Protest Story

The political context is ripe for protest. However, a person is advised to have a good sense of irony before engaging in the time-honored act of taking to the streets to express public opinion when the institutionally sanctioned processes for channeling citizen unrest (e.g. voting) are dysfunctional at best. There are plenty who say that protest doesn’t work. We are living in too distracted a time. You are more likely to get stunned by a policeman with a “non-lethal” electroshock Taser gun than you are to change someone’s mind. And forget about the media. If the corporate-owned papers haven’t already fired their progressive journalists, they’re pressuring them to follow party line and deliberately trimming any stories that would ruffle feathers. But if protest really is dead, why is the Bush administration taking such pains to suppress it? {See Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq, signed by President George W. Bush on July 17, 2007.}

With these questions in mind, I gathered with classmates, teachers, and fellow artists at the March 17, 2007 anti-war protest in Hollywood, California to mark the 4th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq. It was an unreasonably beautiful day on Hollywood Boulevard and the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) assigned to the protest were on bicycles—a sure sign of a calm and friendly proceeding ahead. I passed out about a dozen black hoods that I had sewn the evening before for a group of us to wear while marching. It was a silent gesture to acknowledge the dehumanizing process of arrest, detention, and torture of Iraqi citizens by American troops. In addition to putting hoods or bags over prisoners’ heads, sensory deprivation goggles and earmuffs are used, as well as zip ties to bind the wrists, and interlocking cuffs at the ankles to lead the blind, deaf, and mute prisoners in a line.

As we were waiting for the march to get underway, a reporter from the LA Times, Charles Proctor, approached my (hooded) boyfriend, Emery Martin, to ask him to share his thoughts on why he was at the protest. Once the protest was underway, the hoods stood out in the sea of signs and loudspeakers. At the end of the march, Emery and I decided to stand together holding hands amidst the mock coffins draped in American flags that had been carried in procession by the Veterans for Peace. Immediately, photographers caught on to the opportunity to create an iconic opportunity and we stood at attention holding hands for about a half hour as people approached us with their cameras.

When we got home that evening, we checked online to see if photos were circulating yet. There were a few images from Reurters that had been posted on the LA Indy Press website. And on the latimes.com website, we found Emery quoted in an article:

“A lot of young people are apathetic, which perpetuates what’s going on and indirectly helps the government further their agenda,” Martin said as he walked beneath the marquee of the Pantages Theater with a group of students from UCLA and the California Institute of the Arts. “When you are apathetic, you actually become a part of the problem.”

In our excitement, we printed and saved screenshots of the article, and it was fortuitous that we did. Upon buying a copy of the Los Angeles Times the next day, I was surprised to find that what had been a fairly thorough assessment of the day’s events—with a selection of quotes from activists, protest organizers, and onlookers—had been cut in half. Almost all of the quotes that described protest strategies and that expressed anger against the administration were gone, including Emery’s. In their place were quotes remarking about low protest turnout, disappointment with the new Democratic-majority legislature, and descriptions of outrageous costumes worn by protestors, including one woman wearing stilts who described herself as a “dove of peace.” The article ended with an extended quote from a Bush supporter who summed up the protest as a “Hollywood freak show.”

Charles Proctor, the young reporter who interviewed Emery, was our only potentially sympathetic link to understanding what decisions were made that led to the final print edition of the article about the protest. The Los Angeles Times publishes their writers’ e-mail addresses with their articles, so Emery was able to contact him directly. Once they were in contact, Charles that according to the paper’s policy, readers were not allowed direct access to reporters to ask specific questions about views that were expressed in articles, or how subjects were covered by the newspaper. He told Emery this information as a means of explaining why he would then have to refer him to the Los Angeles Times’ Media Relations department, which serves as a buffer between the newspaper staff and its readership. He was in fact already breaching his duties to say as much.

I too must apologize that I cannot share the contents of the aforementioned article here. I had been planning to reproduce the two versions of the article (published online as “4,000 march in Hollywood to protest war” on March 17, 2007 and as “Thousands protest in Hollywood” on March 18, 2007) as my contribution to this book. I spoke on the phone this evening with a certain Kate McCarthy, Reprints Director for the Los Angeles Times. She explained to me that she would not grant permission to reprint the article before assessing the specific position in which the article would be presented, the exact verbiage that would accompany the article, and to first see a copy of the book. Furthermore, she expressed concern that the book would be distributed internationally. Rather than begrudge her and myself further, I wished her a pleasant evening.

So dear Reader, that is just a little story about what it takes these days to “see something and say something.” See you at the next protest.

Audrey Chan
August 2007

Published in the book, ID 517: Special Topics in Art and Society: A Not So Simple Case for Torture, eds. Sam Durant and Nancy Buchanan. onestar press, published August 2008.