We Are People Here! organizer Linda Fair drew my attention to a quote by poet W.S. Merwin: "There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by non-violent methods most easily succumbs: Activism and over-work ... The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."
Whether you are or have been an activist, or have been repelled by activism, you may have noticed how often activists' passion and commitment transmutes into vitriol and polemics. It's understandable, because change builds slowly - too slowly for victims of injustice. But stridency alienates many of the very people activists hope to inspire and educate.
Moved by the courage and gentleness of the Occupy movement, and informed by self-awareness, We Are People Here! has shifted focus from frustration with what-is, to a vision of what can be. The artists and poets participating in the art show that will kick off a week of Occupy the Arts events "were invited to reflect on how the Occupy movement has touched them. They were asked to re-imagine democracy and justice, respect for the environment, a world that works for all; to share their vision of freedom, of equality, of healing, to give heart and voice to the silent through their art," according to the group's press release.
Occupy the Arts will kick off Friday (Feb. 3) from 6-9 p.m., at Bareiss Gallery, 15 State Road 150, with a dialogue between visual artists and poets. Forty-six artists and poets have teamed up in 23 pairs to derive reciprocal inspiration from each others' work. Artists will include Michael Archuleta, Hank Brusselback, Agnes Chávez, Lenny Foster, Larry Herrera, Ginger Mongiello, Barbara Zaring and Brandon Ortiz. Some featured poets are Alise Anima, Beth Enson, Veronica Golos, Bobby Gibbs, Kate O'Neill, Elliot Romancito (nephew of Tempo editor Rick Romancito), and Mirabai Starr. They range from teenagers to 82 years old.
The Taos chapter of We Are People Here! sprang up after a visit from Craig Barnes, who started the movement in Santa Fe. Author of "Democracy at the Crossroads," among other books, Barnes outlines the intent of We Are People Here! on his website: "We are, I will say briefly, attempting to lay a broad foundation for change, an intellectual as well as an emotional foundation, a factual, economic, biological, and legal foundation, as well as a foundation in fury ... When we say we are people here and have a right to be counted, we are saying that we - unlike mega-opolists at Citigroup or Bank of America - do live here, that we do have children in the schools and universities, and that we are the elderly, as well, not just the young, and that we are the working people who live here and need each other here because we do have a country."
To local artist Hank Brusselback, who has engaged in activism since the Vietnam War, "it's really been a giant thrill" to see the nationwide Occupy movement unfold, to watch a new, thoughtful generation of young people sidestep co-option by opportunistic political groups, avoid provocations to violence, and commit themselves to a sophisticated vision of democracy, manifested in their general assemblies."
"We wanted to bring the Occupy movement spirit into the arts," said Fair.
A painter, and a We Are People Here! organizer, Brusselback is producing a series of three- by four-foot canvases of police and activists interacting nonviolently. In one, four bulky police haul away a single, fragile kid - but look closer at their expressions and the cops don't look mean. They're just doing their jobs in what has become a veritable ritual at demonstrations. Brusselback calls it "The Dance." His poem and life partner is Gaia Mika.
In his transcendant poem, "We Dance," Harvey Frauenglass, who is partnered with painter Pierre de Lattre, urges the housebound and preoccupied to reacquaint themselves with the world's beauty: "to sing with Mary Oliver of/ red bird ‘firing up the/ winter landscape,' fireflies/ like space ships invading the/ summer orchard,/ blue-bodied bees/ humming in the cherry blossoms ... hear the drumming, the/ ceaseless throbbing of every living/ heart in this universe,/ come outside, feel the hope/ and the wonder,/ and dance."
"Poetry is a source of revolution from within," said Fair, quoting Sam Hamill, editor of "Poets Against the War." Hamill put the book together after former First Lady Laura Bush cancelled a poetry dinner when she learned that invited poets intended to speak out against the Iraq War. A website called Poets Against the War, established to give voice to the censored poets, received some 13,000 poems in a matter of days.
"Poetry is the opposite of slogans," Fair said.
The Friday opening will launch a week of events, including a fundraiser for Taos High School poets, a lecture by Craig Barnes, and a screening of the Academy Award-winning film, "Inside Job, about the 2008 economic crash, "a complex subject that somehow they manage to explain well," said Brusselback.
Watch for announcements of dates and times for upcoming events, all of which will take place at Bareiss Gallery.
For further information, contact Brusselback at (575) 751-3064 or Fair at (575) 776-5503.