The White House Peace Vigil takes up only a little sidewalk space on Pennsylvania Ave. but leaves a big footprint. For 32 years, two six-foot yellow signs with a white tarp between them have warned us about the dangers of nuclear weapons. This iconic statement for disarmament almost came to an end today.
Thousands of tourists have seen it, taken pictures of it, and talked to Concepcion, the co-founder who’s been there since the beginning–Chinese tourists from Shanghai, Koreans from Seoul, Germans on their way to Philadelphia, gay rights activists from Africa, and school groups from Iowa.
Hundreds of volunteers have invested over 282,000 hours of labor staffing the vigil, sitting through rain, snow, cold, heat, thirst–and boredom. During Hurricane Sandy three people held it in place for hours as the wind screamed.
There’s a bathroom nearby but it closes early. Someone has to man it 24 hours a day, so volunteers are organized into shifts and bring their own food and water. They have to wait for their replacements, even if they come late.
Facing the north portico of the White House, the tattered tarp and yellow signs present an image of the powerless confronting the all-powerful. Undoubtedly every president since 1981–five of them–has seen it and knows its history, yet none have ever acknowledged it. Continue reading →
Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was held on August 19 for nine hours of questioning at London’s Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Although it was clear that Miranda posed no terrorist threat, his cell phone, laptop, game consoles and camera were confiscated. Under the UK’s controversial Terrorism Act, anyone can be detained for up to nine hours of questioning before they clear customs.
A spokesperson for the Guardian said, “We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities.”
Translation: “Protect the public,” “national security” and variation “keep you safe” is doublespeak for “we’re watching you.”
International Big Brother is usually more discreet, but the Snowden revelations have driven him out of the shadows. The security services of the US and our allies are driving us inexorably towards the dystopian society predicted in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The rationale for anti-terrorism laws is public safety, a trade-off between protection and rights. Yet the anti-terrorism laws which empower security authorities are being abused. The NSA often violates even the secret regime of law established by the FISA Court. GCHQ used the Terrorism Act as a pretense to detain David Miranda at Heathrow. Glenn Greenwald calls it “a failed attempt at intimidation.”
Disregard for the law is not only a betrayal of trust and principle, it nullifies hundreds of years of struggle to secure our civil rights. And what’s more, it’s not keeping us safe either.
In reality, protection and surveillance have little to do with each other. In the military, we learned that there is a difference between guarding and surveilling. Guarding is providing that no harm will come to who or whatever you’re protecting. Surveilling is watching, observing and recording.
The NSA and GCHQ maintain that surveillance is a tool to protect the people from terrorists, when in fact they watch the people like we are the enemy. The laws that our government has put into place serve more to shield itself from public scrutiny than to protect the public.
The question is, when will we recognize that laws disguised as protection from terrorists are actually being used to surveil, gather unlimited information and track us? Lost rights can’t be regained when those in power believe no one is willing to fight for them.
In McPherson Madness, playwright Kelly Canavan revisits a moment in recent history and shows how the drama of revolutionary movements can draw out the drama in one’s personal life. When she joined the Occupy movement in November 2011, she did not know it was setting the stage for a play she would later author.
In October 2011, when Occupy Wall Street was taking to the New York City streets, a small group of people started a sister encampment in Washington, DC. Within weeks, it grew to several hundred tents covering the entire park.
Like Occupy DC on which it is based, McPherson Madness is set in a public park near the White House, McPherson Square. Its main character, Dreama, is a mother on a journey in a social movement, struggling to balance the extremes of two lives. She’s a character split into two separate personas. “Info Dreama” (Jen Bevan) exists as the dominant role, pulled in by the gravitational energy of the Occupy DC movement, while Dreama (Tina Ghandchilar) internalizes the conflict with her family life outside the park.
Her obligation to participate in what she sees as a necessary revolution in society is pitted against her duty to take care of her son. As the play unfolds, she must come to terms with this conflict.
She lives almost schizophrenically, vacillating between separate worlds. There’s no peace for her as she skirts between the charged energy of the park and her son’s home life she has temporarily escaped. The audience never meets him, and only learns about him from her cellphone calls.
The ghostlike appearance of her doctor (Jean Miller) coaches her through her issues with sexuality, motherhood, and health, through dialogues with her two personas.
The play was artfully directed by Lynnie Raybuck, a perfect fit for this production, who finds “people more interesting than right or wrong.” The art backdrop, a 10’x20′ acrylic poster depicting a grand scene of McPherson Square, was painted by Ray Voide, who has previously painted dozens of protest posters.
McPherson Madness achieves authenticity since it was written by someone who actually lived and documented her journey within Occupy in a personal way. It pulls the audience into Dreama’s struggle while showing the harsh consequences of a society broken by its troubles and failings–and those who try to fix it.
It speaks to social issues of alcoholism, poverty, homelessness and the extraordinary efforts of people to “fight back” against oppressive social and economic ills. There may be stereotypes, but each is treated with a great amount of respect, each given a central role of dramatic importance. It shows that in the midst of complete chaotic breakdown people can still find humanity in how they treat others. In this production the issues of political correctness remain silent: it is about people.
McPherson Madness is a must-see exploration of a woman evolving through a modern revolution, torn between complex worlds revealing the personal lives of its players, on display for everyone.
McPherson Madness is part of the Capital Fringe Festival, www.capitalfringe.org. It shows Sunday, July 21, 2:30 PM at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Streets NW (corner of P Street NW) Washington, DC and Saturday, July 27th, 6:30 PM.