A PORTRAIT OF CREATIVITY AND NONVIOLENCE: RESISTANCE IN KANSAS CITY
by Marcy Haugh
I’ve always wanted to learn the Thriller dance. Coordinated dances with others always seem like such a fun concept! However, I never imagined in a million years that the first time I danced to this Michael Jackson song as part of a coordinated group would be at an action protesting the building of a plant for nuclear weapons parts. But there I was – fully decked out in a zombie mask and costume – counting down the song’s measures for my cue to creep out zombie-style from behind the “church” where “the bomb” was worshipped. As the cue came, we began our performance – dancing and acting for a world that chose transformation over annihilation. This particular action was our way of responding with creative nonviolence to the threat of destruction embodied by the plant’s existence.
The street theater piece depicting the worship of the bomb was one way we were able to practice creativity as a community in order to create awareness around the injustices happening in our nation today. Our performance was one part of the concluding action of the Catholic Worker Faith and Resistance retreat held in Kansas City from April 29 to May 2 and included not only Catholic Workers, but many voices from the local community. It depicted our societies’ collective compliance worshipping the false security that nuclear weapons bring. Performed outside the gates where construction was taking place, the theater piece showing the “Worship of the Bomb” reminded us of the potentially catastrophic consequences if the plant continues to build parts for bombs – instead of building a center for creative alternative sustainable energy. At the same time, it also sought to show how transformation could happen. It highlighted the challenges faced when confronting the plant’s existence: the roles of powerful federal government agencies like the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in orchestrating the plans. The money being made by beneficiaries like Centerpoint Zimmer (who worked with the NNSA to sell the land) and JE Dunne (whose construction workers are building the plant). The city council’s approval of the plan, and their willingness to build the plant using bond monies intended for impoverished neighborhoods. The praise from some in the community of the jobs it brings (regardless of the negative health risks to workers and the contamination to the environment). The theater ended with all present dying, highlighting that nuclear weapons’ purpose is to bring death and could lead to our own. However, all was not lost in the end – prayers, hope, and the breaking of bread led to a change in what was worshipped. The ending of the story was transformation instead of annihilation. The bomb came down, hearts and minds were changed, and peace prevailed; Kansas City became a place where nuclear weapons were not manufactured anymore. In our alternative story, the plant became a place where green jobs were created and the bond monies intended to serve the needs of the people went to the needy among us.
After the action and the conclusion of the resistance retreat, I was left with a feeling of appreciation for the creativity that had been such a persuasive part of planning the action and retreat itself. I was reminded that creativity is an integral and necessary part of resistance and nonviolent action. It is required for determining ways to respond nonviolently and change paradigms and cycles leading to ongoing violence. Creativity is necessary in envisioning the world we hope for – on a more practical level, creativity in nonviolent actions engages others in ways that invite them to stop, think, and remember what they witnessed.
In addition to practicing creativity so that we can respond in powerful ways to the events and situations around us, incorporating creativity in our actions and work is also an effective way of catching the attention of others and inviting people in to the work of social change. Over and over when I told people about the action in Kansas City, friends and acquaintances would respond in the same way, “A protest which incorporated dancing to Thriller?!? I have to tell (a friend) about that!” Individuals in my life who might not otherwise learn about the important injustices happening in Kansas City (an old roommate from Ireland, parents of a good friend, childhood neighbors) watched the youtube video – “liking” my facebook link to it, or sharing with me in person how much they appreciated seeing it. It is my hope that this is going on with others, too, and that people will continue to pass on news of the action, which will increase awareness about the need for change. People are drawn to creativity. This is true today in our world where popular youtube videos are watched regularly and it is true in the past when theater and the arts were the way many appreciated the creative efforts of others. Creativity in social movements can catch on and become a powerful expression of the need for change. The Harlem Renaissance, Jazz and Blues, and the musical artists promoting peace during the 60s are all powerful examples of how creativity through art and music can make a lasting impact and shift in our world. Today the “Yes Men” can be seen as an example of two individuals who use their creativity to create attention around problematic social issues through the impersonation of powerful entities. They make satirical and shocking comments that supposedly capture the position of that individual/corporation or group, and gain media attention and the ability to discuss the issue further in the media. While the integration of drama or creativity into public actions is not a new concept, it is an important one to remember. If we are trying to bring people into our movements and create awareness around a variety of social issues, creativity may be an essential way to get others to stop and think about the message we are trying to get across.
Practicing creativity helps us to respond to violent situations in ways that can transform the cycles of violence to ones of wholeness and healing. Furthermore, creativity grabs the attention of others, creating awareness about important social issues and inviting others in to a reality that values creativity over oppressive power, joy over fear, and nonviolence over violence. The resistance retreat was a wonderful example of the creativity needed to create change in our world. All the excitement and positive energy stemming from the crowd and those performing served as a reminder to me: that if are to succeed in any way we must have more than ideas – we must have faith, and courage, persistence, joy and creativity. At the action in Kansas City, as we crept across the grass zombie-style with our hands up and outstretched, I couldn’t help but feel the hope coming from creatively engaging with injustice. I smiled thinking in the moment how unexpected and wonderful it was that on that day, hope rose up to the heavens to the tune of Thriller.
MY EASTER HOPE
by Chantal deAlcuaz
I never expected to feel liberated by those handcuffs.
But it makes some sense that on May 2, in a country where many were celebrating death (that of Osama bin Laden), a pair of handcuffs could set me free.
The officers obliged to follow orders and the workers constructing a building for death, they are the enslaved: enslaved by a steady paycheck, enslaved by fear, enslaved by a golden idol called freedom.
That fleeting moment in front of the gate when we halted business as usual was for me the most powerful confirmation of the resurrection this Easter season.
Just for a moment, we had the audacity and the vision to imagine a world where love reigns, where men and women refuse to kill their brothers and sisters.
Side by side we stood, sang, and danced – crying out that the chains of death might be broken and proclaiming with our bodies that we would stand for life without regard for the consequence.
I stood halting the building of bombs for most likely less than eight minutes and in custody of the state for eight hours. But I pray that that profound glimpse – that small taste of heaven – is enough to keep me working until that new world is ours.
See the National Catholic Reporter story on the action here.