Syrian refugees affected by one of the orders. “[Immigrants today] are no less American than my great-great-grandparents, who came from the Netherlands. Everyone here is an immigrant.”
So he and several dozen others came to a cavernous room in the warehouse in West Philadelphia on Saturday. Maria Turcios, a New Sanctuary member originally from Honduras, told the group about how immigration officials had come to her house in 2004, searching for the father of one of her grandchildren, who was not at home. The agents left with three of her family members, she said. Four years later, her daughter was served a deportation order. The family considered asking her to leave, she said, but ultimately decided to fight the case in court. They won.
“The more than 1,000 people who signed up for Sanctuary in the Streets will make history together,” she said through an interpreter. “Showing up today is an act of love.”
Attendees split into groups and spent the afternoon acting out a Sanctuary in the Streets protest, with different groups playing deportees, ICE agents, and protesters.
Pedemonti told them how to approach a house that was being raided (slowly and deliberately), how to identify themselves to ICE agents outside (politely but firmly), and how to begin a prayer service on the sidewalk (loudly but reverently). Afterward, he said, staff members from New Sanctuary would remain to comfort family members left behind.
“This is a nonviolent action – we show up with love and compassion,” he told the group. “If an ICE agent tells you to stop, you’re going to stop. If they tell you to move back, you’re going to move back.”
Others in a protest group can choose to risk arrest – sitting down on the sidewalk to block ICE agents, or surrounding the agents’ vehicles, he said. Those volunteers will receive special civil-disobedience training.
“Is the goal to actually stop the raid – for real?” Steele asked.
“If ICE is going to take the family, we’re not going to stop them,” Pedemonti said. The aim is not to try to break a line of agents, or to resist arrest, he said. “But we want to put public pressure on them. To tell them, every time they show up at a house or a workplace, we’re going to be there.”
Pedemonti said he wanted ICE and the authorities to know of the New Sanctuary Movement's plan. In turn, he wants the group to try to work to understand immigration authorities – “to see their humanity.” Those who criticize the notion of protesting a deportation, he encourages to read Scripture – specifically, Matthew 25:35: “For I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”The organization wants to continue to publicize the hotline and train new volunteers, Pedemonti said. “In this moment, it’s important for people who are affected [by the executive orders] and people who aren’t to stand up, and people who aren’t affected have to start taking risks,” he said.
Afterward, Crystal Gonzalez, an arts administrator from West Philadelphia, said she was ready take those risks. She said she had signed up for the program before the election, alarmed by the record-setting number of deportations under the Obama administration. Her parents immigrated from Cuba before she was born, she said, and benefited from programs that helped immigrants fleeing communist countries.
"My family's status here was never questioned," she said. "So it's about solidarity, and really, truly feeling the concept of 'Your problem is my problem.' I can utilize the privilege and support my family received."
The sky was gray, a light snow fell, and the weather was bitingly cold. But the mood outside New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) on Saturday was red-hot with anger, as dozens, and then hundreds, and then, as night fell, thousands arrived to protest President Donald Trump’s executive orderbarring entry into the United States of all refugees—including Syrian refugees, perhaps indefinitely—as well as visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The rally, organized by a coalition of groups including the New York Immigration Coalition, the Arab American Association of New York, and Make the Road New York, came together within hours. The call for a rapid-response demonstration was posted on Facebook in the morning, and word quickly spread on social media. Supporters of these groups came from across New York, traveling long distances on the subway to reach an airport not easily accessible for many.
Throughout the day, the protesters huddled in a holding pen outside Terminal 4, the part of the airport where refugees and visa-holders, turned back from the United States, were being detained. They chanted, “Love, not hate, makes America great,” and “No hate, no fear, Syrians are welcome here,” as cars driving by honked their horns in support. Inside the airport terminals, lawyers whipped out laptops to draft habeas corpus petitions to get their clients, held by Customs and Border Patrol agents, out of detention. Meanwhile, Port Authority police officers milled on the perimeter, and also blocked protesters’ entrance into Terminal 4. As the crowd grew, the demonstrators eventually spilled into the parking terminal overlooking the main protest area.
The protests lasted well into the evening, and continued as a federal judge ruled to temporarily halt part of Trump’s executive order in response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. The order applies only to those who arrived in the United States with valid visas in the past 24 hours but were detained upon entry; they cannot be deported for now. While the order is temporary, it is a partial victory for civil-liberties advocates.
Trump’s order to bar refugees and many Middle Easterners, signed on the Friday afternoon of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was a stunning capstone to a stunning week that seemed designed to shock Americans into submission. But in New York, and in cities around the country, protesters poured into airports in droves, determined to help those locked inside airport detention centers who had arrived just after Trump issued the ban. Taxi drivers called for a work stoppage outside JFK. Demonstrations were held in Chicago, Boston, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities.
Fahd Ahmed, the executive director of the South Asian–led group Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), told The Nation he feared that the current order was a test run for an expanded order down the road, perhaps targeting citizens of more countries. In addition to the denials of entry and detentions, he had heard that Muslim travelers were being harassed and harshly interrogated by US officials at airport entry points around the nation.
“What’s becoming clear is that this [order] is not just a bad, misguided policy. The current administration has a larger ideology, viewpoint and platform—a platform of white supremacy against Muslims, immigrants, and refugees,” said Ahmed, whose group has been helping lead resistance against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.
The urgency—and fluidity—of the moment was underscored in the early afternoon, when lawyers, helped by Representatives Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velasquez, both of New York, successfully freed Hameed Darweesh, an Iraqi refugee who has worked for the US military. Darweesh had been detained for hours before the American Civil Liberties Union filed legal action on his behalf.
But the sense of victory quickly turned sour as other Muslim travelers were not released but remained in detention inside. Protesters vowed to remain outside JFK until everybody was free, and supporters of refugees also gathered inside a federal courthouse in Manhattan for a hearing on whether detainees would be able to stay in the United States.
A few hours later, at least one other Iraqi refugee who also worked for the US military, Haider Alshawi, was released after being detained for 24 hours. Alshawi was one of unknown numbers of refugees and visa holders detained in airports or turned back before hopping on a plane to the United States. Inside JFK, there were at least 11 people detained, according to Murad Awawdeh, the political director of the New York Immigration Coalition, the group that hastily organized the protest.
“This is a ban on Muslims. This is what it is,” said Awawdeh. “They’re being treated as if they have no rights.”
As the day wore on, the full scope of Trump’s order began to come into focus. The text of the order temporarily halts refugee resettlement; indefinitely bars all Syrian refugees; and, for 90 days, blocks travelers coming from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya. But there was confusion as to how it might impact dual-nationals and green-card holders. By the afternoon, the word from the White House had come down: Green-card holders could enter, but only if they receive an individual waiver. The State Department said dual citizens—for instance, someone with British and Iraqi citizenship—would be barred from entering the United States for now.
As more information trickled out, disgust with the order grew. Representative Keith Ellison, who is running to lead the Democratic National Committee, called for “mass rallies” against the Trump order. Senator Tim Kaine, the Democrats’ 2016 vice-presidential candidate, said he is “appalled by the cruelty the Trump Administration has demonstrated.”
And in New York, Congresswoman Velasquez forcefully spoke out against the refugee ban.
“This is ill-advised. It is mean-spirited. It goes against our values, and we got to fight it,” she told reporters at the rally. “We going to resist. We are going to organize. We are going to strategize. But we will fight for justice every single day in this country.”
As protesters chanted, “No ban, no wall, Donald Trump has got to fall,” The Nation spoke with Aditi Niak, who is from India, but received American citizenship last April.
“I was really excited to become American. And now I’m sad. I’m sad that America is being affiliated with people who don’t believe it’s a welcoming place, who feel like they can close our borders,” she said. “That’s not what America believes in. I’ve lived here for 15 years now, and this is the first time I’ve felt legitimately scared—scared for the country, scared for my friends, scared for people like me who come here for a better life and we’re being turned away. That’s not what this country stands for.”
Ann M. Donnelly waited half a year for her chance to convince the Senate that she would make a good federal judge. When the day finally came, she packed as many relatives as she could into the benches.
In her opening comments, she named every single one of them.
Donnelly introduced the senators to her husband, Michael. Her sister Sarah and brother Thomas. And then their spouses and their four children.
And to her mother and late father — “I know he is watching,” she told the Judiciary Committee in the spring of 2015. And her two daughters, and their boyfriends.
And then Saturday night, after a year and a week on the federal bench, Donnelly sat in her own courtroom in Brooklyn while families shouted and cried in airports nationwide.
That’s the night the daughter of Mary and Jack Donnelly — whose speeches and rulings had rarely traveled beyond courthouse walls — became known across the world as the first judge to block Trump’s order.
Never before in her long legal career had Donnelly gained such attention. Nowhere close.
Her old college roommate, Darcy Gibson Berglund, remembers the Ohio-raised English major starring in a campus rendition of “Pippin” in the late 1970s but then quickly leaving the stage for the law.
“She’s an intellectual, she was not going to pursue theater,” Berglund said. But she said her friend retained “a facility with language” after graduating from law school in 1984.
Donnelly spent the next quarter-century as a New York prosecutor. Her most famous case was against two executives who looted their company — a trial that the New York Times described as “six months of sometimes tedious testimony.”
The paper recounted Donnelly’s closing arguments in the Tyco International case, when she “at times seemed like a schoolteacher lecturing her students.”
The executives “believed they were above the law, and they believe the rules that apply to other people do not apply to them,” Donnelly told the jury in 2004.
Donnelly would later tell senators that sentencing someone to prison “is one of the most difficult tasks a judge faces.” Some of her cases, however, were so horrific it didn’t seem hard.
“Not only did you strangle this woman, you then chopped her up,” she told a man in 2010, according to the New York Daily News, before sentencing him to 19 years to life for killing his ex-girlfriend and burying her in concrete.
If the killer were ever released, the paper noted, he would be deported because he had come to the United States illegally.
Several years later, a populist Republican would begin crafting campaign speeches around violent immigrants.
But first, Donnelly had to wait.
And wait, and wait, and wait after President Barack Obama nominated her to the federal court in November 2014, promising she would “serve the American people with integrity and an unwavering commitment to justice.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee did not hold hearings to approve her for months, a common theme in an era when White House and Congress stood divided.
“I’m thrilled the committee is finally moving forward,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in May 2015. “I know Ann well.”
He spoke of her parents in Ohio, and her work prosecuting sex crimes. He told his colleagues of an office Donnelly had left long ago, where “her reputation is legendary.”
“She is at her core a kind, thoughtful, compassionate person,” Schumer said.He asked her family to stand. “You’ll see, it’s a great sight.”
Donnelly’s mother and a dozen-some siblings, children, spouses, nieces and friends all rose in the chamber. One woman wiped tears from her eyes after Donnelly took the table at the front of the room.
The senators asked her only two questions, and only about criminal law.
“It’s a certain risk a judge takes,” Donnelly told Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), speaking of times she had tried to rehabilitate rather than punish a young offender, in hopes to “save someone from what is bound to be a life of crime.”
But mostly, Donnelly spoke of her family before ceding the table and waiting for the Senate’s decision.
Another half a year passed until the Senate confirmed her, nearly unanimously, with only two nays.
She made no great news for a full year on the federal bench — until Saturday evening, when protesters thronged major U.S. airports and an executive with the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted directions to Donnelly’s courthouse.
“Go right now if you can,” he wrote.
It had by then been a full day since Trump signed an executive order he said would “keep radical Islamic terrorists” out of the country — but which turned out to instantly bar people who had spent weeks or years planning journeys to the United States, and in some cases were already here.They had names like Labeeb Ali, who told The Washington Post he had sold his business and belongings in Iraq and obtained a U.S. visa before finding out at the airport that he couldn’t board his flight.
“I am looking for my parents! They are elderly!” a crying woman shouted in the same airport that night. And in cities from Dallas to Seattle, bewildered families sought missing members, and the ACLU’s emergency request to stop the deportations found its way to Donnelly’s courtroom in New York.
She had once been a government lawyer, but that night, she showed little patience for their arguments, The Post reported.
“Our own government presumably approved their entry to the country,” Donnelly said, weighing the risks of sending unknown numbers of people back across the oceans.
An ACLU lawyer interrupted the hearing to warn Donnelly that a flier was about to be deported to war-torn Syria unless she acted immediately.
Donnelly asked whether the government could guarantee that person’s safety and, unconvinced by the answer, issued her order just before 9 p.m.
Sending travelers back could cause “irreparable harm,” she ruled. She’d turned more eloquent phrases, but this time her written words were photographed and immediately shared across the world.“Stay is granted,” the executive director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project wrote on Twitter.
“Stay is national.”
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt announces to a crowd outside a Brooklyn courthouse that a federal judge had stayed deportations nationwide of those detained on entry to the United States following an executive order from President Trump that targeted citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries. (ACLU Nationwide/Facebook)
By early Sunday morning, tearful and exhausted people were emerging from security areas across the United States. They had no guarantee for their future in the United States, but they had a reprieve from immediate deportation.
And as families filtered out into the cities, the name of a federal judge they’d never heard of was in headlines across the globe.
Days after Trump’s Inauguration, Activists Call for a Sustained Movement
Greenpeace activists deploy a banner on a construction crane near the White House reading "RESIST" on President Trump's fifth day in office.The activists are calling for those who want to resist Trump's attacks on environmental, social, economic and educational justice to contribute to a better America.
Washington, DC – This morning, seven activists deployed a 70-foot by 35-foot banner of the word “Resist” above the White House. The activists from around the country are still in place, calling for those who want to resist Trump’s attacks on environmental, social, economic, and educational justice to contribute to a better America.
“People in this country are ready to resist and rise up in ways they have never done before,” said activist and Greenpeace Inc. Board Chair Karen Topakian. “While Trump’s disdain and disrespect for our democratic institutions scare me, I am so inspired by the multigenerational movement of progress that is growing in every state. Greenpeace has used nonviolence to resist tyrannical bullies since 1971, and we’re not going to stop now.”
The Greenpeace USA activists say they are prepared to stay in position throughout the morning to reach as many people as possible through live broadcasts on Greenpeace USA’s Facebook page, tweets from the activists’ twitter accounts, and media interviews.
“The sun has risen this morning on a new America, but it isn’t Donald Trump’s,” said Pearl Robinson, one of the activists who unfurled the banner. ”I fear not only the policies of the incoming administration, but also the people emboldened by this election to commit acts of violence and hate. Now is the time to resist. We won’t stand rollbacks on all the progress the people have made on women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, the heightened awareness of state-sanctioned violence on black and brown folks, and the progress we have made on access to clean and renewable energy, an issue I have personally worked on my entire adult life.”
The action this morning comes after days of sustained protests against Trump, including the four activists who disrupted Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing with “Reject Rex” signs earlier this month, the veterans arrested in Senator John McCain’s office last week, and the hundreds of thousands of participants in Women’s Marches across the country over the weekend.
Since Trump has taken office, his administration has removed all mentions of climate change and LGBTQ rights from the White House website, taken steps to bring back the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, and issued a press gag order on all employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture.
For live updates, viewers can tune into the Facebook Live broadcast and follow tweets from the activists.
Photo Credit: Richard Wayne Collens / Shutterstock
If you had “National Parks subtweet the new president” on your 2017 bingo card, today’s your lucky day.
After the US National Parks Service was temporarily banned for retweeting images comparing Trump and Obama’s inaugurations, the official Twitter account of the appropriately named Badlands National Park, based in South Dakota, appeared to go rogue by posting a series of now-deleted tweets on climate change.
The tweets were eventually deleted, and, while the official accounts may not be saying much right now, some “alternative” accounts have been set up. One, @BadHombreNPS tweeted: “Hey, friends. Here to support @BadlandsNPS with the science facts they can no longer share!
The most popular is @AltNatParkSer, which bills itself as the unofficial “resistance” team of the US National Parks Service.
One of its initial tweets read: “Mr Trump, you may have taken us down officially. But with scientific evidence & the Internet our message will get out.”
The owner of the account has yet to respond to the Guardian’s request for comment, but told reporters:
As of yet, it has not been verified whether the account is actually run by National Park employees.
A National Parks official told BuzzFeed the climate change tweets were posted by a “former employee” who was not authorised to use the account.
They added: “The park was not told to remove the tweets but chose to do so when they realised that their account had been compromised.”
This isn’t even the first time National Parks Twitter accounts have run afoul of the Trump administration. Over the weekend, they were temporarily told to halt tweeting after its main account retweeted pictures comparing the turnouts of Trump and Obama’s inaugurations. They later apologised for the “mistaken RTs”.