Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Annie Paul | 'Tis the season to protest

Published:Wednesday | February 22, 2017 | 2:00 AM
Annie Paul

My first visit to the United States since Donald Trump became president of the country was uneventful. New York City was bustling with activity as usual, as was the conference I attended. The College Arts Association is the largest association of art professionals in the US - including artists, art historians, critics, curators, art writers and publishers. Their annual conference attracts 4,000 attendees and each of five time slots a day might have up to 18 concurrent panels. The mammoth conference runs for four days.

Landing at John F. Kennedy Airport in the afternoon, there were no lines at immigration. In fact, everyone had to scan their passports at kiosks, then photograph and press their fingers on screens themselves before proceeding to an actual agent who engaged minimally to retake fingerprints and photographs. Kiosks are always unnerving, even for someone as technologically literate as I am, so I wondered how others with less experience were faring.

Then I was off to my airbnb room in Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, by public transport, the air train to - where else - Jamaica, in Queens, and then the E train which took me within a block of my accommodation. Unlike hotels, airbnb accommodation in the city might often be in three- or four-storeyed buildings without elevators, so packing lightly is a must. My room turned out to be very comfortable, though I never fail to be amazed at how constrained for space many New Yorkers are. I had never seen such a tiny bathroom till then. My hosts were incredibly thoughtful and pleasant, which more than made up for the cramped quarters.

On the upside, I was in the middle of an avenue of good restaurants, a block away from Broadway with all its glitz and glitter, and a healthy walk from the Hilton where the conference was. What are conferences and why do people go to them? Those who pooh-pooh them disregard the exchange of knowledge, ideas and concepts that occur at such events. The world is not a mechanical place: beneath the technology, the geopolitics, and the surface of the societies we inhabit lie webs of ideas, theories, and hypotheses.

Knowledge is a communal enterprise, not the product of individuals sitting cocooned in their castles. The cross-fertilisation that occurs simply by listening to new points of view on the same subject you might be researching is invaluable. The arc of the scholarly enterprise may be long, but it bends towards insight. And insight is essential in these dark times.

 

WALL OF PROTEST

 

An unusual addition to this conference was a wall of protest for people to display posters and slogans on behalf of their cause, whatever that might be. Quite a few of them addressed the Trump presidency. Jostling a sign for the Society of Contemporary Art Historians was one saying, "Trump is the symptom, capitalism is the disease." "Germans against walls and white nationalism," announced another. "NOT MY PRESIDENT." "This is not normal." "Make American kind again."

One of my favourites just said "TRUST WOMEN".

On the eve of possibly having a female police commissioner for the first time, and a few weeks before March 11 when the Tambourine Army plans to mobilise women on to Kingston's streets to protest the unremitting violence they face, this is a good slogan for all of us.

The Tambourine Army is asking people to wear purple on March 11 and join the protest. "Bring your friends, your family, your colleagues, your neighbours and let's march in solidarity as one Jamaica against sexual abuse, against rape, against all forms of sexual violence against our women and girls."

Citizen participation is the name of the game. WE have to become the change we want to see. Purple is the colour of power. Let's put it on and take to the streets. To all the men out there, come show your support for us, with or without tambourines, on March 11, and we'll reciprocate by joining the one for violence against men whenever you choose to organise it. Deal?

- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or tweet @anniepaul.