Oral History

The section that stood out the most to me in Della Pollock’s Introduction was the piece on the inmates that performed for a group of at-risk youth.  The question brought up at the end of this example was how can we perform questions instead of simply asking them?  This attitude serves to break down the performer/audience and self/other tensions in performance and oral history and allows for the process of growth.  The argument is made that the incorporation of these at risk youth in the inmates performance was more effective in creating a connection than a simple Q&A  that takes place afterwards.  In light of the conversations we have been having about protests and the whole #OccupyWallStreet movement I think this video really makes one think about how we “perform questions.”  How do our stories and histories ask these questions through experience and through action?

The part about 5 minutes in where the protestors chant to the NYPD is”who do you serve, who do you protect?” as they arrest protestors is a moment of performance.  The protestors are performing their questions and their grievances.  For me this video also drew connections between he GreenPeace article that we read on protest theater.


I find Boal to be a genius.  There is something innately functional about this “theater of the people” that just makes it effective.  I had the privilege of immersing myself in a lot of this work and I was trained as a “joker” over the summer.  I think all of the techniques that Boal has talked about all succeed in destroying the separation between the actor and spectator and they create this realistic “rehearsal for life.”

Boal brings up a very interesting point in the intro to Games for Actors/non-actors.  He recognized that his Forum Theater techniques worked very well when the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy is very clear, but it falls short when we are in less obvious and more covert situations of oppression.  Often these situations can be seen as “less severe” or “less urgent” or maybe just more complex.  For example social issues in America do not have an intense sense of urgency (maybe they should) as Boal described in Peru.  Boal then says that the “Rainbow of Desire” was created to unpack and analyze these other, highly personal and complex situations.

I found this interesting because in my workshop I had the privilege to study under a man named Marc Weinblatt who was one of Boal’s original “multipliers” as he called them.  Marc brought the work of Theater of the Oppressed to Seattle where he lives and has since done work overseas and all across the states.  The reason I found Boal’s little excerpt on the short comings of Forum to be interesting is because of Marc’s description of him (Boal has since passed, 2009) was always that he wanted to be able to concretely identify the oppressed and that these plays were about the oppressed at all times. I remember Marc telling a story of a play he performed in that was really confusing and had many different oppressors and oppressed peoples.  Boal was supposed to “joke” the piece for an audience but after seeing the play Marc tells us he said “But who is ze Oppressed” in a playful but mocking Brazilian accent.

From what I have heard Boal has been very methodical with his joking style and focuses on the oppressed people in order to empower them as this is their theater.  From what I have gathered this has come to be known as “Classical Boalian Theater of the Oppressed.”  Since there are so many multipliers the forms have changed and have been molded to fit certain situations.  I had the chance to mess around with the “Rainbow of Desire” and I saw exactly what Boal meant.  I won’t explain the whole thing but essentially the rainbow is where you play a scene (usually someones story of a time they felt oppressed) and then expand a “rainbow” of images off of what that character is feeling or felt at any time during the scene.  The scene is then replayed with these different “masks” (a very crude description).  Classical Boalian jokers will focus only on the character that is oppressed and go through the rehearsal of that character under these different masks.  I am interested in possibly uncovering and exploring the psyche of the oppressor as well.  This “Theater of the Oppressor” is something that Marc spoke about and I found it interesting yet I am cautious.  Allowing ourselves to dig into these other characters will help us sort out some of the complexities but it could also give way to the mentality that oppressors need to “help” liberate the oppressed.

Oganizing for social change–Jonathan

This section of the reading of Organizing for Social Change is extremely important in understanding systems of oppression.  I think that the dialectical approach that the authors take is excellent in illustrating societal forces functioning for or against certain groups of people.  I cannot help but relate this reading to my experiences over fall break.

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a few days at the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City over fall break.  I witnessed some of the most impressive community organizing I have ever seen take place.  As the movement continues to grow, the main concern of the occupation is how to conduct its meetings (called General Assemblies or GA’s) in the future to be efficient yet still have all people heard.  The dialectic of fragmentation vs. unity in the reading reminded me a lot about what I witnessed in New York.  As the article points out, unity can sometimes serve to silence certain members of a group for the benefit or perceived benefit of the whole.  At Occupy Wall Street the silencing of marginalized people was a big issue during the General Assembly.  Due to the diversity of opinion at the protest (old people, young people, communists, socialists, capitalists, Ron Paul supporters, anarchists,) unity would destroy the movement.  This is also the reason that Occupy Wall Street has no set of “demands” as the media has not failed to point out (if they give coverage at all).  I think that in many social activism projects, the goal is often unity, or to unify.  Part of this is because the word just sounds so nice.  In fact unity cannot be a goal because it would require a set of opinions/objectives/morals that applies to the whole group and thus would alienate others.  Fragmentation cannot be a goal either because complete fragmentation leads to conflict.  I saw many instances of conflict caused by fragmentation arise at Occupy Wall Street.  For example, the group of drummers called Pulse were discussing a proposal at the GA about how long they should be able to drum during the day.  The argument got heated and the result was the alienation of these important members of the occupation.  For me, the real goal lies in changing the way we see difference or those who are different from us.  This is a personal change that allows us to acknowledge difference and do our best to detach it from whatever preconceived notion we may have.   Reverend Jeremiah Wright put it well in his speech at the NAACP national convention: “I believe a change is gonna come because we are committed to changing the way we view others who are different.” I think that the only way true social change can be achieved is if the concept of difference is separated from the concept of deficiency.

Who Gets To Share What Meaning?

The intro and the selection of When Bullets Begin to Flower and the discussion in class got me thinking about symbols and oppression.  The question “Who gets to share what meaning?” inspired a great deal of unrest regarding symbols we see every day, but it also called attention to he power that a symbol or ritual can have.

The first major conclusion I came to is that a symbol which is defined as something (object, person, etc) that has an alternative, representative, or shared meaning can be a vehicle for systemic oppression.  A symbol is exclusive.  Only those who have the privilege can access the meaning of the symbol.  Take the nike swoosh for a simplistic example.  Only those who can afford nike brand products get to “share” its meaning.  Symbols effectively create groups, often of those who have, and those who do not.  The breast cancer pink ribbon can be another example.  Those who purchase something with this symbol only did so because they had the opportunity to do so.  Does the symbol really get “shared” with a patient who does not have a family who can pay medical bills let alone buy a bumper sticker?  I then began to think that performance (which in itself is a ritual) can serve the same divisive purposes.  I read the piece on Street Theater before I knew we did not have to but I am glad I did because it brought to my attention the reaffirming qualities theater can take on.  Look for example at ancient Greek plays that catered to high status characters and a clear patriarchy.  Look at minstrel shows that reaffirmed what whites thought to be true of blacks in America.  Can these things (symbols and performance) serve to hurt a group of people?

Conversely, the reading also made me realize the positive results symbols can create.  For the oppressed in Africa, poetry served as their symbol of revolution.  In some cases the nature of symbols that I previously referred to as divisive can serve to further group solidarity.  Only those who are in the group get to “share” the symbols meaning.  Thus, outsiders and even on-lookers are not permitted to feign understanding with those in a marginalized position.  This aspect is especially beneficial to nationalist movements such as the one in question in the reading.  Allowing for a group identity to be formed by and around the symbol of poetry serves to create unity amongst the targeted.  Unity then allows for action as one solid unit making the fight for independence more practical and achievable.  In this case the symbol serves as a way to bring people together for a cause of revolution.  I have come to the conclusion that maybe the question should be Who should share what meaning?  Should people who are not able to access a symbol be forced to share its meaning? And, conversely, should people who are not members of a certain group be allowed or permitted to share a symbol that they do not fully understand?

A symbol that the poem Black Mother called up for me was the American flag which we have all had enormous amounts of contact with whether voluntary or involuntary.  The lines about the fields of Carolina and Virginia reminded me a lot of the history of the United States and how we use the flag to symbolize the great aspects of our nation.  As I read the poem I kept realizing how easily we forget (or choose not to remember) the less great aspects of Americas history.  While I believe that the flag is a beneficial tool to unify Americans and to allow for us to celebrate and recall our diverse history, I think that the truth is sometimes hidden.  I know as a child I was taught that the flag meant bravery, freedom, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  While reading this poem it felt like there should be other words to represent what is not being represented.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed-Jonathan

The reading in Pedagogy of the Oppressed takes an interestingly academic look at oppression.  I was very interested at how Freire looks at oppression as a system of power.  Very often we look at discrimination from separate viewpoints and very rarely do we globalize it the way that Freire does.  A few questions that came up in the reading for me:

If oppression is overcome by liberation, the rehumanization of people, then can oppressors make the conscious humane choice to become allies?  In other words, our nature as humans is to gain an advantage in life to achieve self-preservation (privilege) and once we can gain this advantage (privilege) we hold on to it and consolidate “power”.  Can we as humans “defy” human nature and change the way we use privilege as power?  Can we use privilege for the liberation of oppression?

Another point raised is that the pedagogy of oppressed people is one that must be made with those who are oppressed.  Freire points out that there is no better group to educate on oppression than those who are oppressed.  This sounds completely logical but we often forget about this simple fact.  In my opinion, much of social activism is elitist in itself because those who use oppression theory to educate oppressed populations that they are not a member of often forget the qualifications they lack.  This is also called to my attention the dialectic tension between teacher and student.  How much education is enough?  When do you let people discover?  How do you know your own limits as a student or teacher?

This speech by reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright is all about using privilege to challenge oppression and the way we view difference.  Reverend Wright is always performing.  Theres 4 parts Ill just post the first.