Have you ever heard a person screaming without a single sound? It’s ear numbing. Protest of the Seven Countries Ban. San Francisco City Hall. Feb 3rd, 2017
A public butoh performance in protest of the executive order banning immigration from seven countries to the United States of America. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_Order_13769
February 2nd, 2017. It is two days before my 29th birthday and I choose to protest the current president’s arbitrary ban on middle eastern countries with my friend in front of City Hall, San Francisco. We dance as butoh performers, dressed in white. We donned the colors of our countries after the flip of a coin: spirit of the east/Persia/Iran, spirit of the west/North America/United States, green and red, blue and red, respectively.
To call these banned countries “Muslim” is a misnomer in the same way it is a misnomer to call the United States “Christian”. Atheists, Agnostics, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and people who refuse these categorizations altogether—scientists, archaeologists, geologists—or embrace them and reinvent them: pastafarians, thelemites, discordians, toaists, zoroastrians and zen masters—inhabit all these countries and more.
Over the past six months I’ve grown to know Yakov—name changed—who is a citizen of one of these banned countries. Despite being an immigrant, he is one of the most patriotic people I know. His art projects early this year consisted of painting American flags. He was so passionate to be here and to create art in this country that he left everything he had behind. Yet fellow citizens of mine have banned fellow citizens of his. I know that if they met him, they would know that this was a grave mistake. He understands the fundamental American ideals that make this country brilliant, and he values them as much as any American citizen—or more, I suspect, since he sees their value from a perspective that spans an ocean.
The irony of our friendship in this political milieu weighed heavily on me. While hoping for the best, my worst suspicions were confirmed. My fear is that the United States has grown soporific under the influence of nationalism, religiosity, and isolationsim. Even while I was a fan of isolationism, seeing it as the opposite to the neo-conservative’s “American Exceptionalism” which I saw as a kind of “Pax Americana”—a disastrous policy as demonstrated by the Iraq War and more—I see it now in contrast to the term “America first,” which is, as attractive as it is, is ultimately selfish, and cedes our role as leaders in humanitarian and democratic values to someone else—anyone else. American puritans likened the project of building their colonies to building the City on the Hill as mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount. One cannot maintain a City on the Hill while remaining selfish—that is, while putting themselves first.
As much as Reagan liked to quote Winthrop, it would be from within his own party that the American government would be taken over—so far—by the the nationalist impulses within our nation’s culture’s right-wing fringe. A stale, oligarchical Democratic party did little to help us, and was blind to the wave of populism coming to its shores. If there is any hope for us, it will be in a post-populist tide of progressivism that must peacefully yet aggressively take back party and country, Tea Party-like, from the ground up.
I do not think that our dancing in front of City Hall, even while dressed in white, enacted much change. I don’t think it changed a lawmaker’s mind or will be noticed much. A group of people stopped for awhile to take photos. I hope instead our dance of darkness, working towards a place of light, showed them that there is still weird light here in San Francisco. But I think it was more for ourselves as artists to show that we are still here, that we can still offer honest expression even while the world beats us down, that we can still inspire when all the odds are stacked against us.
Don’t stop dancing. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop reading. Don’t stop pursuing the things you know that’s needed most. (D. A. Anderson)