Ever since I began working with Sean Devine on his play, Re:Union, it was the play’s politics that grabbed and held me. It asked me questions that I felt uncomfortable answering: what is the consequence of action? What is the consequence of inaction?
It’s a useful coincidence that Re:Union opened in the midst of one of the largest social/political movements this century – born in the Arab Spring, translated for the North American context by Vancouver-based AdBusters, developed by activists in Zucotti Park (aka Liberty Square) and now flowering in town squares around the globe. As Colin Thomas noted, the current context makes the play especially relevant. It asks each of us, what are you willing to do in the face of injustice?
After marching for various causes over the past 20 years, I have become lazy – an arm chair activist, clicking away at Avaaz links, sending occasional Amnesty International letters, and disseminating voting information to my students in a conscientiously non-partisan way. The last federal election results took the wind out of my sails. Why aren’t people voting? And why don’t I know anybody who is voting on the other side of the political spectrum? The designer search-engine algorithms that cater invisibly to our tastes had convinced me that my political analysis was common, widespread, that it was only a matter of the electorate reading the news, and change would come. When the momentum I felt with my friends proved to be a ripple, and not a wave, I didn’t know what to do. I continued the regular arts advocacy that is a part of all our jobs, and stewed.
So it was with a sense of excitement and expectation that I made my way over to the Vancouver Art Gallery lawn on October 15th. I had the day off from rehearsal, and managed to run into some other theatre makers in the large crowd gathered under sunny skies. We had a critical discussion about how the organizers were using the site and the pros and cons of using amplification. While we learned the hand signals through which we could participate in the group decision-making, I had a conversation that gave me hope. A guy standing beside me asked what was going on – what was this longwinded process happening on the steps of the art gallery? I explained that the consensus model was being explained and adopted. He suggested that they should just get to the issues. While the decisions were collectively made for how to administer a speaker list, how long speakers would be given to talk, and so on, I learned some more about my fellow protester.
“I work in that building right there,” he said, pointing to the HSBC tower glistening in the sun behind us. “They’re laying off 30,000 people. The system isn’t working for us either.”
And then we marched through the streets, and got excited about where it all could lead.
Time will tell if the Occupy movement will survive the attempts to move tent cities from public spaces in the name of fair use or public order. The Vancouver Sun reported today that both mainstream mayoral candidates want the movement to move out. The election on November 19th may buy some time for the tenters. But in the meantime, I suggest we all read what a consensus-guided group of disparate people have written: a work in progress, like a play, made from ideas colliding between living people in a shared space. These are people who are giving up their comfort, their daily lives, to ignite a conversation for all of us. It’s a political theatre set that is open to whomever is willing, if we take the time out of our busy lives, to play a part in a collective action that might change our given circumstances.
The full text of the Occupy Vancouver statement is at this link, but there’s one line that takes me back to Re: Union, back to Norman Morrison, and what it means to be a person of conscience:
Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.
Ten years passed from the time of Norman Morrison’s death to the end of the Vietnam War. Do the intervening years make his act null and void? If corporate profiteering at the cost of social and economic justice doesn’t end by Christmas, are the Occupiers wrong?
We don’t need to borrow issues from Wall Street or the Arab Spring. We have plenty of injustice to own here on Coast Salish land, while glossy condo towers shed light on people sleeping on the street. I feel like I’ve been called to find my own actions, by two dramatically different experiences – a night in a dark theatre, and a day in the sunny street.
Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.