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News ::
Changing the Meaning of Mass Actions
03 Oct 2000
While a spectacle of corporate sponsored "democracy" takes place inside UMASS Boston, the real dialogue will be taking place in the streets. Mass actions will be taking on a new face this evening on the streets outside UMASS Boston
On Tuesday, two presidential candidates will take the stage at UMASS Boston to debate their visions of how they’ll run our government during the next four years. Meanwhile, a very different dialogue will be taking place on the streets outside, one that asks the questions: In what kind of democracy are only two candidates permitted to participate in the debate? In what kind of democracy is the choice of Presidential candidates limited to two men hailing from families of privilege and power, who represent at most a fraction of the population? And finally what does it mean to vote in a political system where corporate influence is everywhere and the voice of the people is but a whisper?
Boston based street theatre troupe Class Acts, Freedom Rising puppeteers and others are preparing a puppet pageant and street theatre spectacle to expose the ballot box’s shortcomings and illustrate the stranglehold wealth and power have over “democracy” in the U.S.
David Solnit, member of the traveling affinity group Freedom Rising notes: “Our goal is to creatively break down the role of elections in our society and how they hurt our communities and the environment, and to collectively envision the way [society] could be if the people ran it themselves. We see the debates as the grand spectacle legitimizing the façade that masks the political and economic system at the root of all our problems. It’s their giant puppet show, so we’re mounting our own puppet show as a counter spectacle.”
With their motto, “Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” Freedom Rising is attempting to change the face of mass actions by integrating radical political critiques with colorful puppets, engaging street theatre and a sound that makes even the stalwart non-dancers groove to the beat.
Actions in the last year have often used puppets to illustrate problems with existing political structures and economic systems. Yet, few performances have attempted to engage the audience in creating concrete solutions. This Tuesday, as the performance concludes, audience members—including unionists, Naderites, and local residents—will be encouraged to break into groups and address the question, “How do we reclaim our political power?” The goal: transform the people’s voice from a whisper into a roar.
“People do not recognize that voting is a means of turning your political power over to someone else. With this performance we hope to encourage people to reclaim their political power through means other than the ballot box,” commented Josh W., a member of BOOM, the group organizing the street dialogue.
Organizers of the street dialogue believe our political structure leaves little physical space or opportunity for public dialogue. “Instead of sitting at home and being talked at by people who do not resemble us or represent us, we are encouraging people to come out into the streets and begin to address the reasons why we no longer have decision-making power in our own communities,” said Josh.
Participating community groups represent a spectrum of local and global concerns. They are acting because they feel their issues will be excluded from the Presidential Debates. For example, residents from Dorchester and Roxbury will march from Dudley Sq. to protest the death penalty, which both candidates support. Marchers will call for an end to the boom in prison construction. Today, the U.S. has the highest percentage of citizens behind bars. Marchers will demand increased funding for health care, education and housing instead of prisons.
During the street dialogue, participants will hammer out ways that communities can reclaim their power to implement solutions like those suggested by the Mumia coalition. Tuesday’s street dialogues may give rise to a new style of protest with the potential to extend the energy of mass actions into a grassroots, community-based political movement.
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Direct action at its best
04 Oct 2000
Thanks for your creative efforts to model the kind of political dialogue that will begin to let us reclaim democracy as our own: a face-to-face gathering of people in every community, where we truly begin to reclaim our very lives by taking control of the decisions that affect all of us. Please follow up this story with a report on how it went. It's such an inspirational idea, and hopefully it will spread to other such demonstrations and eventually into the very fabric of our communities. This should be the beginning of what democracy looks like!