Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 10.08.56 PM

Red Soul Days: Two Years of Anti-Violence Events

One exciting part of Alachua County is its annual festivals. For years, we have had the Downtown Arts Festival, the Thornebrooke Arts Festival, the Micanopy Harvest Festival, the Lubee Bat Festival, Labor Daze Fest, Jest Fest, and more. We also have local representation of national events such as V-Day and National Anti-Bullying Month. We also have monthly Artwalk and First Friday events and a weekly Farmers’ Market that includes arts and crafts. In consideration of these artistic traditions and to ground more of these festivals in social activism, I decided to combine several ideas I had for unique and socially conscious events into such a festival, and one that celebrated all types of arts. Thus Red Soul Days was born. While events such as the March for Peace and VFest used music, and the Vagina Monologues spoken word, to benefit anti-domestic violence and anti-bullying organizations, no event addressed those issues through stand-up, dance, straight theatre, or other performance types. Always one to rise to a challenge (and I admit, a workaholic), I decided to do it all.

Red Soul Days, named for the color of an aura that is angry, aroused, wounded, or proud, was an extraordinary week. I was blessed with a variety of artists who wanted to participate in the events, and with several exceedingly generous venues who opened their doors to us for free or for a steep discount. Our incredible roster for 2014 and 2015 included:

  • A burlesque show at the Jam—a packed house brought in several hundred dollars for our charities and great tips for our performers
  • Two variety shows at Market Street Gainesville–incredibly passionate artists and a generous, adoring audience each time
  • An art show at the Midnight–profoundly cathartic and socially emotional event sharing the art of survivors of violence
  • A girls rock concert at High Dive—woefully underattended, but with amazing artists
  • A movie night at High Dive—also underattended, but with a very responsive audience
  • A comedy show at Rockey’s—The guest comedians were champs who made the audience pay them—and by extension our beneficiaries—for offensive jokes
  • A punk show at 1982—more amazing women performed to raise money for our beneficiaries
  • Guest speaker Jen Moff—a friend of mine from undergrad who has become a successful motivational speaker

I chose the beneficiaries, out of the many organizations dedicated to stopping school bullying and intimate partner abuse, based on their local activities, variety of services, and multigenerational/multicultural approach. To fight bullying, I chose PFLAG Gainesville, the local branch of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which addressed both the challenges of coming out and the risk of suicide for LGBT youth. To fight intimate partner abuse, I chose Peaceful Paths, which provides shelter, counseling, legal assistance, health information, and dozens of other services for abuse and sexual assault victims. And to fight teen dating abuse, I chose Break the Cycle, which provides information and services to help teens identify unhealthy relationships and to stop abusive and bullying behavior while the perpretrators are young.

Although Red Soul Days could have been better attended, raised more money, or gone more smoothly at times, it was a groundbreaking start, as a cohesive, multifacted event that raised $897 for our beneficiaries. It was an emotional journey for me, for sure: I began work on the project, which quickly became a second, unpaid job, in April of 2014, while recovering from intimate partner abuse, and I put up a week’s worth of entertainment while caring for an ailing pet who died during the event. I am eternally grateful for my colleagues and friends, Jill Dumas and Jennifer Vito, both of whom are extraordinary artists and activists, who worked hard to ensure Red Soul Days was successful. Our full week of entertainment, the money raised, and connections forged was an amazing springboard to what I plan to be a new Alachua County tradition.

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 10.08.56 PM

Anti-Bullying March for Day of Peace

Believe it or not, for someone so socially conscious and politically active, I’ve never participated in a rally. Today’s Day of Peace rally was glorious. From the incredible music by Be More Heroic members to the chants and cheers of both humans and their dogs at Bo Diddley Plaza to the adorable skits done by students at my research school, Duval Elementary, today’s event was A+! I wore a shirt bearing words such as “slut” and “nerd” and carried a sign that read, “Words DO hurt me.” I was interviewed by a local paper, which was nice, but most of all, I got to see firsthand the passion and joy that stirs the hearts of those who speak for compassion and peace. Let’s face it, those people who rally for hate just don’t have that same joy.

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 10.08.56 PM

Photography and Making Meanings

Currently at UF’s Harn Museum of Art is the wonderful  “Modern Impulse” photography exhibition. It’s a stunning collection of beautiful, sometimes disturbing images from America and Europe between WWI and WWII. This was a period of great creativity in the medium; photography shifted from being a means of documentation to an avenue of expression. The work of the featured Czech artists, especially Josef Sudek, is particularly lovely and fascinating; their manipulation of the camera makes one rue the concept of “snapshot.” The collection demonstrates how social meanings were shared, deconstructed, and reconstituted in this period, especially in the images of unsafe factory conditions, segregated public buildings, and homelessness. The raw, emotional work of Walker Evans, featured in the show, causes the eye to linger.

Photography became a means of social change in this era, and has continued to mediate meanings and inspire activism to the present day. Consider the work of Pieter Hugo, Sebastião Salgado, and Manuel Rivera-Ortiz, in addition to filmmakers like the late Tim Hetherington.

The Harn collection also features the gorgeous work of Group f/64, who championed unedited, naturally lit photographs as expressions of truth. (Hm, would Walter Benjamin agree?)

Additional reading:

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 10.08.56 PM

Activist Filmmaking

The Amazon rainforest, the sweaty locale of many films, both entertainment and documentary, has many connotations: mystical, dangerous, exotic, native, prehistoric, medicinal, potent, endangered. It is constructed, often as an important area of concern to ecologists and anthropologists, in both news and entertainment media. Some examples of the latter, like Anaconda, have little to offer to society beyond cheap entertainment; others, like Fern Gully, are blatantly pro-environmentalism and conservation (“hippie propaganda,” as one of my more cynical friends puts it). The Amazon certainly deserves special consideration and protection: it is not only a garden of extreme biodiversity, but an important medical and bioregulatory source, and, of course, the home of many peoples.

The Amazon’s size and wealth has called itself to the attention of both those who would exploit it and those who would exoticize it. A prime subject for the curious ethnographer, the Amazonian natives live off the land, showing great mastery of their complex environment, and moreover have shown remarkable political interest and talent. Terence Turner is hardly the only ethnographer to explore the latter; in the early 1990s Joe Kane lived among the Huaorani in Ecuador, and gave voice to one named Moi, who traveled to Washington, D.C. with Kane to speak for the Huaorani whose homes had been devastated by oil development and spills. (Incidentally, Moi also visited my university by request of my professor, who had met him through a colleague.)

The documentation of the problems of damming, deforestation, oil extraction, poaching, and drug trafficking in the Amazon has been shared by anthropologists, biologists, human rights activists, and journalists; yet this essential information, while well-distributed, seems to have not yet supplanted the dual exoticization of and disengagenement from the Amazon. From informal observation of my conversation partners, even people who identify as “eco” or “concerned” aren’t aware of much going in the Amazon besides “deforestation” and “it’s big.”

Although the eco-minded family movies of the 90s and early 00s (Fern Gully, Free Willy, Finding Nemo, to name just a few) have given way to disaster and apocalyptic movies with an ecological twist (The Core, The Day After Tomorrow), the impact of either type of film is something to consider. The label of “hippie propaganda” might not be inaccurate (and I certainly wouldn’t consider it a bad thing).

From a post by Turner:

[I]n a march in Brasilia on April 12 [2010] that targeted all the government ministries implicated in approving the plan for Belo Monte [a new dam in the Kayapo’s region], and called for the cancellation of the project […] they were joined by James Cameron, the producer of Avatar, and members of the cast of the film.

There are clear parallels between the battle of the fictional indigenous people against the attempt by a giant corporation to extract precious minerals from their planet, modeled on the Amazon rain forest, and the struggle of the inhabitants of the Xingú valley against the damming of their rivers to generate power, much of which is intended for the production of minerals such as aluminum for export. In both cases, the collateral damage of the extractive projects threatens to destroy the ecosystem and way of life of the native people, and in both cases, they resist.

Cameron visited the site of the planned Belo Monte dam, and some of the indigenous villages that it would affect, in March of this year, and was so struck by the similarities in their situation with that of the Navi of his film that he committed himself to support their movement against the dams. His return to Brazil with members of the cast on April 12, 2010, to take part in the march in Brasilia, was a public affirmation of his support for their cause. Sigourney Weaver, of the Avatar cast, later led a similar march in New York against the Xingú dams.

One might dismiss the stars’ involvement in such causes as mere face time, an attempt to shine their images, but that Cameron borrowed from generic struggles of the Amazonian people, and then found his (very heavy-handed) eco-propaganda film validated to the point that he was moved to further action, is a very nice conflation of life and art. Avatar, once linked with a real-world corollary, moved from an alien fantasy to a de-exoticized pseudo-documentary (a similar treatment was more intentionally given to District 9, a human rights parable and pseudo-documentary of South African apartheid, wearing the skin of a sci-fi flick).

Cameron’s involvement, as well as Weaver’s, can only help the cause, even if it cannot stop Belo Monte (the construction of which was just reinstated by the Brazilian Supreme Court). As for would-be eco-propagandists, a good rule is to get as close to the real-world while being as unreal as possible, because I’m guessing it sometimes takes talking animals and giant blue people to get people out of their head.

Cross-posted on Confluey.