It was Fleet Week in San Francisco, and I saw a great opportunity to make a fuss about where this country is heading in regard to the propagation of the war machine.
Fleet Week is when thousands upon thousands of people flood San Francisco from all over to watch big noisy fighter jets burn tax dollars in mid air. It is supposed to foster pride in phallocentric displays of military might. So we had to consider our audience. Any sort of radical action that I would normally feel compelled to do would merely set up the walls of an us/them mentality, and that is the very same mentality that creates and allows for war. We had to think of something subtle and nonconfrontational, something that brought people closer instead of dividing them. Yet we wanted to get across a message, or even a few.
And we had to think of it on the spur of the moment, because that is where the performance opportunity was. -no time to get fancy with constructions or media, for example, or even to bake apple pies.
We decided that we should try to create community; how about by giving? I suggested candy, and writing in all the wrappers. Kevin felt that candy that looked tampered with would be suspicious and people would not eat it. He suggested lemonade, such an all-American symbol. I pushed for pink lemonade, because it is girly and girls don't make war. I also thought it just hinted at blood, and blood goes with war. Kevin liked the idea that it mirrored the gesture of an Arab tradition of hospitality, giving water from a sacred urn to those traveling under the hot sun. It also bridged Islamic and Christian stories/values of charity. So the piece worked for us on an internal level as a meditation on service and giving and sharing and all those high ideals of spiritual paths. I also liked the innocence and purity of a lemonade stand, the ideals of childhood being so counter those ways of the world that spark war. We used a powdered mix and were careful to keep it out of site as we stirred batch after batch, so as not to promote any sort of "brand."
Our little twist, though, was drawing peace signs on the outer bottom of each paper cup that we handed out. Again, it is a simple innocent gesture, but because of its simplicity it was very direct. You could not see the peace sign so easily while drinking, until the last sips. Each time you tipped your cup to your mouth, though, you flashed a peace sign to someone else. We thought about peace slogans, maxims, and all sorts of verbal messages. We really liked, though, that the symbol worked bidirectionally and so we stuck with that. Kevin directly approached a lot of sailors and gave them drinks, and they were all unknowingly tipping peace signs to those around them.
Costuming was carefully considered, too. I wore the same patriotic flag-covered shirt that I wore with a headscarf in my last performance/action. This was in part to be more accepted by and approachable to this crowd. However, it was also a way of saying that there are other methods of being patriotic than shopping and bombing. I wore my hair in handle bar pigtails. This was in part to go with the innocence idea, but it was also a nod to an ancient Mesopotamian stele depicting Innana with her hair in that style. I certainly did not expect anyone to pick up on that, but it worked for me as an invocation. -or maybe she was the one invoking my help, since Mesopotamia is now Iraq, and it is the land of Innana that is probably about to be decimated. Kevin wore a Hawiian shirt that read as, "Hi, am an easy-going approachable guy next door."
The piece was a huge success. People just could not believe that we were just GIVING something to them, showing just how competitive capitalist values are so ingrained in us that we have trouble believing that another paradigm could even exist! One man started to get really angry with us when he saw the peace sign at the bottom of his cup. He was walking towards us to confront us, then for some reason stopped and let it go. And the local news interviewed us! I do not know how many people connected all the dots to think about the relationship between greed and war, and stopped to consider that subverting greed might be a way to subvert conflict. Hopefully, though, each person who stopped at our little lemonade stand had a moment of experiencing peace as they shared in an exchange based on respect and caring. Everyone but the one angry man seemed so appreciative, hopefully we set a cycle in motion.