This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more articles and reflections in this series throughout March and April 2017!
The invisible fist of PTSD relaxed its grip from my solar plexus for the first time after reading a Twitter post.
Starting November 9, I could barely breathe, sleep, think of anything else except the Trumpocalypse. I hate social media for its antisocial nature, but now checked it incessantly, looking for an endorphin bump of positive news – is this a joke? When’s the recount? SNL’s not on tonight? – or solid Intel on how to time-machine out of this bonafide dystopia.
Where were the good guys? Who’s going to save the American experiment? The GOP was huddling behind their clown prince, scheming to destroy democracy. Obama had said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” but I wasn’t ready yet. Where were the saviors in this suddenly real world Hero’s Journey?
They were in the park. Some rogue rangers. Right out of the gate, *45 claimed climate change was a Chinese hoax, and put a gag order on the EPA, the Agriculture Department, then myriad government platforms, banning them from sharing science with the media or the public. My gorge rose. The panic attacked.
Then somebody in a Smokey the Bear hat said fuck this shit and resumed pushing out facts.
On January 24, a new AltUSNatParkService account starting tweeting reality and resistance. Other Alt and Rogue accounts quickly emerged. NotAltWorld got its Braveheart on: “You can take our official twitter, but you’ll never take our free time!”
A bunch of pissed off geeks promulgated actualities with humor, two components of alt-right kryptonite, using the Predator-in-Chief’s favorite megaphone, to fight for truth, justice and the American way.
Political Expression, version 2017, was born, perhaps in some corner of Bad(ass)lands National Park, from angry, witty and brave government employee fingers, subverting authoritarianism using 140 characters at a time.
I wept. My heart grew three sizes.
I obsessively checked for new unauthorized parks and government accounts, reading and following for signs I wasn’t alone, activism sparking like fire beacons across Middle Earth mountaintops, the Rebel Alliance summoning its secret network.
Leia Organa had said, “We need a flag to rally behind. A symbol. A symbol of hope.” She had the snazzy Alliance Starbird logo, and I, we, had fearless wilderness docents with decent WiFi connections.
AltUSNatParkService checked in again on January 25, affirming, “We promise 100 percent that we include environmental scientists and far too much coffee. #ResistTrump.”
All the plays and books and movies we’ve ever seen or read about good versus evil have prepared us for this epoch; they’ve given us the literary touchstones I’m using as a resistance shorthand, and name what I've been referring to as my Owen Meany moment.
I’ve spent a lifetime of learning unaware I was preparing for this new war, one as devastating as Pearl Harbor or 9/11, this “11/9,” the day after the election, an infamous day that is perhaps more insidious because it’s cyber and almost imperceptible, as if using a Harry Potter or Star Trek cloaking device. We suddenly know how to #resist because of Star Wars and other narratives. Harvard’s online Resistance School has been nicknamed Dumbledore’s Army.
Since forever, storytelling has been our battle plan, our way through and out.
Plus crafts. Pussy hats were probably our first unification through the act of making, a stitch-and-bitch session writ large that sewing-circled the planet.
I drove from Chicago to my hometown for the DC Women’s March. Via Facebook, I got on the waiting list for a local yarn store that was knitting and giving away the pink caps, since traditional women’s work is way out of my skill set. I picked up my cotton ears before hitting the road and joining my reSisters.
At every highway rest stop there and back, in the heart of flyover country, women disembarked from cars to stretch and seek Starbucks, curly fries and bathrooms, instantly recognized and connected by our new uniform, while warily eyeing the outnumbered red MAGA hats and their pilgrimage to and from the #SAD and hollow inauguration.
We had reasserted ownership of our pussies with yarn. We grabbed back. We became all the meanings of crafty.
In late February, creative civil disobedience landed another rope-a-dope. Two twenty-something DC activists handed out almost a thousand Trump flags to Conservative Political Action Conference attendees. Nobody noticed the infamous brand name had been printed on Russian Federation flags until the performance art/ interactive installation/ trick had been photographed, filmed, and shared, witnessing the blind zealotry and deep ignorance of his claque.
This subversive Americans Take Action group struck again in early April, rolling out a huge Impeach Trump sign at the Washington Nationals baseball home opener. More fabric art, more unexpected resistance action from an organization whose website says it’s "a network of populists who believe that the American government should represent we the people once again."
Young Greenpeace activist Pearl Robinson had inaugurated the DC “Resist” banner motif, also on January 25, by rolling out a 70-foot banner from a crane 300 feet in the air. From three blocks away, she told the Guardian, “I can see the White House, where we now have a president who doesn’t have the interests of the majority of the people.”
Another rogue Twitter account is NastyWomenOfNPS, a double whammy retaining the integrity of our National Park Service, which documentarian Ken Burns calls “America’s Best Idea,” and repurposing another one of Twitler’s childish, toxic narcissist insults.
The art of resistance, the palette of persistence is in our bones. Local artists at Chicago Printmakers Collective and Spudnik Press made a shitload of postcards, with sentiments such as “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” “Not My Sentient Cheeto,” and “Never Trust an Oompa Loompa,” for an eager community at #TheIdesOfTrump White House mailing in March.
We’ve been warned, been given an alternative facts explanation. Nevertheless, we will read and write, screen print and knit, prank and punk attempts at suppression and kleptocracy.
These fascists are shitty poker players. They’re going all in, holding nothing but obstruction, no senses of humor or imagination, so they will lose.
Artists carry history, so we remember it, and now Americans will join more experienced activists like Ai Weiwei, Fela Kuti, and Pussy Riot in doing what we do: make shit, sing shit, rage against, and laugh at, their fucked up machine.
And now, not just our livelihoods, but our lives depend on it. So get to work.