Saturday, January 19, 2008

policy and practical reality for the activist artist

i just got off the phone with my sister. the topic for this evening - gentrification. after attending a workshop focusing on the use of artistic expression (ie. dramatic body sculpting using boal's image theatre techniques) as a mode of discovery toward marxist policy shifts in the face of a seemingly perpetual movement in favor of the gentry, she holla'd on the cell phone. time for the huddle up and decompression like, "yo, sis. how can we use this stuff so it matters?"

i chose not to attend this time around. i have participated in forum theatre and cop-in the-head workshops before. i find them useful. but not for policy reasons. i find that these techniques can be helpful, especially cop-in the-head, for artistic and cathartic expression when confronting internalized oppression like the painful psychological and emotional space of those suffering from domestic violence, rape, and poverty. when it comes to the intellectual's hopeful journey toward policy change and utopian community shifts which over-turn capitalism, however, i find the process much like a scholarly stroll through wonder-land . . . a fairy's tale . . . potentially condescending one at that.

while scholars querry the possibity of a marxist take-over in the u.s., i am most concerned about how we educate masses of tenants to understand how to organize against illegal eviction of single mothers, who are often considered a liability to both standard rental and cooperative living spaces. i am also concerned about how we teach tenant rights so that renters know what the management company has a right to do and what they cannot. how do we teach masses of people how to file a motion in landlord-tenant court? and how do we encourage communities inhabiting rental apartments to actively protest marshalls when they descend upon properties on eviction day? how do we encourage neighbors to assist recently evicted families by finding space, and funds, to store a family's property safely instead of rummaging through it for whatever good might be left?

it's not that i don't find the scholar's work useful. i have spent years in undergraduate and graduate study. i enjoy the academic freedoms made possible in institutions of higher learning. i would not have had the time and space to cultivate my thoughts had it not been for such places. but i have also lived through eviction. i have spent hours in landlord-tenant court. and i am currently inhabiting a two bedroom apartment in a building infested with mold and mildew. tenants pay for toxic space here. and the landlord has no intention of rectifying the situation. it would cost too much. forget about the cost paid by the human lives on the other side of the brick walls . . . and i'm not just talking about the $800-$1450 folks fork over every month. i'm talking about the price paid in doctor's visits, or the price paid through lower life expectancy.

policy change takes time. red tape is thick and layered. but there is an urgency to human life. and often, scholars are too far removed from the allergies, pounding fists of marshalls, plexi-glass barriers between court officials and troubled tenants, and 100 dollar moving crews found in an emergency to understand this.

still, i find the work of these scholars useful, especially in the boal workshops, largely because if i, or another like-minded activist, can be present, it is possible to learn the techniques and effect change in our communities on an intimate level. we can create workshops and forums to practice de-policing our minds and hearts so that a change in action and thought is possible on the block. maybe. 'cause i don't think my neighbors are taking the train into manhattan, paying 100 dollars to be there, and taking it all back home. it'd have to happen here. and it would have to matter . . . it'd have to make sense . . . in a common sense kind of way. otherwise, we'd just be playing revolution with valuable time . . . time when folks could be making loot to pay the bills.

'cause when the marshalls were banging on my door, the only body sculpting i could do was the kind that put my small frame in the face of two body-building, mean-looking men with tears streaming down my face. and all that did was buy me some time . . . in the end, i packed my boxes and got the hell out of dodge. i was lucky. my things were not put out on the street. if there is a policy change brewing to combat that reality, it did not make it to my front door in time. and in the end, target and starbucks moved into the 'hood soon after me and my babies left. and a whole lot of people are customers.

the almighty dollar aint no joke. it's not games for actors and non actors. it's real life.

yeah. i will continue programming for outreach. and i will use some of the techniques i've learned to help bring folk back to love of self in a journey toward the ultimate love of community. but i will not attempt to convince them that these techniques will take them to the wizard, or that the wizard will know the spell to change this capitalist machine.

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