Street Theater A Success at Uribe Speech

by Alex Reid Ross

On Sunday 22 July, 2007, faithful activists from the Peoples' Referendum on Free Trade performed scenes of street theater at the Colombian Independence Day celebration in Flushing Meadows Park to raise awareness about Free Trade. When I arrived on the scene, it was early, and but for a few brave flierers, the scene was empty. As Colombians strolled through the entrance to the park waving flags, singing songs, and displaying other patriotic gestures, I thought to myself: "this may be a tough crowd."

I finally hooked up with Bernie from NYCISPES (a fellow PRFTer), and together we held up easels bearing the pictures of assassinated Colombian labor leaders. Colombia has a particularly bad concept of labor relations - President Alvaro Uribe's administration has been tied to paramilitary groups with a penchant for assassinating union leaders and forcing organized communities off of their land. As I stood with Bernie, I realized that people passing were sympathetic and often encouraging us. It was at that point, when I felt the winds changing, that the cops showed up.

Insisting that we take down the pictures, the police argued with various members of our activist community about the constitutionality of forcing down a small gathering of people outside of the entrance to the park. I could see the beefy alpha sergeant losing patience; his tie getting tighter around his neck, beads of sweat forming at the edge of his hairline, his nostrils flaring. "Look, either take down these signs or I will get 50 guys in here and they'll take 'em down for you!" was he last plea for compromise. Casting a cursory gaze at the 10 activists who had gathered, Bernie and I decided it would be a good idea to take a walk. "These aren't even my signs." I said to Bernie as we carried them down the long bridge out of the park holding them up so that passers by could tell that we were still effectively at a protest. We were summoned back before we reached the street, however, by our comrades, telling us that we had permission to enter the park

Permission to enter indeed! We were shuttled into a pen cut out of an area 100 yards away from the main avenue by blue, wooden police barricades. This was to be our "Free Speech Zone;" according to the 10 police hand picked to guard us, it had been demarcated for our safety. Only about three of us made it into the "Free Speech Zone," as the rest of the activists spurned the Free Speech Zone in order to hand out fliers outside of the zone. As I sat down next to the pictures of assassinated labor leaders, I thought of the irony of Free Speech Zones, Free Trade Zones. Was I denuded of my rights and quarantined from the mob in a government mandated zone, because I knew about Free Trade and the mafia-like control of corporations over Free Trade Zones? Was I actually in a Free Trade-Free Speech Zone? I cannot approach people about Free Trade unless I am controlled under government observation in a Free Speech Zone? What about those who work in Free Trade Zones in Colombian Free Trade Zones? Would they have Free Speech in their zone, or is that why the Colombians that turned out at Flushing Meadows came to the U.S. in the first place? Oh well, so much for that.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the cavalry: a strangely costumed group of excited-looking people jumping and dancing around a police officer at the entrance to the park 100 yards away. They skipped and frolicked towards the measly sheep within the pen, and I gathered that they were our Street Theater players. Martha Hauze, the president of Movement for Peace in Colombia (MPC) and fellow PRFTer) was dressed in a gold body-suit with a cape emblazoned with the word "Pueblo!" Francisco Castro, also of MPC, wore a rubber "George Jr." mask adorned with vampire teeth, and a cape bedecked with the corporate logos of big businesses like Coca-Cola, Exxon, Haliburton, etc. I laughed as they, and their cohorts and fellow actors created a scene, vociferating their complaints at the police, and finally getting herded into the Free Speech Zone (at the behest of Vampire Bush as well as the police).

The scene developed as Vampire Bush insisted that he loved Blood not Oil, and paced furtively, lecturing the audience that had gathered on the need for blood for his country. An actor with a mask of President Alan Garcia of Peru approached, insisting that he would get his country to surrender "herself," and grabbed another actor dressed in a white sheet with the word "Peru" written across the front who had been huddled in a corner with three others dressed the same, but with different labels across their costumes. Peru resisted and shook off Garcia, who then returned with the mask of Martin Torrijos Espino, the President of Panama. The action was repeated with an actor representing "Panama," and then the same thing happened with Roh Moo Hyun and "South Korea," and finally, as "Colombia" was being hauled off by Uribe, Martha in her golden suit jumped into the mix, pointing to "Central America" who had been lying dead on the ground for the duration of the performance, declared the imperative of people to rise up from every country and resist the Vampire Bush. The countries jumped for joy (including "Central America" who somehow became resurrected by the cause), and started hurling garlic at the Vampire Bush who, with the actor playing the Presidents, escaped the Free Speech Zone.

Though the actors were told not to wear masks outside of the Free Trade Zone or put on performances, they resisted like true activists, and after performing several times and drawing large crowds in the heart of the park, they were discovered by police, and had their props taken. By then, however, the group was tired, and it was time to go home. Meanwhile, I myself had left the Free Speech Zone to disseminate fliers in the park to passers by, who seemed more friendly than I had expected. The event went well, and I even got to see Uribe in action, as he performed his own piece of carnival theater, proclaiming to have dismantled the paramilitary groups in Colombia, and championing freedom and liberty for all Colombians.

Till Next Time,
Alex

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