Protests & Prose

In Buzz, June 2016by Mandy Howard

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Twice in one week, without warning, I found myself in the midst of Raleigh protesters.

On Monday, I interviewed Bare Theatre for its upcoming interpretation of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (pg. 66). In the courtyard of the Museum of History, the director explained how casting a woman as one of the leads added a layer of subversiveness to the play. Across the street, crowds gathered for a Moral Monday HB2 protest.

It was poetic.

No, not the incredible irony of a gender-bending Shakespearean work being performed in the shadow of tumultuous gender-identity freedom fights, but the protest itself.

Speakers took turns at the podium to lead call and response chants using words pregnant with significance like ‘justice,’ ‘freedom,’ and ‘equality.’ As the leaders switched places, songs—that felt spontaneous except everyone knew the lyrics—broke out from small groups and spread until a hundred voices rose in unison to the legislature rooftop.

My interview was over; I couldn’t help but watch the show before me. Red, White and Blue danced with rainbows as flags were held and waved alongside signs that ranged in sentiment from angry to hopeful and even humorous (“I’m so angry, I made a sign.”) The protesters were as diverse a group as I’d ever seen, from race to gender expression, and yet groups were identified in segments by color coordinated shirts signifying the organization they represented.

Horns honked, hands clapped; at some point I thought I heard drums, though I couldn’t identify their origin. It was like a perfectly choreographed circus for your senses. I was, admittedly, mesmerized.

Saturday, while walking into a writing conference, I was greeted by a GOP protest that was advocating for the (now former) Chairman of the NC Republican Party, Hasan Harnett. It was calm, informative, factual. The signs stated: “We support Hasan.” I was politely offered a sticker and asked if I needed any information. The offer was the only time I heard anyone speak.

The stark difference in activism styles of these two groups seems like a psychology doctoral thesis waiting to happen: Is it a right-brain vs. left-brain study? A subject for a new Malcolm Gladwell book? Could we define our political slant based on a Myers Briggs test? Extroverts vs. Introverts? Singers vs. Calmly offering stickers-ers?

I was drawn to the protests on Monday, not solely because of what they were saying, but because of how they presented the messages. Was it the writer in me on the lookout for greater drama or does it suggest something deeper?

The impending showdowns between the Department of Justice, Gov. McCrory, Roy Cooper and the state all promise opportunities for signs, songs, stickers and opinion sharing.

Oh, and there is also a little something coming up in November. Though I’m certain, if things stay as predicted, a Trump vs. Clinton election will be totally calm and civil on all sides.

No one will feel the need to publicly share his or her opinions on that one (wink, wink).

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