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<nettime> Absurd Responses vs. Earnest Politics; Global Justice vs. Anti
ricardo dominguez on Mon, 30 Dec 2002 14:24:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Absurd Responses vs. Earnest Politics; Global Justice vs. Anti-War Movements; Guerilla Theater and Aesthetic Solutions.

Absurd Responses vs. Earnest Politics; Global Justice vs. Anti-War
Movements; Guerilla Theater and Aesthetic Solutions. by Ben Shepard

"Start the bombing now!!!!!" "Start the bombing now!!!! "Two four six
eight, we are people who hate, hate, hate!!!!" A cacophonous block of
church ladies in drag calling themselves 'Perms for Perma-War" screamed
with the formally earnest crowds throughout the anti-war march in
Washington DC on October 27th. What was going on? Different people had
different explanations. But for most involved, the feeling was the world
was witnessing an absurd situation - a "war on terrorism" a sitting vice
president predicted could last 50 years - which required an absurd
response. 1984 slogans, "war is peace" and "freedom is slavery," had
skipped from civics lessons to the front and center of a national
political consciousness. The notion that 'ignorance is strength' had
ceased to be seen as a cautionary tale but was now considered an asset.
"When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who
they were. it was us vs. them and it was clear who them was," the future
president explained on the campaign trail back in 2000, continuing,
"Today, we are not sure who they are, but we know they are there."

9/11 was his salvation; the threat was clear. For here on pesky problems
could be blamed on the new national enemy. For Orwell, it was Goldstein;
for Bush it was Osama bin Laden and Saddham Hussein. Arguments about
social democracy, increased social control and other pesky problems could
be dismissed with the mere reminder, "Don't forget, Osama bin Laden,"
(Pilger, 2002). "Remember, Saddham Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction."
"Weapons of mass destruction" the National Security Secretary Condolezza
Rice repeated over and over, plugging her case like the Madison Ave
marketing guru. There was a product to sell: Perma-War.

The job of activists is to spell out the logic of the nation's movement
toward Perma-War. For many, the best way to do this is with guerilla
theatre that illustrates the buffoonery. There have been absurd wars
before, yet unlike the Gulf War, this conflict began with a mobilized
movement already on the ground and running. At the same time, there are
different movements. As the global justice movement flirts with becoming
an anti-war movement, questions about theater and aesthetics have
everything to do with political strategy and movement building. Politics
of didactic authenticity have to contend with the defiant absurdity of the
carnival of the Seattle era protest model. The following offers a series
of impressions and examples of the increased utility of street theatre;
shifts in its plot structure from global justice to anti-war and back
again, and how they effect the activist stage. In the current activist
climate righteous confrontation with police translates to almost certain
political repression. As such, the need for colorful festive revolutionary
theater, full of earthy vitality, joy, humor and carnival, has never been
more essential.

Why Absurd Responses?

The enduring strength of the post-Seattle activist project involves the
joy and vitality of the Bakhtin (1965) model of protest as carnival. The
point of this model is to create a festive energy that dismantles social
hierarchies. We've all laughed along with a great joke. Everybody wants to
be at a party where everyone is free to have a good time. The point of a
really good joke is to punch holes in social pretensions. When all else is
lost we have our sense of humor. After a whole year of the politics of
mind numbing seriousness, the possibility of a joke's capacity for
catharsis was considerable. The first 9/11 anniversary marked this.
Somewhere within our public life, some of the sentiment of the better to
laugh than cry spoofs as witnessed on Saturday Night Live and the John
Stewart Show, had to be unleashed. The liberating daring of satire had to
become part of movement work. The point of such a brand of protest would
be to re-link protest with optimism and a feeling of possibility or
rejuvenation. The festive atmosphere of a great action could be bridged
with the transformative aspirations of the carnival. Beyond the status-quo
ceremony of the usual protest, the carnival could create the liminal in
between spaces, the communitas generated within rituals capable of
shifting power hierarchies. We'd seen images of those protests during the
anti-war movements of the past as well as the extreme costume balls which
reclaimed streets throughout the previous five years

(see Boyd, 2002). The aim of an absurd response would be to create a brand
of protest which merged the joyous ecstatic spirit of exhilarating
entertainment with a political agenda aimed toward progressive political
change. Within this festive revolutionary theater, progressive elements of
political change would be linked with notions of social renewal. Moving
spectators to join the fun, to become part of the concrete action of
social change. Spectacle is linked to practical shifts in people's lives
(Ornstein, 1998, xiv-xv,6-9). Party as protest thus becomes an invitation
to a possibility.

>From the IWW dictum that, "Direct Action Gets the Goods" to ACT UP's
righteous anger, when activists took the streets without asking for
permission, they produced results in peoples' lives. The lesson became
that well-timed creative street theatre could re shape power structures.
And along the road, ACT UP brought the dramaturgical lesson that to be
successful good actions had to be good theatre.

In the years after Seattle, activists had worked to build upon this
insight. While dramatic, the macho, quasi-militaristic posturing of the
black block did not appear to be a long-term solution. Faced with force,
police tend to use more force. "My weapon is bigger than your weapon." In
the months after the confrontational Quebec protests, spring 2001,
activists planned to stage a silly block to pump a little more color into
the movement during the IMF/World Bank meetings scheduled for the end of
September 2001 (see Herbst, 2002). That was until two planes crashed into
the world trade center.

Anti-War vs. Global Justice Strategies.

In the months after 9/11 the dullness of hierarchical protest re-reared
its tired head. Instead of a silly block at the IMF protests, the
International Action Center planned their own action, which few attended.
The following year, I watched one of the International Socialist
Organization speakers pull out a bullhorn and scream for everyone to get
in order as activists began the International Monetary Fund "Drop the Dept
March" in Washington in September 2002. The I.S.O.ers, who had been busy
selling their cardboard signs and newspapers, lined up and marched off in
a quasi-militaristic single-file. In a moment, what had been merely tacky
became a replica of the worst kind of militaristic protest theatre. It
seemed a marked contrast to the global justice movement's carnivalesque
coalition actions, in which the participants were all free to be the
leaders, not somebody's designated speaker. Once again sectarian
organizations (IAC, Answer etc) were barking orders and protest was
becoming shrill. The year after 9/11 (with the exemption of the January
'02 World Economic Forum Protests) actions seemed reminiscent of the
1980's anti-nukes or Latin American solidarity protests, with staged acts
of civil disobedience that felt like stagnant ceremony. Old chants were
repeated at anti-war rallies. Again speakers not seen in years droned on
to the converted. Again members of the crowd were separated from leaders.
Heavy-handed one size fits all anti-imperialist analysis overshadowed
pragmatism. And along the way, protest stopped being fun. Many of those
who had hit the streets over the previous two or three years, left the
activist stage. Frustrated resignation re-entered the fray. After 9/11,
the challenge remained just how far to take the movement for global
justice as it intersected with the aesthetics of the anti-war movement.
There were many who had little interest in reacting to a war. Local
struggles required attention, war or no war. In October of 2001 Steve
Duncombe of Reclaim the Streets New York wrote a short manifesto on the
rhetorical implications of the global justice movement's evolution into an
anti-war movement. Duncombe explained that in the days after the bombing
movement activists mourned for victims of the terrorist attacks at home,
for the victims of the US military retaliation, for eroding civil
liberties, and most certainly "for the movement for global economic
justice that many of us have been building over the past few years."
Following the attacks activists put all of their energy into preventing
George "This is a Crusade" Bush from following out bin Laden's wishes and
starting World War III. Duncombe continued, along the road global justice
activists "built a peace movement. But the Peace Movement we've built is
very different than the movement we had before. For all its faults - and
there were many - the Global Justice Movement was flexible,
anti-authoritarian, creative, fun, increasingly popular and hence
effective. The current Peace Movement is none of these things."

Despite itself, activism continued. The World Economic Forum protests of
January 2002 succeeded in part because activists choose to create a mega
samba band instead of confronting police. A focus on local actions took
precedent as activists concentrated on the global components of the local
struggles. By fall 2002 the Global Justice Movement re-flexed it muscles
with a successful series of marches during the IMF/World Bank protests in

Having lost the possibility of insurgent surprise in the days after the
Seattle, the Global Justice Movement's cacophony of voices was able to
bring its message to the world through the theater of righteous protest.
The evening news/war pep rally was constantly interrupted in September
with countless images of activists willing to be arrested to fight
corporate globalization. One news segment showed a group of smiling
activists stripping down to their skivvies in front of a GAP store accused
of selling products made in a sweatshop. Crowds of Georgetown students
chanted, "Take it off" in a back and forth with protestors. The media was
offered a good-natured theatrical display that highlighted a major problem
of human rights. This they faithfully recorded during their evening news.
"It must be spring," one commentator noted. People around the world saw
the image of a group of light hearted activists make an important point as
well as produce a positive representation of movement work to a mass

Shortly after the September IMF protests, the president won support from
the Senate for a preemptive attack on Iraq. Just when protesters had
successfully placed global justice issues back on the public's agenda the
call for war eclipsed their substantive advances. While the administration
was prepared to spend $100 billion to rid Iraq of weapons of mass
destruction, it was unwilling to spend more than 0.2% of that ($200m) on a
Global Fund to Fight AIDS among other issues. There would be no room for
"weapons of mass salvation" to fight for global justice if the
administration's war plans were successful (Sachs (2002). For many in the
Globalization Movement, priorities became clear: the struggles against war
had to be successful if activists hoped to push other issues back on a
public agenda. The question remained how?

Speaking to Multiple Publics

In the days after the September IMF protests, anti-war rallies in European
cities witnessed hundreds of thousands of protestors. Of 400,000
protestors in London, only two activists were arrested. This is in stark
contrast to the 650 of 5,000 arrested in Washington, D.C. on September
27th (their offense, standing in a public park). These activists had made
the message clear that they intended to engage in a street blockade. While
certainly the police counter acted, if not upstaged anarchic protest with
a massive display of fascistic theater, the arrests should not have been a
surprise. Since Seattle, RTS, and Carnival against Capital had regularly
been talked about as "terrorist groups." A movement whose hallmark was
creative approaches to protest had re-used tactics which have already been
mediated, massively criminalized, and upstaged by cops. In the current
activist climate, righteous confrontation with police translates to almost
certain political repression.

Part of what movement players were seeing was a strangle hold on public
space, a rigid segmentation of the street corners, the parks, and by
extension the public commons for debate. This made it harder to get that
message out there. The challenge remained how to creatively speak to
multiple publics. If one of the strengths of the global justice movement
was reclaiming public space through their burlesque of DIY activism, these
qualities appeared particularly necessary for an anti-war message in its
struggle to find its footing. With mounting rhetoric of war, in the first
week in October 2002 thousands converged in Central Park for a quiet day
of speeches with little drama. The urgency of the anti-war struggle was
lost within the long speeches. For a number of us, the call for a less
structured theater of protest was becoming paramount. As Irving Goffman
instructs, an underlying point of the presentation of self is to make a
point. The same sentiment takes place within social protest. Movements are
essentially constructions of countless performances. If the protest is
sterile, it gets bad reviews. The gestures involved within protest can be
understood as a means to influence other participants. To achieve a given
goal, movements present themselves to at least six specific publics, all
which are capable of accepting or rejecting a given message. They are:

1) Potential recruits 
2) Those already working within the movement 
3) Movement fellow travelers, allies, and potential coalition partners 
4) Over-saturated media outlets 
5) Public opinion and good will as opposed
to calls for restriction of public space 
6) Public policy makers controlling state action (McAdam, 1996,

Successful movement strategy involves retaining the allegiances of those
already involved as well as working to attract those who may want to join
or serve as coalition partners. In order to appeal to the rank and file as
well as begin to make a dent in the policy public (understood as
politicians, the media, and by extension the democratic public), an
effective anti-war response would need to appeal to outsiders as well as
be media friendly. For many of us, the best way to speak to so many
publics was to cultivate a far more festive brand of protest than we'd
seen in recent years. A protest with a sense of joy that could be seen on
the faces of all those involved.

Forms of Protest

In the days after the staid Central Park rally, activists from the old
Lower East Side Collective, Reclaim the Streets New York, and the NYC
Direct Action Network began quietly meeting to discuss ways to foster the
possibility of just such a politics. The time seemed right for a shift in
movement direction. A national rally was scheduled for October 26th. Many
of us from this forming coalition would usually skip an action organized
by ANSWER, a post-9/11 formation of the International Action Center; their
leadership had after all supported the Chinese Government during the
Tianamen Square democracy protests of 1989, held rallies for Saddam
Hussein during the Gulf War, and supported Slobodon Milosovich (Goldstein,
2002). The IAC embodied everything wrong with an American left supportive
of any government willing to stand up to American "imperialism." Yet, a
movement wedge was unfolding. Our thinking was we could create a joyous,
less righteous, even ironic response - an alternative to the IAC's wingnut

Our first meeting produced a simple commitment for us to organize a
festive ironic feeder march to join the larger Answer anti-war march. By
the end of our second meeting our ad-hoc coalition had agreed to create
"An Absurd Response to an Absurd War" to counter the potentially
alienating ANSWER march. Two years prior, in the days after Bush succeeded
with his supreme court 5/4 shuffle, Reclaim the Streets New York had
formed the Students for Undemocratic Society (SUDS), a satirical play off
of the sixties SDS. Dressed as campus preppies wearing "W" hats, we drove
down to Washington on January 20th, 2001. "Tell Us What to Think - Obey!"
was our slogan. As we chanted we offered both a lampoon of the old left
slogans as well as commentary on the new plutocratic regime, "Whose
Street? Wall Street? No Justice, No Problem," and the crowd pleaser "What
do we want - fur coats? How do we want them - full length!!!" When a
counter protestor chanted at us we would counter or agree with them. When
a group of actual collegiate right-wing preppies sang "Nah nah nah, nah
nah nah, hey hey hey goodbye .President Clinton," we interjected with
"democracy." At the time, we stole a lot of the media coverage from these
right-wing groups. Instead of campus preppies our October 26, 2002 action
would highlight the movement of a group of patriotic ladies with bouffant
permanents whom supported the war. "Perms for Perma-War" would be the
slogan. In the spirit of SUDS, our collective drafted a call to action. It
stated: "The Jaded and Converted and Dicks For Dick invite you to
Washington: October 26, 2002." It continued: Break out your beehive, your
two-tone shoes, your cardigans! Too hip and cynical to pin a flower in
your hair and hold hands with strangers? Well then, you are invited to
join A.B.S.U.R.D. Response and Party for Perma-War for a festive, ironic,
theatrical march that will eventually feed into the

anti-war rally in DC. For the real fun, assemble with DICKS FOR DICK at
the BIG DICK (aka the Washington Monument) at 11 am on Saturday, October
26. Because everyone from James Baker III, to Nelson Mandela, to CIA
director George Tenet has said this war is absurd. In the tradition of the
first Absurdists we will create our own Theater of the Absurd as our Idiot
Boy King continues his relentless drive to pitch the world into a state of
permanent warfare. The festivities will commence with a ritual "Bowing
Down To The Mighty Phallus," followed by a "hoisting of the balls of war"
presided over by Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Bombing Gospel
Choir. Bring costumes, Bring INSTRUMENTS, Bring posters and banners. Bring
lots of friends. Be prepared to mock the Axis of Oil and Defense Funding
without mercy. Please do not bring "No Blood for Oil" signs or Mimes. NO
MIMES. Party for a Perma-War is brought to you by LESC, SUDS, RTS-NYC,
OPP, The Converted & Jaded, Billionaire Liberation Front, Future Veterans
for War, and You!

Spoofing the practice of legitimizing protests through organizational
co-sponsorships, every time we offered a new draft call we would add on
group names. The suggested slogans built on themes from Orwell's 1984 and
a lampoon of bad anti-war theatrics. We began with the old John and Yoko
street billboard:

War is Here, If You Want It (signed by Blood and Iron, Dick & W)
Exxon Mobil: These Colors Don't Run!
War Is Globalization
We (heart) Harkens
God Bless Boeing
Pre-empt The UN
Ignorance Is Strength

Our final slogan "OBEY" embodied much of what the group felt was being
said by the current administration. Our message was simple and silly
enough. I explained to one reporter, "Basically, this war frenzy is so
blatantly short sighted, so focused on supporting the narrow ends of
Lockheed and the General Dynamics Corporation and other defense
contractors profiting on the war. Very few in power are considering
alternative ways of creating energy or sustainable development without
raping the environment. War is the answer, war is the answer. Twisted
times, deserve twisted responses. Yet, after a year of memorials, many of
us felt it was time to get a sense of humor back. War is not going to get
my sense of joy. An absurd war deserves an absurd response, a response
capable of shifting power hierarchies. We have to be effective at drawing
attention to alternative ways of building sustainable communities. The
carnival is a great way to do that..."

Limits of Play

The question was exactly how far we should go with our silliness. The
feeling that many in the current administration were thinking with their
little heads instead of their big ones inspired the ironic calls for
"Dickheads for War!" A friend had just held a party in which he handed out
a bunch of dildos he'd recently liberated from a garbage dumpster outside
of a sex shop in San Francisco. The idea was for activists to show up in
Washington dressed in corporate drag, a suit and tie, with a plastic dildo
on their head. Like the US military does with its missiles, prominently
painted on the side would be the words such as "USA" or "Fuck You Saddam".
For those not familiar with the tradition of the clown and its
buffoon-like confrontations with social and economic oppression (Ornstein,
1998, P. 3) the message was confusing and even off-putting. For others,
the phallus has been a source of oppression; understandably not something
that is fun.

For us the point was to offend the banal. Kate Crane, a local media
activist, drafted our first press release. It concluded: "Also on hand
will be the Dickheads, a posse of gender-bending miscreants best known for
parading about with dildos for head-gear. "What's this war if it's not
about the size of the Bush-family dick? When will this country stop
fucking the rest of the world and learn that size doesn't matter?" cried
P. Neil Emplante, a Dickhead member.

Theatrical protest has many detractors who see its goal as not political,
but as artistic. Abbie Hoffman was accused of developing a fan base as
opposed to a coherent political stance and structure. Yet ACT UP helped us
learn that with good media work, research, and a coherent organized
message, guerilla theatre can play an effective role in promoting a
political message. Scenes are staged so as to be media friendly;
characters learn their sound bites around particular policies in question,
and audiences gravitate to good performances. People want to write about
and interview the cast members, regardless of whether they are stars or
not. Everyone has his or her lines.

The group spent the final days before the action pulling together slogans,
making signs, and working on language for the press release. The issue
over the possible offense nature of the Dick Heads forced us to struggle
with a conflict between a lowest common denominator activism that was
supposed to appeal to a mythic "people" vs. targeted protests that would
generate strong emotions either for or against us. Crane's second press
release was a little less silly:

The Bush Administration is drawing the U.S. and the world ever closer to a
state of permanent war. Dubya's doctrine of preemption and expanding
empire, outlined in the recently released "National Security Strategy of
the United States," does away with strategies of deterrence and
cooperation with other nations-not to mention the notion that war is a
last resort. These strategies have formed the cornerstone of U.S. foreign
policy since the 1940s. As the U.S. courts war without end, citizens are
conveniently distracted from the tanking economy and the continuing
exposÚs of corporate scandal.

Leading Saturday's procession will be the Bombshells in Beehives, a group
of 1950s housewives who continue to cling to the bouffant and floral
housedress even in 2002. Together, their bouffant's will spell out
"PERMA-WAR." "It'll take weeks to get the glue and felt out of my hair,"
Myrtle Nejedlik, a 67-year-old housewife from Dayton said ruefully. "But
what the hell! It's 'Perms for Perma-War!' The idiot boy king is out for
blood (and oil), and we 've all got to give what we've got to throw a
wrench in the works. Me, I've got great hair.

By the third release Myrtle had been edited from the release. After three
meetings in just over as many weeks, we were ready to converge on DC. In
the end, only a few actually wore the dildos as props. However a whole
other contingent calling themselves the "Missledicks," seen waving their
deadly phalluses around to cheers throughout the day, gravitated to the
Absurd Response convergence.

Play vs. Political Rhetoric

We arrived late, donned our Perma-War wigs, and some worshiped at the
phallus, the Washington Monument. We bowed down, a few even put on the
dickhead gear. As we marched and chanted we passed out our palm cards to
explain the point of theater: "Are you ready for Perma-War?" it began.
"Iraq is only the beginning. The Bush Administration is drawing the United
States and the world ever closer to a state of permanent military
engagement, So what do we do?" the front of the card asked.

The back explained: "Throw a party!!! Activism doesn't have to mean
droning speeches, dull chants, and tired slogans. To sustain the growing
movement over the long haul, we need humor, theater, music, flamboyance,
irony, and fun." The card helped bring a little order to the confused day.

Joined by Reverent Billy and Church of Stop Bombing Choir and calling
ourselves the Spirit of 1976 Gone Wrong, our rag tag group of anarchist
clowns jugglers, fire-eaters, strippers, puppeteers, drag queens, kings,
and missile dicks marched from the Washington Monument to the Vietnam
Memorial to feed into the larger march of disgruntled citizens. We were
armed with our message, another great product to sell, like the pump hair
spray we used for our perms.

Two clowns dressed in red white and blue cheered and danced spastically to
the call for war, screaming tee hee, bouncing to and from, calling for the
crowd to join them.

When confronted with counter protestors, the clowns joined the other side
where they started yelling at us. Joining the other side is a particularly
effective ploy for disarming counter protests and the media coverage of
them (we'd first used this tactic as SUDs at the Bush coronation). In this
case however the counter protests of pro-war Iraqis actually charged us.
It incited not a playful theatrical scene but an agitated screaming and
shoving match which could have turned violent. Having had our fun, we
marched backward and onward toward another joke. The scene was more
reminiscent of the old Monty Python, "RUN AWAY" schtick. There were other
protestors out there who would appreciate the message.

Amidst hoards of earnest protestors, with their "How Many Iraqi Children
Will Die Signs," we chanted: "We love bush, we love dick, all you
peaceniks make us sick." To the drums introducing our Perma-War kick line
we cried "All war, all the time, Perma-War is peace," and sang the old
anthems, "We Shall Overbomb" and "All we are saying is give War a Chance."
There were chants of "Start the Bombing Now" on the verge of offending the
sensibilities of the larger crowd of 100,000. The day was full of
rhetorical shuffles with groups like the dour sectarian International
Socialist Organization with their reified chants of "Hey George Bush, you
can't hide, we charge you with genocide" To these we replied, "We need
oil, we need gas, watch out world we'll kick your ass!" We directly
lampooned the old lefty slogan "the people united will never be defeated"
with "The people who chant this will never be creative. The people, bad
slogans, will always be defeated" and "Power to power"

Throughout the day more and more people sang along and applauded to, "We
shall over bomb," joining us for the chorus, "Deep in our hearts, we do
believe, we shall live in war forever." The "W" stands for WIMP" chant
calling for the war to begin ASAP proved to be a crowd pleaser. "War is
good for children, it builds strong bones," followed "Bomb Iraq, start the
war, we don't need no peace no more." With the crowd swelling, we were
joined by a group of George Washington Students and members of Reclaim the
Streets Washington who led the crowd in a rendition of Perma-War hokey
pokey. "You put the money in, you put the money out, you put the sanctions
in and you shake it all about" and everyone danced. "What do we want -
Perm-War! Why do we want it - for higher ratings!" and with the drums and
the improvisation there ensued thousands of variations, we had become jazz

After three hours of this our nonsensical tone was only becoming more so
as we literally deconstructed the old chants to their bare bones. The
George Washington University crowd lampooned the age old, "hey, hey, ho,
ho" proclaiming, "Hey, ho, ho, 'hey, hey, ho, ho' has got to go!" Later
this was modified to "Hey, hey, ho, ho, he, heeee" with a quiet squeal. At
some point we stopped adding new variations, we riffed, "3 word chant! 3
word chant! 4 words are better! 4 words are better!" and "March, march,
chant, chant, rhetoric, rhetoric, rant, rant!!!" Finally the simple words,
"da, da, da, da, da, da, da."

In the End
In the end, we got a 10 to 30 second news reports on most of the networks, a
predictably sarcastic story in the NY Times and a cover story in the
Washington Post. It declared "100,000 Rally, March Against War in Iraq." In
addition, we got our picture on the cover of the Post.
Is it a good thing if this ironic theatrical protest is the only
representation of the movement that the public sees? Certainly the message
was confused. At one point, a person came up to me and asked if we were
right-wing drag performers. Yet from the voices of the crowd, the embrace of
our signs & slogans, and the media coverage, we had to assume that three of
the six publics needed for a protest to be deemed a success, were achieved.
We won over our fellow travelers, recruits, and the media. The word "OBEY"
and "Perma-War" made it onto the front pages of the Washington Post, and
will perhaps

become part of the larger cultural consciousness. Andrew Boyd (2002)
describes the process of planting such infectious messages as meme
warfare. It remains to be seen whether the crowd who celebrated along with
our spectacle by speaking out against the injustices of the right and
banality of the left will continue to destroy the stage directions
received from protest's past In the weeks after the protest more positive
coverage of the anti-war movement followed. The New York Times changed
their tune and followed the Post's line that the October event was perhaps
the largest anti-war protest since the Vietnam Era. "Rally in Washington
Is Said to Invigorate the Anti-War Movement," read the times headline of
October 30, 2002.

Later in the week, I worked with ACT UP to bring the message to a visiting
dignitary from the Bush Administration. "Money for AIDS, not for War " we
chanted as we disrupted the speech of Tommy Thompson's under secretary.
The room of poverty beurocrats stood up to applaud. That same evening, we
took the Perma-War message to the West Village Halloween Parade where the
anti-war humor drew wide spread cheer.

Humor may be our greatest response to this strange convergence of events.
We put up a small website calling for new recruits, highlighting our
antics, and calling for new members to join our weekly anti-war events
list (http://www.mobilize-ny.com/ and http://www.absurdresponse.com/). For
now, the crowd has been invited to continue to challenge the elite's
engineered hysteria (Ornstein, 1998, p. 3). Whether we shift dynamics
within the grand mystification is another question. But for today, we
brought a bit of lightheartedness back to a theater of protest. They say
imitation is the best form of flattery. In the weeks after Absurd Response
started we signed up hundreds to join our anti-war direct action list.
Members of ACT UP Philly, the nation's strongest ACT UP chapter, even
started their own Absurd Response group for anti-war rallies. They came up
with their own chants:

This is what aristocracy looks like. Surrender Now.
Support Our Elites.
Shut Up Already.
In MY Name Baby.
Aint' no power like the people in power cause the people in power don't stop
No Justice, No Peace, No Shit.
Give Up.
Peace is Very Scary.
Free, Free the Military.
Whose Fucking Cops? Our Fucking Cops!

Throughout the country, the anti-war message is taking off. As for Absurd
Response, the group continues to shift the ways that energy is brought to
the intersecting global justice and anti-war movements. Perhaps the core
message is that fun and freedom are essential tools for activists working
to create a better world.

Back in 1965, in the face of threats of violence from the Hells Angels
during a rally, Allen Ginsberg wrote a pre-action call on how to handle a
potentially disruptive situation: Demonstration or Spectacle As Example,
As Communication or How to Make a March Spectacle. In his surprisingly
still contemporary call he offered a mind-body view of keeping cool and
creating a theater of protest. His little essay, which suggests putting
the Beatles' I Wanna Hold Your Hand on the loudspeakers if you are being
attacked, serves as an outline for the transformative potential that
protest offers when we are critical of ourselves and joyful at the same
time. "If imaginative, pragmatic, fun, gay, happy, secure propaganda is
issued to mass media in advance." the essay begins, "the parade can be
made into an exemplary of spectacle on how to handle situations of anxiety
and fear/threat to manifest by concrete example, namely the parade itself,
how to change war psychology and surpass, go over, the habit image
reaction of fear/ violence... This is, the parade can embody an example of
peaceable health which is the reverse of fighting back blindly." Perhaps
that's just it, the parade can be an example of another way of being right
with others and ourselves. Attacks from the Hells Angels need not bring
out the worst in us..

Bakhtin, M. 1965. Rabelais and his world. Bloomington: Indiana Press.
UP to the WTO: Urban Protest And Community-Building in the Era of
Globalization, Eds. Benjamin Shepard and Ronald Hayduk. Verso Press: New
Ginsberg, Allen. 1965. Demonstration or Spectacle As Example, As
Communication or How to Make a March Spectacle, Deliberate Prose: Selected
Essays 1952-95, Ed. Edward Sanders. Perennial/HarperCollins: New York.
Goffman, Erving.1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Anchor
Books: New York.
RULING-CLASS SPOOK? The Shadow. http://shadow.autono.net/sin001/clark.htm
(Accessed November 22, 2002).
Herbst, Marc. 2002. The Masquerade Project. Journal of Aesthetics and
Protest. July.
McAdam, Doug. 1996. The framing function of movement tactics: Strategic
dramaturgy in the American civil rights movement. Comparative Perspectives
on Social Movements.
Eds. Doug McAdam, John D. McCarthy, and Mayer N. Zald. Cambridge University
Ornstein, Claudia. 1998. Festive Revolutions. University of Mississippi
Pilger, John. 2002. The New Rulers of the World. New York: Verso.
Sachs, Jeffrey. 2002. Weapons of mass salvation. The Economist (24
October).Benjamin Shepard is an active member of the Absurd Response and
Reclaim the Streets New York. He is co-editor of From ACT UP to the WTO:
Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization (Verso,
2002). He'd like to thank Kate Crane, Steve Duncombe, and most of all Mark
and Robert Herbst for their insightful comments on this essay.

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