Navigating through a poster sale abounding with Bob Marley and Che Guevera prints, I arrived at my first class and sat down next to a girl wearing five Live Strong bracelets. The green one probably had to do with climate, the red one with AIDS and, of course, I knew the yellow one was for cancer – after all, I own one, too. (The purple and blue ones were adorned with adjectives that Dr. Phil might call “stimuli,” but I prefer to call “banal.”)
My promenade through campus reminded me of my stroll through the opening of the Whitney Biennial that I attended last year as part of the Williams in New York class on contemporary art. Other than the abundance of mesh, lack of Courreges, and lower skinniness quotient, Paresky Lawn didn’t seem that different from the innards of that Breuer bastion of creativity.
From what I inferred from my class readings, the Biennial was all about discrete resistance, what Anthony Huberman describes as “saying yes as a way of saying no.” Roman legend offers a paradigmatic example: when the head of the Roman army sought to identify the leader of the slave rebellion, Spartacus, each slave stepped forward and announced, “I am Spartacus.” It was the multitude rather than the dearth of information – a superficial compliance – that was at the heart of this act of resistance. Beyond the recurring Biennial themes of hair and elephants, lay “a resistance of yes.”
By the time I left New York, I subscribed completely to the “small-a anarchist” doctrine. Had I not met the people I met this past summer, I probably would not have been too bothered by the plethora of Che and Bob strewn between Paresky Lawn’s Adirondack chairs.
According to my philosophy last spring, my generation’s protest lies behind the rubber bracelets and artificially nostalgic posters. From Rock the Vote 2.0 to blogs and letters to congressmen, our revolution is a covert one. Protestors of the 60s, stop criticizing my generation for not caring; my generation has taken your contemporary Al Gore’s invention and complicated it to the point that you can’t understand. This revolution, as another 2009 graduate put it, is “posteverything,” and that includes you. My mom may have lived in a tree for a month and weaved baskets in a sundress listening to CSNY, but my contemporaries weave complex solutions within the infinitely complicated network that is the Internet. Also, sitting at our computers, we listen to the Mountain Goats.
That was last spring. Then, this summer, I set off to Jordan with another Eph to work with Iraqi refugees, courtesy of the Davis Project for Peace Grant. Upon arriving in Zarqa, the city adjacent to Amman and home to many Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, I realized that my generation’s revolutionary strategy may be inherently limiting: by appealing to the network, we may be neglecting its constituents.
The first person I met in Jordan was Rafed, our translator. An Iraqi Shiite, he was forced to leave his job teaching English at a university soon after the war broke out. He was originally granted refugee status in Jordan, but, after the 2005 bombings in Amman (later traced to Iraqi nationals), the Jordanian government clamped down. Somehow, it was revealed that Rafed was a Shiite and soon he was unemployed, living with his wife and three children in a one-room apartment and praying for American asylum. No longer protected by his status as a refugee, Rafed feared that he would have to pay the two JD (equivalent to about $3.50) per day fine charged to illegal settlers. Rafed would occasionally be hired as a translator, but when his employers failed to maintain their part of the contract, Rafed could not appeal to the police.
In the 2007 fiscal year, the American government promised to permanently resettle 7000 Iraqis; it barely resettled 1600. This year, the government promised 12,000; after nine months, the number is narrowly beyond 6000. Clearly, we cannot turn to the American government; it is time to change the emphasis from intellectual, clandestine, small-a anarchist type activism. Let’s trade intellectual activism for actual activism. Let’s stop complying as a means of refusal and, instead, refuse as refusal.
And so I propose that Williams play an active role in solving the crises facing the generation that isn’t so post- after all. I can only really speak to the Iraqi refugee crisis, but I contend that Williams should play a direct role, circumventing the complex technological processes on which our generation has learned to rely. Why not go out of our way to urge Iraqi refugees to come to school here, perhaps even reserve a few spots for them every year? Why not establish a teaching assistant position for someone like Rafed? Why not play even the simplest role in easing the plights to which we have indirectly contributed? Wear thick-framed glasses and listen to songs with lyrics like “A tiny space to move and breathe is all that I would ever need” if you desire – just don’t let our revolution adopt that same rhythm.
Anouk Dey ’09 is a political science major from Toronto, Ontario.