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  • Writer's pictureDave Stanley

English 876: Week 3 - Legislative Action

Discussion Question:

This week we investigated the uneasy gap between symbolic power - that of protest, performance, creative activism - and legislative power where governance and realpolitik occurs. Or, to put it another way by quoting the documentary, Tucumán Arde, “others, when facing the limits of art, decided to move on in complete absorption of esthetic praxis by political action praxis.” …What do you make of this gap, of these ways of engaging art, social transformation and political power? Use some of the examples we’ve viewed and read about in Electoral Guerilla Theater as a way of thinking through these complicated issues of art and efficacy.


I want to further expand upon the problem I tried to illuminate in class during my rambling response. I worry intensely about the line between real political action, and the possibility of being able to actually make real change. How do we reconcile the idea of that operating within a system of government means that the long standing institutions of that government, including those of a social type that are not codified in the law, influence the possibility of making change? In the same way however, if we abandon the desire to function within the actual laws of our system we serve to potentially make any action we take either illegal, which opens a huge can of worms, or ineffective. The powers that be wish very directly to keep the status quo, and resist the unseating of their power. Do we prioritize direct action that can do the most good the most quickly? Or do we try to work within a corrupt and damaged system to effect long term change?

The Obama administration feels like a direct lesson in this dichotomy. Campaigning on platform of being able to make real change, the energy surrounding him was incredible. And yet, things did not change to the degree most people hoped, because the reality of dealing with government by the rules makes serious change incredible hard to obtain.

So, to turn to the Kabouters, who managed to leverage their disdain and disregard for the political system into direct political power, and then failed the direct revolutionary goals they laid out, while managing an incredible amount of local and communitarian improvement. Is it the fact that their ideology was in opposition to the system of government they faced? Or was it their own unwillingness to work within that system, by and large, that doomed the power they were handed? The establishment government intended to resist them, to what degree does that contribute? These exact issues vex me continuously, but I think the point Lane made in class was the correct one to take away, the fact that they made direct real change in the neighborhoods they came from, that remains to this day. By setting those systems up ideologically, and then politically, they are extremely hardy, not unlike The Affordable Care act has been so far into the Trump administration. Perhaps this is the answer then, that direct action can, and does, happen until revolution is ready. I worry however what an form that will take in our country.

So, in order to make some sense of the rambling thoughts of the previous 400 words, I comes to this point: The symbolic power of protest and art can change the hearts and minds of the people, who, in representative democracies, can leverage this affective power into real political change. And yet, the entrenched institutions, both social and political, look to concentrate power and capital, and resist any change that adversely effects them. While I believe that ignoring the real political process of government because a group is disenchanted with it is naive, I also understand the feeling. Looking at groups who have accomplished real change under the systems, by power and perseverance, seems to be the best hope in my mind.

Excluding the fact that we must always punch the Nazi's. Because they don't want to play by anyone's rules.

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