- Protest Now and Again
If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, and occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.—Howard Zinn (2007:11–12)
These are queer times indeed.—Jasbir Puar, Terrorist Assemblages (2007:204)
In 2007, 36 years after he delivered a speech on the Boston Commons to protest the war in Vietnam, and in the same year that artist-activist Mark Tribe staged a reenactment of the protest speech as part of his Port Huron Project, Howard Zinn published a commentary on history as "creative." The promise for the future, Zinn writes in A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, is in the past's "fugitive moments."
Tribe's Port Huron Project takes the promise of fugitive time quite literally. Orchestrating the live reenactment of six protest speeches delivered between 1965 and 1971 by a variety of antiwar activists, Tribe disperses or circulates one time (1960s) across or within another time (2000s), and then further disperses or circulates that laminated time across multiple media at multiple and shifting sites.1 The Project includes live reenactments of speeches, delivered by actors at original sites, which then become videos, DVDs, still photographs, billboard displays, and a book—all of which are the Project, none of which is a privileged object nor singular event.2 Thus the Port Huron Project itself takes place in multiple times, across multiple registers, in multiple media. Arguably, the sense of multiple sites gives a kind of credential twist to the aspect of multiple or fugitive time that is the politic of temporal play at the project's base.
What are fugitive moments? And when is fugitive time? Could such moments be, perhaps, past moments on the run in the present? Moments when the past flashes up now to present us with its own alternative futures—futures we might choose to realize differently? Might the past's "fugitive moments" be leaky, syncopated, and errant moments—moments stitched through with repetition and manipulated to recur in works of performance, works of ritual, works of art, works of reenactment that play with time as malleable material? As malleable political material? [End Page 7] Might the past's fugitive moments not only remind us of yesterday's sense of tomorrow, but also compose the sense again and offer, without expiration date, a politic of possibility?
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It is certainly true, and Tribe notes it as well: the question of how to effectively protest government and multinational corporate actions under neoliberal global capital has flummoxed the Left across the Bush era (and beyond). He credits his students at Brown University for illustrating to him just how drastically basic questions of activism—such as, What can we do now?—get tongue-tied in neoliberal excuses or bummed out by Old Left Melancholies (see Tribe 2010; see also Brown 1999). As some students bemoaned: Any rhetoric of protest always already seems outdated. Tribe, then, meets the issue of outdatedness head-on. In the Port Huron Project, he plays the outdated again as if to ask not only how to protest, but when to protest. His approach to "when" is not to say that now is not the right time, but to say that now is material, has duration, and, as if working in mixed media, to say that one time can be composed in another time. Think of it this way: must protest always only happen in a "now" considered distinct from prior nows or future nows? In another of his many spurs to action, Zinn wrote: "We are not starting from scratch" (1990:7). That is, we are not starting now—or, our "now" is not only now.
Of course, when...