by Julia Levine
This article was originally published on Artists & Climate Change, a blog by and about artists who engage with the climate crisis, on January 25, 2017.
“We are unstoppable, another world is possible.” One of my favorite rally cries from the Women’s March on Washington is carrying me through the first week of this bonkers administration. This phrase, and the experience of being surrounded by thousands of people showing up for similar goals, signified to me the possibility for a sustainable future. The creativity on display, through signs, costumes, and performance, contributed to the impact of the weekend. These displays offered intersectional perspectives – the Women’s March was in no way solely about women, but about the equitable and just world that we want to live in, despite what the people in power have in mind.
Walking out of the D.C. Metro on Friday, January 20 was like entering a ghost town. No cars, very few people, eerie silence. There was the familiarity of red, white, and blue, of a Starbucks on every corner. Familiar, but not comforting. These symbols of nationalism and consumerism are not going to save us. Cue tear gas bombs going off, and riot police storming the intersection. Thus the tone of my Inauguration Day experience was set.
Arriving outside Union Station – where anti-Trump protesters were gathering – initiated a welcome tone. Here, my group and I found other organizations with banners, posters, and energy to resist the main event of the day. Among my favorite displays at this gathering included a large puppet with the phrases: “Look within,” “We are only as healthy as our mother,” “Protect our mother,” “Protect each other,” “End Racism,” from Bread and Puppet Theatre.
To me, these are calls to action. Starting with self. Starting with the source of life: Mother Earth. These phrases depicted on a female body signified, to me, the importance of individual agency. I may not be able to directly stop the destructive legislation of the current administration, but I can recognize in myself my capacity for empathy, change, and action. This recognition is a start. The question of what I will dowith my self-reflection continued in me throughout the weekend, and as I encountered fellow marchers of diverse backgrounds.
My group also ran into Ethan Abbott, a farmer who brought his animal friends: a llama, two alpaca, and a bird. The revolution will be interspecies, I thought. What started out as an attention-grabber began to resonate more deeply with me. Of course we need our animal friends in the march with us! They are occupants of this planet, too. Farmer Abbott’s marching animals drew on that empathy that I was considering earlier; my empathy starts with myself, includes my fellow humans, and extends to other species.
The next day, Saturday, we stepped off the train into a different city. The D.C. Metro was packed. The streets were even more crowded. The group that I traveled with, the Back to Work Collective, is comprised of politically activated theatre artists. We brought a series of speeches from feminists throughout history to perform at the March, with a Lady Liberty puppet to connect these women as beacons of hope. We encountered press wanting to get context, marchers wanting to get their picture with Lady Liberty herself, and fellow artists speaking in solidarity about our work in varying communities around the country.
Once the March dispersed, Back to Work Collective performed our feminist speeches in front of Trump Hotel and the White House. As theatre artists, we wanted to contribute a performance to the March that strangers could reflect on, and draw upon the strength of women who helped lay the foundation of today’s justice movements. We wanted our fellow marchers to find personal connections with why they were present. The Lady Liberty puppet drew audiences in, and the performance of the speeches kept people gathered. My favorite line in our performance comes from Ursula Le Guin, in her 1986 speech at Bryn Mawr College: “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” This image of women as volcanoes spoke to how I felt about the surge of women and gender-non-conforming folk and animals and men and allies into the streets for Marches around the world. These Marches changed the maps, if only for a day. The power that Ursula evokes in her speech – and the resonance of the Marches – is the power of people coming together, speaking out in the face of oppression in any form.
The Women’s March brought together a multitude of personal displays of concern and hope, through physical signs and echoing chants. The intersectional voices I heard during the March reignited in me the necessity of intersectional action in addressing issues of justice – social, economic, and environmental. If we are going to combat the unjust decrees to come, those of us that are able must think and act more intersectionality. As public demonstrations like the Women’s March become more important in our current democracy, how can we, as artists, make intersectionality part of our public practice? With beauty, performativity, and intentional spectacle artists have an opportunity to address social, economic, and environmental considerations, through the way in which we use time, bodies, and space. As the sun set on a monumental day, protest signs replaced humans on the streets, forming an alternative display in the space between our nation’s monuments. The variety of art that I witnessed in these signs and throughout the weekend is an example of how we can collectively fight for varying issues. The resulting eclecticism resonates as I recite: “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.”
Julia Levine is a theatremaker and educator. She grew up in the Midwest, where she cultivated her love of teamwork and food. She also write about the intersection of arts, climate change, and community.
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