When the Far Right Becomes the Status Quo: A Nightmare Turned Real
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, cultural change may be instigated through art.
Last summer while preparing for the Sleeping Weazel premiere of Cleanliness, Godliness, and Madness: A User’s Guide, a multimedia play I’d been working on for several years, I found the play’s dystopic view of “America” conjured from my memories growing up in The John Birch Society was becoming more and more like mainstream reality than I ever thought possible.
Looking back, my initial decision to write this play stemmed from my anxiety about the frightening similarity between an increasingly widespread rhetoric of bigotry and the adult conversation in my childhood home on the far right wing fringe. This time, however, the views my parents warned us in the 1970s not to share with those outside our John Birch Society circle were showing up with great frequency in the mouths of Tea Party enthusiasts, Christian fundamentalists, and a significant number of Republican politicians all over the country.
Little could I imagine this hegemonic mentality rooted in white supremacy and Capitalist patriarchy was about to take over the highest office in the land. Instead, I thought I’d better put on my play before the election, as my satirical take on the personal lives of activists on the far right would soon be obsolete. Clearly, I was in denial, but not 100%. I wrote this article in July 2016, which USA Today published in early October. Although I received far more supportive responses than negative ones (including a few to my personal email), the latter gave me perspective about the number of people infected by the same paranoia, fear, and hatred I grew up with and ran away from as soon as I could.
Living now in New England for fifteen years, where I teach at a liberal arts college (Wheaton) and co-direct a socially progressive, experimental theater company in Boston, this election has forced me to confront that I’ve chosen to inhabit another kind of bubble, which has left me unprepared for the catapulting return to a discourse of vitriol and ignorance from my childhood, now freely wielded on every television news station in the country and in Donald Trump’s daily tweets to the nation.
I am not a subscriber to the “everything happens for a reason” school of thought. So now what? These past few months it’s been difficult to justify expressing myself as an artist. I felt this way when G.W. Bush was President as well, and eventually wrote a play, Looking for George, based on a weekly letter writing campaign I organized, begging him to end the war on Iraq. This time, I’ve written the letters, signed the petitions, attended the marches, and nothing feels like enough. Nothing is enough.
Recently I was asked to facilitate a conversation on racism for the StageSource Conference in Boston, and I titled it “The Shadow of White Supremacy.” At a conference (of about 200 attendees) offering numerous choices for each time slot, it was enormously gratifying that over 30 showed up for the discussion. I began by asking each participant to say something about what drew them to this panel, and the variety of thoughtful, open-hearted answers literally created a cellular shift in the room. Small group conversation followed, again with the aim of allowing every person there the chance to speak, and when the hour was up, they wanted to continue talking. They had come up with about ten action items and energy was high.
If the worst thing to do post-election is normalize the dire situation we are in, the second worst thing has got to be retreating into isolation and silence. For me, shock was indeed followed by a period of inertia that alternated with bouts of manic activity. Both made me sick. Now I am trying to allow myself time to think, read, and write so that I can act with others, in the theater and in everyday life, in ways that point me back to the belief that the hope and possibility of civilization still exist, and that this ideal must be defended with fervor.