Monday, January 19, 2015

"Selma," Activism, and the Importance of Showing Up

It's appropriate that Martin Luther King Day is when I finally got around to watching Ava Duvernay's Selma.  Having seen the film, I agree with many who feel it's a crime that it didn't get more notice during awards season.  The scenes in which Duvernay depicts the brutality faced by Selma protestors were some of the most visceral, gut-wrenching moments of filmmaking I have ever scene.

Much has been written as to why questions about the film's historical accuracy might have prevented it from resonating with the various academies.  Some object to the less than generous picture of Lyndon Johnson.  Forward took issue with that and the fact that Jewish contributions to the Civil Rights Movement did not get their proper due (given the demographics of the Academy, I have a feeling the latter issue might have been a factor in Selma's lack of nominations).

I tend to agree with those who say that the choice to focus on ordinary black folks instead of white allies and politicians was meant to highlight something specific about the nature of activism.  Specifically, how do you get grassroots movements national attention and keep fellow activists motivated, even when action comes at great personal cost?  With regards to the film's hardened portrayal of LBJ, how do you assure politicians that your concerns are significant enough to warrant their trust and attention?

I thought a lot about the summer I raised money on the street for Equality California in LA.  It was 2009, and the California Supreme Court had just decided to uphold Prop 8, the law that denied gays and lesbians the right to marry in California.  It was an exciting time to be a canvasser because this was an issue everyone was informed and fired up about, for better or worse.

Occasionally, I would run into someone who asked me, "Aren't you mad at Obama for not doing anything about it?"

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Israel, Judaism and the Politics of Dress

I've always thought of myself as good at packing a suitcase. Having grown up in a joint custody arrangement shuttling between my parents' houses daily and attended scores of education, I've become adept at knowing the clothes I will probably need to look presentable but also still manage to fit it all in my suitcase.  As a commuter in New York, I find I gravitate towards thin, soft layers, that allow me to feel comfortable sleeping on a bus to New Jersey without exposing myself and easily store in my bag if the heating in a particular building.  Lots of knee-length skirts and leggings that I can wear with Uniqlo under armor long-sleeved tees and boots.  This fall I also pulled out a wool cloche hat from high school that I always think I've forgotten about but seems to always just the right scalp protection and wind resistance.

In preparing for the initial tour of my Israel program, I strategically separated items I knew I would need for the ten days.  I had travelled to the Middle East in January previously, so I knew not to expect summer temperatures.  So I put aside some comfy layers, in dark colors so I wouldn't have to worry about them looking too gross if there wasn't a laundromat and I had to wear things over again.

About the second night of our trip, we're waiting to check into our hotel and one of my new classmates asked me:  "Are you someone's wife?"

WTF?  I mean WTF?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Overcoming Performance Anxeities: Finding Solace in the Circus

Traveling brings with it a wave of triggering emotions and experiences.  While in theory I love how travel to foreign countries expands my worldview, it exposes some huge insecurities for me.  As a writer, I like to use language and words to not only express myself, but also control others' perception of me.  
Basically, using big words makes me feel smart.   

When I am in a foreign country, however, that tool is suddenly gone from my toolbox.  Even if I have some knowledge of the language--I no longer have the guarantee that when I open my mouth it will make me sound intelligent.  This issue is even more compounded on my current trip to Israel, where my Hebrew is embarrassingly elemental.  Not only that, I also insecure about my lack of Jewish credentials in comparison to others in my group here, who range from rabbinical students to directors of Jewish youth programs.  

Ironically, it was a an almost completely non-verbal experience that helped me feel centered again.  

This evening we had a program where we visited the Galilee Circus, a group that brings Jewish and Arab youths together to collaborate on performance as a way to build community.  While I had assumed we were simply going to watch the show, the troupe leader had us begin by playing some theatre games to get us in the spirit.  As he started to pull out a set of foam balls and have us toss them to each other and play name games, I suddenly felt a sense of reassurance and calm:  I had played many of these games before in various movement and clowning workshops since undergrad.