Monday, July 22, 2013

Tonight in heaven

In the corner farthest from the music, Charlie Chaplin and Martin Luther King whisper and nod, their gazes drawn to the floor and past the floor.

Danny Kaye with the lost elegance of Eastern European royalty charms Satchmo into their duet When The Saints Go Marching In.  The addicts roll their eyes at the self-referential kitsch of the afterlife. The suicides join the conga line, especially kind to each other as they always are now.

Heaven changed Nina Simone more than anyone. The private lessons - first Mahler then Rachmaninoff -- were immersive. But she still thinks of Selma, more than Doctor King.

She takes the third chair with Chaplin and King during the intermission before Hendrix. She looks down too. She knows what she waits for. She waits for the women to rise.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Kemble's Riot

Last August in Edinburgh I saw a play called Kemble's Riot. It was about the real-life 66 day riot in London in 1809, occasioned by a 6p increase in the price of a theater ticket. John Kemble, an actor and theater impresario of his time, rebuilt his theater after a fire, and passed the cost on to the audience. Or tried to.

The play is participatory. The riot originates in the audience.  It starts as the audience divided about any protest at all, but evolves into a piece about the power of protest. A tutorial from our history on what we, the people can accomplish. If you like me are looking for profound change in the relationship of humans to money, if you like me are concerned with the power of the state protecting private property interests instead of the will of the people, then this play may feel seminal and important to you.  It might feel like a crucial meditation of our time.

Adrian Bunting wrote the play. I bought him several Sambucas the evening I saw the piece, he told me not to make my plays "filmic" (cryptic) and not much later he died.  And even though I only knew him for an evening I pondered his legacy. Because to me he waded into the heart of the matter, the ability of people to enforce their will against the prevailing powers. I am part of Occupy. He broached what I need and want to think about.

A group of people are bringing Kemble's Riot to New York for a run in an off-Broadway theater.

They have asked me to contact Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the Arts, educational groups, basically anyone who would be interested in coming and participating in the play. This is an opportunity to sit in the audience and participate in a rehearsal protest, a sort of practice test. It is an opportunity to feel and see the power of the state and the power of the people.

And incidentally the guy playing John Kemble is Guy Masterson, who is the actor and theater impresario of his time as John Kemble was of his. The acting will be very, very good.

I am going to post updates as to the place of the theater, the dates of performances and contact information for the producer and director as I get it, but I ask you, if you are in New York and you are into Occupy (or just social justice) and theater and maybe the ways to bring those things together, then they would like you to come to the play - without buying a ticket - and participate in the riot.

There are great opportunities for creativity. There will be stand-offs with riot police, black blocs, music, throwing things, yelling  -- and, and --

If you are like me there will also be a little bit of soul searching, figuring out your own passive consumerism, figuring out consumer protection. It's a very foreign experience for Americans when consumers essentially protect themselves and as such very intriguing.

I know Occupy and New York artists are not like IBM - you don't punch out a purchase order and have people sign up. I know that in a horizontal movement, a personal visit would go a lot farther than a blog post from a distant land and for that I apologize. But I think this is a good thing, and would be a fun evening and I do think that dying man drunk on Sambuca had a very important point when he wrote this play.

Kemble's Riot.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Thomas Paine: Common Sense

Thomas Paine's Common Sense is an exhilarating read in our troubled times: 

[L]et a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter . . . by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King and there ought to be no other. . . . A government of our own is our natural right: And when a man seriously reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that it is infinitely wiser and safer to form a constitution of our own in a cool deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance . . . 

In law school I studied moments of Constitutional crisis. I didn't dream I would live in one and yet one is upon us. There is no recourse for the common person in Washington. There is recourse only for lobbyists and money. There is an acceptance of perpetual war - including the criminalization of speech and assembly - war against the citizens. There is a lockdown on the system where the Rs and the Ds divvy up power at the expense of us all. 

I celebrated the 4th of July with tears in my eyes. How can it be true that I live in a time when my country had lost its very soul to mammon, our new monarch? How can it be that I find inspiration in the same place as George Washington: the words of Thomas Paine. I mean, I wanted to just go off and write plays and get Champagne money.  Not read the words of old sexist white men railing against a King. But there you go. My heart burns. 

When my country,
into which I had just set my foot,
was set on fire about my ears,
it was time to stir.
It was time for every man to stir.  - Thomas Paine

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Domestic Extremist Living In Police State and Nervous about It.

On 15 October 2011 I attended the formation of Occupy London. The peaceful demonstration was kettled by the police and for long stretches of that day, Occupy was physically isolated from passersby. Kettling is illegal in the UK unless it is limited in scope and duration and it addresses an actual threat of violence. There was no threat of violence. (There was a 15 minute scuffle around 12:15 by maybe 4% of the participants that ceased almost immediately).

Because the police illegally kettled, and specifically stopped me from walking down the street - telling me I was a threat to public order because I had a sign that said "Justice is possible", I complained to the Met. That was denied. I complained to the IPCC, who told the Met to perform an investigation.  The Met took  almost a year, and only issued their report when I sent many stroppy emails to the IPCC. On the day that the Met issued their report (having never interviewed me, and concluding that there had been no illegal containment) my work email was compromised. It appeared that someone was trying to get past my work firewalls and download my Outlook .I was suspicious.  

I was suspicious because during the Almost a Year period, a few things happened. First, I attended a Met Police special meeting for Wifi providers in advance of the Olympics as part of my job. People were referred to as "subjects" and many large ISPs and the Met seemed to have a close working relationship handing information back and forth about them. In chatting to people at the meeting, I found that my belief that the police were not monitoring people's activity on the internet was completely naive. One consultant laughed at me and said there was a large group of people for whom the Met monitored everything they did. 

During that period, I also found out about Finfisher, the spyware sold to sovereigns by the UK company Gamma. Finfisher disguises itself as a Mozilla Firefox upgrade. It is untraceable by anti-virus software. Gamma has servers in 38 countries in the world. Once Finfisher is in your computer, the owner can turn on your Skype camera and microphone, can see everything in your computer (including watching you compose your emails). There is every reason to believe that Finfisher is widely used against civilians in both the US and the UK, but of course, we have no transparency in our government- no way to find that out.  It's not like the mainstream media is asking any questions. 

The Met has an awful recent history in the UK - we know that undercover agents have been, as far back as the 70's - assigned to infiltrate movements. Like anti-war groups, environmental groups, social justice groups. They have fathered children and tried to mount smear campaigns. Separately, we know many of them took money from journalists in exchange for providing information (the News of the World scam). We have no idea how many of them are out there now, but we know that there is a National Domestic Extremism Team, that "monitors" 9000 people. We don't know what this monitoring amounts to, but we do know that if the stories of the whistleblowers are indicative, there has been a concerted effort by the UK police to stop people from enjoying peace and privacy, the right to assemble and the right to speak. 

I remember standing around a fire at the Finsbury Park camp one night. I had just addressed the General Assembly of Occupy at its All UK Conference on my hare-brained idea of a Christian-Occupy alliance. I had been interrupted frequently by a noisy drunk. Around the fire though, an old woman from green protests said that she had swiped the noisy drunk's bottle, and that it only had water. She thought the helicopters hovering endlessly overhead had been timed to dip and make communication difficult whenever certain people addressed the assembly. Well, I was chilled. How could anyone be so evil as to create impediments to a movement that sought real democracy and real justice? I didn't want to believe it. Unfortunately, I think now the noisy drunk and the helicopters were there to disrupt the conference, prevent ideas forming, abort a movement for justice before it formed. 

. I have been asking the IPCC and the Met to please comment on whether I personally was under surveillance and they refused to answer. I made a freedom of information request for files held on me and I was told my file was too long to be photocopied. I mean, the whole thing is just creepy. 

So recently it came to light from a whistleblower that when a black man was murdered by white men with no provocation some time ago in London, undercover cops tried to get "dirt" on the dead man's family to smear his name. Perhaps in response to that, the policed commissioner had a webcast where he answered questions from the public. During the hour long webcast, to which Bernard Hogan-Howe, the police commissioner, was fifteen minutes late, he answered cherry-picked questions - softballs, easy ones. He wouldn't answer any questions about domestic extremists, the number of undercover agents active now, the number of FB and twitter accounts kept, the backlog at the IPCC . . . in fact, no one in the government is doing anything about the Met's lawlessness. Not even asking questions.  A whistleblower says the Met is spying on 9000 people, most of whom have no police record (and of the ones who have a police record, it is mostly from being arrested unjustly for protesting) and no one does anything. And the commissioner for the police feels no compulsion to address this issue with the public, to even have a good answer, to do anything at all.  They are untouchable. They are above the law. 

This is what makes me conclude I live in a police state. The government does nothing in the face of police corruption, injustice and illegal activities. There is literally no recourse for me and everyone else they are spying on. My favourite question that the Met didn't answer was how they differed from the Stasi.