"The Debates": Revolution or Evolution

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By Maxine Phillips

Review: “The Debates”

Created by Theater in Asylum and the cast; Director Paul Bedard / Choreographer Katie Palmer / Lead Dramaturg Samantha Keogh www.theaterinasylum.com

“I think I finally understand Glass-Steagall,” my companion said as we left the Kraine Theater in the East Village on Primary Day in New York City. It was high praise for the performance we’d just seen, “The Debates,” by Theater in Asylum. Throughout the Democratic presidential debates, the troupe, created by DSAer Paul Bedard and Katie Palmer, had met with audiences to watch the debates and then talk about them. They assessed the candidates’ body language and teased out audience concerns about health care, electability, jobs, foreign policy, and taxes.

I hesitated about attending the performance. Was it possible to make interesting theater from debates that were less Theater of the Absurd than War of the Wonks? Did I really want to trek downtown after hours of handing out Bernie literature at subway stops to hear the stage Bernie say that he didn’t care about the “damn e-mails”? But once I’d wedged myself into a half-broken seat in the threadbare theater, the fatigue of the day subsided and I was entranced by an enthusiastic multi-media romp through the nine Democratic debates, with a few asides from Republican candidates thrown in.

Grainy footage played in the background as actors lip-synced with the candidates in answer to questions. How high would Bernie raise taxes on the rich? Less than under Dwight D. Eisenhower. A “parade of dead presidents” crossed the stage, as the percentages of taxes under their administrations flashed on the screen, from a high of 94% under Franklin D. Roosevelt to a low of 28% under Ronald Reagan, settling in to 39.6% with the non-socialist Barack Obama.

Reminding the audience that ”Before we’d ever heard of ISIS we had the 2008 housing crisis,” a news commentator asks how Bernie and Hillary would deal with Wall Street and avoid another financial meltdown like that of 2008. A Bernie character urges “a working class revolution” while a Hillary character sings of “simply working to a solution.” Bernie wants to bring back Glass-Steagall, the regulatory legislation passed during the Great Depression and repealed in Bill Clinton’s administration that kept consumer banks from engaging in investment activities. Hillary prefers Dodd-Frank, the regulatory reform legislation passed in 2010. Actors tap dance in formation, reminiscent of escapist movies made during the Great Depression.

Even ironic levity ended when the troupe gathered on stage to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement and the prison-industrial complex. They pointed to Bill Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which has led to what Michelle Alexander calls “the new Jim Crow.” They read statements from Sanders opposing the bill and accurately predicting what would happen if it passed, but add that eventually Sanders voted for it. They quoted Hillary Clinton in 1994, saying “We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets” and juxtaposed it with her current statement that “One out of three African American men may well end up going to prison. . . . I want people here to think what we would be doing if it was one out of three white men.”

Woven throughout the vignettes are words from past audiences asking how one person can lead this diverse country, how democracy can best be served, whether we have a democracy, whether politics is a total bore.

It may be a bore for some, but it’s important, says the troupe, and at every performance actors urge audience members to register to vote, to vote, to debate, to be informed. At the end, they echo and refine a phrase: “Every debate is unabashedly an attempt to forge an identity.” Our identity as a country, they imply, will be shaped by this election.

Maxine Phillips is editor of the Democratic Left magazine. This article originally appeared in the magazine’s summer 2016 (early June) issue.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 9 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.