Mar 29, 2010

The Theater of Protest

In his remarkably astute take on the way conservative Tea Party protesters have made themselves such easy targets, Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to the discipline and media-consciousness of the civil rights movement of the '60s:
These guys were the masters of protest as propaganda. The Montgomery bus boycott was a strategy and Rosa Parks was not some witless old lady, but a civil rights worker who'd been trained to accord herself a certain way. When Martin Luther King would be arrested he dressed a certain way, he seemed to try to convey to the cameras a kind of solemn restraint. The marches themselves were choreographed, and the strategy of nonviolence was drilled into anyone who'd protest.
It reminded me immediately of a short news piece I did for the November issue of American Theatre, about how director George C. Wolfe has been hired as Chief Creative Officer of Atlanta's Center for Civil & Human Rights, where the creator of The Colored Museum and former Public Theater impresario plans to bring a sense of immediacy and theatricality to the exhibits. As he said to me then,
I was impressed by how immaculately dressed everyone would be when they would go to a protest. It was about using the weaponry of fashion: The gloves and shoes matched when you went to sit at a lunch counter while hooligans squirted mustard on you.

No comments: