In the last couple of weeks since the election, many of us have been talking, organizing, and planning what to do next. J and I have been focused on connecting with our three main networks of colleagues and friends: those in anthropology/academia, the Chicago-based theater community, and a group of friends who work in more traditional policy fields.
We’ve talked about dividing our efforts into three levels.
1. Engaging with existing democratic institutions and actions
Basically, being a citizen (or an approximation of one, if you are an alien…) and continuing to go through the normal channels, even when it feels hopeless, as a means of asserting the continued necessity of democracy.
Ok, I’m an anthropologist, and basically still an anarchist, so I certainly have plenty of critiques of our existing democratic institutions. But this is not the moment to undermine them, when they are so perilously in danger of collapsing. Therefore by engaging with existing democratic institutions I mean insisting on them doing their job as they are meant to, and challenging the normalization of any shift into fascism.
So: making phone calls to your political representatives on the one hand. And on the other, actively calling out centrist news organizations like NPR, the NYT, the Guardian etc. (i.e., the one’s who consider themselves to be on the left and therefore would be more amenable to pressure) on social media or through writing old fashioned letters to the editor, when they normalize explicit racism.
2. Engaging with local communities and organizations, and doing face-to-face work.
Finding local groups, joining up with them in person rather than just online, asking how we can help. Even if we can only commit to one day a month, doing something in real time where we can also build in-person solidarity and community.
3. Tackling the underlying culture of white supremacy, colonialism, and patriarchy.
Wow! That sounds like a lot for a single bullet point! But basically that means working on the bigger picture problems, which is actually something that anthropologists and artists both have the expertise to do. So creating art that challenges racism, educating students about the history of colonialism. This is the long-term project, but it’s actually one that we have the most expertise and ability to work on, if we put our minds to it.
I hope to be able to share discussions and ongoing work about each of these groups on this blog over the months that follow.But obviously the first group—anthropologists and academics—is the one I know most about, so I’m starting with that.
The AAA in Minneapolis this November was a much needed tonic: from the exhilarating and inspiring keynote address by Melissa Harris-Perry, to the many intense conversations I had with good friends and colleagues I get to see in person so rarely.
At the AAA, and in the weeks since, there have been several organizing efforts; in large part organized around local and national-level political work that we can engage in as anthropologists. These are important, and I hope the momentum continues over the coming weeks and years.
I’ve also, however, been thinking about the kind of work anthropologists and academics specifically can do, that a) draws on our existing expertise and institutional power; and b) is also accessible to those of us who are in less secure positions (e.g., anthropologists who are non-citizens, in non-tenure-track positions, working in conservative institutions that might be hostile to ostentatiously political work, or who are already over-stretched).
I’ve put some of those together in a separate blog post, and very much welcome any comments, discussion, or feedback anyone has, either in private or on this blog. I’ve got a couple of things cooking in my own institution, and will try to update as I make progress.
Back in May, I announced with some fanfare the Theater Reviews For People Who Are Afraid Of Bad Theater! But then, ironically, we didn’t see any theater, bad or otherwise, for the rest of the summer because J was in a show of his own and I had to stay home with the baby.*
Now we are back in the normal swing of things, and yesterday we finally managed to hire a babysitter, get ourselves into presentable adult clothes, and actually leave the house together to go the opening night of Stage Left’s production of The Bottle Tree by Beth Kander.
It was fantastic, so I’m excited to properly kick of this series with a play I can wholeheartedly recommend. It runs until Nov 20th, tickets cost $20/30, and a spoiler free Q&A is below!
Cox was jealous and controlling, Sara says. He convinced her to destroy the blouses she wore to work because he thought they were too revealing. He would look through old photo albums with her. “You want to keep that one, hon, do you?” she remembers him asking when they came across pictures of her high school boyfriend. “You don’t want to keep that picture. You should just rip it up. If you love me, rip that up.” He insisted on being in the room whenever she talked on the phone to her family. Slowly, Sara felt him chipping away at her personality.
The theater community in Chicago has been reeling this month, after The Chicago Reader published an exposé of alleged abuse at the now-closed storefront theatre company Profiles. The result of a year-long investigation, journalists Aimee Levitt and Christopher Piatt documented a climate of fear, intimidation, and violence perpetuated and enabled by the two men responsible for much of the theater’s output over the two decades: Darrell W. Cox and Joe Jahraus. Continue reading
We finally went to see The Flick by Annie Baker at Steppenwolf this month, catching it just before it closed. It’s one of those plays I first encountered in fragments, as I helped J learn lines from a handful of scenes, and was curious enough about to badger him into getting us tickets.
J seemed a bit concerned I might not like it. He reminded me several times it’s over 3 hours long and has a reputation for being a bit tricky. (I suspect he still hasn’t forgiven me for hating Waiting For Godot.) The trickiness, it seems, comes from Baker’s use of silence. The play runs 3 hours 10 minutes but only has about 70 pages of actual dialogue, which means there are a lot of long pauses or moments when the actors are moving about the stage but not saying anything to each other.
Apparently the first time The Flick was performed, the (mostly subscriber) audience was furious, and in every performance including the one I saw, the audience was a lot thinner after the interval.
All this throws up interesting questions about the extent to which we associate “something happening” in a play with “people are talking” as opposed to “people are moving around on stage.” But I found The Flick utterly absorbing, helped no doubt by the very high quality of the production and the wonderful cast. Continue reading