by Hallie Martenson
In Hello! Sadness! (running January 26-28 at FringeArts), Mary Tuomanen mines the history of social justice activism to bolster herself in the ongoing fight against injustice and tyranny. I did a little research to prepare you for this piece of theatrical activism. Doing this research on inauguration day was both difficult and heartening, a reminder that humanity has unlimited power to resist. I hope you find comfort in the memory of these incredible people and movements from our shared history.
Fred Hampton was an American activist and revolutionary active in in the 1960’s. By the tender age of 21, he was the Illinois chapter chairman of the Black Panther Party, and deputy chairman of the national BPP. But I’m 30 and can’t figure out how to pay my Verizon Fios bill … so there’s that.
Hampton was murdered in his home in 1969 while he was sleeping by the Chicago Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Despite the FBI’s claims that Hampton was killed in a shoot-out instigated by the Black Panther Party members present, all physical evidence pointed toward a targeted assassination. In 1970, a civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of Hampton’s family and survivors present at the shooting. After a series of trials and appeals, the federal government agreed to a settlement of $1.85 million.
Joan of Arc is considered a “heroine of France” for her role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War. She supported Charles VII and was a key player in paving the way for a French victory against English domination. She claimed to have received visions of the Archangel Michael and Saint Catherine of Alexandria to protect Charles VII and to liberate France. She presented as gender-ambiguous, and dressed exclusively in military garb. Though the extent of her participation in military campaigns is under debate, the French military was extraordinary successful during her tenure with them.
In 1430, she was captured by the Burgundian faction (an ally to the Brits) and later put on trial for heresy by the English. She continued to dress in traditionally masculine clothing in prison, to protect herself against rape, an offense that was later added to her heresy charges. She was eventually found guilty and burned at the stake in 1431. She remains a cultural icon for many, and was canonized in 1920 as Saint Joan. She is one of the nine secondary patron saints of France.
Jean Seberg was an American film actress. Her first role was the titular character in Saint Joan – she was chosen from 18,000 young women by director Otto Preminger. She was also a known supporter of the Black Panther Party and an advocate for racial justice. She financially supported many civil rights groups (Black Panthers, NAACP, Native American school groups) during her life, which resulted in the FBI using the COINTELPRO program to harass, intimidate, and discredit her. The COINTELPRO program was a series of projects used by the FBI to infiltrate and disrupt domestic political organizations. One of the tactics the FBI used to hurt Seberg was spreading a story that her child was fathered by a member of the Black Panther Party instead of her husband.
In 1979, Seberg disappeared and was found nine days later decomposing in her car. Her death was ruled a probable suicide, but charges were filed against an anonymous party for “non-assistance of a person in danger.” Her second husband later publicly blamed the FBI’s campaign against her for her deteriorating mental health.
François Sagan was a French playwright, novelist, and screenwriter known for writing strong romances involving wealthy and disillusioned characters. Her best-known work is Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness), which she wrote as a teenager in 1954. Her work was seen as an icon for disillusioned teenagers and her narrative often displayed existential undertones. She was an avid drug user and was arrested for cocaine possession in the 1990s. She died of a pulmonary embolism in 2004.
New Wave is a blanket term for a group of French filmmakers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. New Wave filmmakers weren’t an organized movement, but they are bound together by their rejection of the popularity of literary period pieces. They were eager to document social issues that were more current, and their style was characterized by using portable equipment, giving rise to documentary-style filmmaking. Some prominent French New Wave figures are François Truffaut, Èric Rohmer, and Chris Marker.
Tahrir Square, also known as ‘Martyr Square’, is a public square in Cairo, Egypt. In 2011, it was a focal point of the Egyptian revolution. On January 25th, 50,000 protesters occupied the square demanding that the then-President Hosni Mubarak step down from his office. By the 31st of January, Al Jazeera estimated that the numbers had swelled to over 300,000 people. When Mubarak was finally removed from power in February, the protests erupted into a night-long celebration. The next day, hundreds of Cairen residents came to clean up the square, removing eighteen days’ worth of trash and graffiti. In the summer of 2013, millions of Egyptians again converged in Tahrir Square to demonstrate against President Mohamed Morsi. Over the following days, the numbers swelled, and there were reported demonstrations in 18 locations across Cairo. Many researchers claim that it is the largest revolution in modern-day history. In July, General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announced the removal of President Mohamed Morsi.
Black Lives Matter is an international activist movement that campaigns against the systematic racism and violence toward black people. The movement began on social media as a hashtag following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin. In the years since, BLM has become a highly organized movement, demonstrating regularly against police killings of black people, racial profiling, police brutality, and the racial inequity in the United States criminal justice system.
Occupy Wall Street is a protest movement that begain in September of 2011 in Zuccotti Park, located in New York’s Wall Street financial district. The main issue raised by the movement is the social and economic inequality woven deep into the fabric of the United States. The Occupy Wall Street slogan “We are the 99%” refers to the income inequality between the wealthiest 1% of the country and the rest of the population. Occupy protests popped up in nearly every major city in the country. In 2012, Naomi Wolf of The Guardian released documents which revealed that the FBI had monitored OWS through its Joint Terrorism Task Force, despite the fact that it was a peaceful movement.
The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is located in North Dakota and South Dakota and is occupied by ethnic Hunkpapa Lakota, Sihasapa Lakota, and Yanktonai Dakota. It is the fifth-largest Native American reservation in the country. In early 2016, construction was approved for the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline that was projected to run from the Bakken oil fields to southern Illinois, crossing beneath the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as well as part of Lake Oahe. The Standing Rock tribe consider the pipeline a direct threat to the region’s clean water and ancient burial grounds. In April of 2016, Standing Rock Sioux elder established a camp as a center for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the pipeline. Over the summer, thousands of people traveled to the camp to lend their support in the protest. Security workers, soldiers, and police have attempted to end protests using violent means, such as attack dogs, water cannons (often in subzero temperatures), and tear gas. On December 4th, 2016, President Obama denied an easement for the construction of the pipeline under the Missouri River. Many protesters continue to camp on the site, fearful that a Drumpf administration will immediately overturn that easement denial.
Gezi Park Protests
In 2013, a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Turkey began, initially to contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Gezi Park. This initial sit-in sparked protests and strikes across Turkey, protesting a wide range or concerns at the core of which were issues of freedom of the press, of expression, assembly, and the government’s encroachment on Turkey’s secularism. 3.5 million people are estimated to have taken an active part in almost 5,000 demonstrations across Turkey connected to the original Gezi Park protest. Excessive use of force on the part of police resulted in eleven people killed and more than 8,000 injuries.
Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist protest punk rock band based in Moscow. They gained notoriety in 2011 through their unauthorized guerilla performances, which were later turned into music videos. Their music and videos advocate for feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, and opposition to Vladimir Putin. In February of 2012, two alleged members of the band (they wear balaclavas as masks during their public performances), were arrested for entering an Orthodox church and performing on the altar. They were escorted out of the building after less than a minute, but it was long enough to anger the Kremlin. In March, another woman was arrested and charged. In August, all three were convicted by the judge and sentenced to two years in a penal colony. The judge stated that they had “crudely undermined the social order” with their protest. At appeal, the conviction for one woman was overturned. The two others were imprisoned, and engaged in numerous hunger strikes in protest. Protests were held across the world after the sentence was announced. They were released in December of 2013, and continue to be active both artistically and politically.
Hello! Sadness! runs at FringeArts January 26-28. Click here for tickets/more information.