It's only February.
By Alisha Giampola (writer/performer)
When satire has become reality, when those leading our government are making Orwellian propaganda seem tame by comparison, when the creators of South Park don't even know how to make fun of the current administration, because truth has become too much stranger than even the fictions of their twisted minds... what is the right approach? What tone do artists take during times like this to resist fascism and authoritarian moves like literally attempting to destroy the amendment that maintains our government's fine line of separation between church and state? It isn't funny anymore, and making fun of it feels daunting. Why bother satirizing a man who can tweet stuff like this with a dead-straight face: "I don't know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy..." I mean.... okayyyyy, dude. I literally don't know what to say about that. When you spend your entire Black History Month speech talking about how everyone likes you and you got more votes than anyone in the whole world ever and everyone else is losers, and then say things like: "Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice," as if Frederick Douglass is a real up-and-comer in middle management of a small but promising office supplies company... I just literally don't know what to say.
Which is why I'm realizing more and more that the only way to respond to this preposterousness is with total and complete sincerity. (Although, there is absolutely a time and place for wit, and this is making me laugh today in the face of the utterly ridiculous confirmation of Betsey DeVos as Secretary of Education.) So. What do I mean by sincerity? I don't mean a total lack of irony. I don't mean "eschewing the lifesaving gift of comedy altogether". I just mean like, show up. I, a total and utterly insincere jerk, have been going to protests. Singing "This Land Is Our Land" alongside people holding homemade signs. Writing postcards to my congresspeople. Calling my senators and representatives EVERY SINGLE DAY (and also calling the ones in Florida, where I grew up, because I still have a Florida area code, and enjoy calling Marco Rubio and reminding him that he got bought by Betsy DeVos).
Some people have gotten really fired up about caring about the future of our democracy. A lot of awesome people I know have always cared about the political climate of our country, and are not foul-weather activists like myself, who suddenly realized a few months ago that being mildly displeased about things but only actually bothering about them when they affect you is a really shitty way to be a human. But some of us needed things to become really horrible to become involved. As a kid I remember reading about Anne Frank and Sojourner Truth and the French Revolution and thinking: "Oh, so like if I ever saw things get bad politically, it would be pretty clear who the good guys and bad guys are. Everyone I know and care about would also be like 'Yeah, clearly those are the bad guys and here's our secret hiding place and here's our box of stolen ration cards.'" But that's not how things are. Yeah, it's pretty easy to see who the bad guys are, but it's really unclear how to deal with them and how bad they actually have to let things get before it's justified to begin calling them bad guys. And it is certainly surprising how many people don't clearly see the same distinctions between good guys and bad guys.
I guess what I'm saying is, life is way more complicated than I expected when I was eleven, but is also surprisingly way more simple. I'm mortified that our country isn't accepting refugees from the country my own family escaped from during the last century, and I'm even more mortified that I feel so utterly helpless about how little I can ultimately do. Some of my friends are deciding to refocus their careers and run for office and help become one of the good guys in our government. Others are leading the resistance and gently pushing back on every human rights-compromising decision coming out of the White House today. Educators like myself have their work cut out for them for these next few years. Raising more tolerant, kind, inquisitive, questioning, inclusive humans is clearly in order. Humans who don't bully, who understand that the success of a group can be really good for the success of each individual in the group. Humans who are confident enough to accept that not everyone has to think exactly the same way, but we do all have to find a way to work together or our planet is doomed. Humans who recognize that just because someone believes in a different religion than you, that doesn't mean they're dangerous. Humans who are students of history and encourage others to be lifelong students as well.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair… we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
- Charles Dickens "A Tale of Two Cities" (how did he KNOW, AMIRITE?!) -
If you live in (or are planning a visit to) NYC, and you'd like to partake in some art that embodies the sentiment of "resist, with sincerity", may I recommend a few things that I'm currently interested in?
-The Museum of Modern Art's curated displays of art from the countries affected by the administrations' unconstitutional travel ban.
- An upcoming production (starring a former director of mine, Kevin Del Aguila! Yay, Kevin!) of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, a parable play about a dictator to be performed on February 20th, with ticket sales benefiting the Southern Poverty Law Center.
- Sweat, a widely acclaimed Public Theatre drama about the struggle of the working class transfers to Broadway in March.
A couple other things I'd love to recommend this week are an Oscar-nominated documentary that I loved (and at our house where Daniel tries and frequently succeeds at seeing every nominated film every awards season, I can tell you that I see a lot of Oscar-nominated documentaries): Life, Animated- a beautiful story about a young man with autism who communicates through the films he loves. Also, this week's This American Life was heartbreaking and timely.
A picture I took during this week's protest in Washington Square Park. #thisiswhatdemocracysoundslike
I am proud to live in a city that stands strong with refugees from the devastation in Syria (and every other place in need of hope and freedom).