The Art of Protest

Since “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”, the American variation protest anthem for the civil war, art has been an incredibly powerful form of protests. This includes all different types of art, from music, to paintings, writing and movies. Famous artist Willie Bester of South Africa created many pieces to protest the Apartheid period in his country. Also Picasso famously painted Guernica in 1937, which was in response to the Bombing of a Basque country by Italians and Germans at the request of Spanish Nationalist during the Civil War. Guernica became a anti-war symbol, referenced quite often in protest still. Also political cartoons are satire, but in a lot of ways they are meant to enlighten or caution, sometimes outright protest the issues they are making cartoons about. Concerning movies, in the past their was “Battle of Algiers” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” which both technically protested individual issues. The History of Art in Protest is quite large, but these issues don’t greatly effect my generation and the generation to come. The protest or the caution in art about social alienation, discrimination and prejudice has been the most powerful and most renowned since the end of World War II. It all started with Marvin Gaye’s Soulful ballad, “What’s Going On”. Which was in response to not only the racial tension and chaos that had destroyed the lives of so many brothers and sisters in the 60s and the 70s, but also to Vietnam and the way he saw police treating protestors. All together, the name of the track said it best, it was a heartfelt plea to everyone to just get along. It felt very real, to the point where many people cried. Because chaos is sad, and by listening to a song that is protesting the chaos and everything causing it you can become very emotional.

The world has evolved, as has everyone in it. “What’s Going On” is brilliant, nevertheless no piece of art has ever come close to being as honest, intense, cautionary, angry and brilliant as “La Haine”, or Hate in English. It’s a 1995 drama set in a culturally diverse French ghetto that is about explode with rage. The movie highlights a stark difference between the suburbs La Haine takes place in and the Suburbs that Americans are used to. Suburbs in France are used for public housing only, projects like in Chicago. They are high rises, with the exact same structure as Housing projects in America. The introduction of the film is a montage of videos and images, of a protestor being gunned down for standing in front over fifty riot police, other police brutality, looting, fires and overall destruction most people wouldn’t normally associate with France. France has become a melting pot of different cultures, races and religions. For the most part a lot of Africans and Arabs have immigrated to France, which has led to a racist and negative response from the original French residents.

One unique piece of the movie is that the three characters Vinz, Said and Hurbert are Jewish, Arab and African in that order. The biggest statement of protest in the movie is that the film is shot in Black & White, so you wouldn’t judge characters by the color of the skin. You could still see their ethnicity for the most part, but more then anything its just a huge statement because it really plays a factor for the film. A non-judgmental view of the film is the best, also the conflict that is established from the beginning in La Haine, is that it’s the “Ghetto Dweller” v. Police. It’s a bleak situation, so one can also argue that there is a second reason why the movie is black & white. La Haine is bleak, but its also incredibly cool, from the revolutionary camera angles, to the flawless script, to the first time actors and just the chemistry that they all have. The raw violence, creates an open wound in most viewers minds, and its hard to heal it. Social Alienation and Prejudice has never been presented as good as this.

The plot of the movie, is that the group’s “Bro” Abdel is beaten nearly to death by the police. Few details are ever presented as to what happened, but its pretty clear that Abdel’s crime didn’t warrant massive head trauma and a coma. Its unfair, which leads to the second part of protest in the film. Nobody is there to represent them, to watch over them or to watch the police. They’re alone in a well developed country, which at that time was a battlefield. The film made it mirror 2007 Gaza Strip; burnt buildings, gunfights with police, burnt cars, tension and the intimidating presence of riot police all day around the corner. The guilty easily blend with the innocent, so that nobody is truly safe. When good deeds and staying clear from trouble still leads to police harassment and brutality, it causes people to act out and look for trouble. They almost partially lose their minds. In reality, what was there not to be bitter about?

So following the news of the police’s beating on Abdel, hothead Vinz, who stole a cops gun at the same riot the previous night, vows to kill a policeman if Abdel dies. As the French rendition of the ultra popular golden era rap song “Sound of Da Police” rings through the projects, its balanced by Edith Piaf. Not very metaphorical, just suggestive to the tone for the remainder of the movie.

“Hate Breeds Hate, Vinz?”- Said

When the group is arguing about the gun, Said makes this statement and everything changes. It’s a very early part of the movie, near the beginning, its extremely memorable as well. After that quote the journey through tear gas and blood ridden France finally begins. La Haine, inspired me so much, creatively I felt the raw energy and the realistic grit that the movie possessed and it gave me so many great ideas. It inspired me to not be judgmental because I never know where someone is from or how he was brought up. Its about equality, it takes watching La Haine a few times to see anything beautiful from it. Nevertheless it has a influential message to it, and it is surprisingly very neutral. After seeing La Haine id thought id never see or hear about any other type of protest or cautionary movie, song, book quite like La Haine. I knew for a fact, Social Alienation could never be handled quite like La Haine. I was wrong though, the issue was tackled sensationally in three minutes by one of the United Kingdoms finest.

“Ill Manors”, a song from London rapper Ben Drew (aka Plan B). Ben grew up in the East End of London, and had been known for his violent, horrifying and socially conscience lyrics. His first album was strictly rap, slamming street life and giving a realistic and truthful glimpse into the life in London Ghettos. Also more importantly, it made it clear there aren’t many differences between American Ghettos and English. On his second Album, Drew relied more on his Alternative Hip-Hop/Soul origins with The Defamation of Strickland Banks, which sold over five million copies. It showed his versatility, which has incredible range. Both drew considerable recognition, however the release of “Ill Manors” brought Plan B to a new level of success. Many newspapers in the UK such as its most prominent, Guardian, called it Britain’s greatest protest song ever. It went Number 1 and hasn’t left the top five in seven weeks. What has drawn massive criticism is the video. The lyrics blatantly pit poor against rich, slamming politicians, David Cameron the Prime Minister, the sacrificed welfare of the youth, newspapers who use derogatory language to describe people who live in council estates and the opportunities that aren’t given to youth who grow up in poverty. The word is Chav, and its very offensive to people in England, it’s a big stereotype. The origin of the word was from the late 1900s, when somebody would describe a young boy with a cigarette, chain, track jacket, didn’t listen to their parents and was always up to not good. For the most part, preparing to rob you if given the chance. A Council Estate, is the British variant of an housing project in America. These are all very valid points, but the Protest Rap song embraces the edge of a Hardcore thrasher song with the video, displaying  real footage of violent and bloody fights, massive fires, riot police dashing towards masked protestors, images of youth carrying knives and throwing up gang signs, the destruction of cars and most of all it portrays the anger of a nearly forgotten group of a people with such realism that it scares you. For some it makes you want to close the computer and watch a PG movie, but for others it makes you want to put on a bandana and grab any tools you have to destroy things.

One line that sticks with anybody who hears the song:

“Oi! I said Oi! What you looking at, you little rich boy! We’re poor round here, run home and lock your door. Don’t come round here no more, ya could get robbed for real. Cause our manors Ill!”

This is the defiant chorus and the centerpiece for the song. Ben Drew fluidly shifts from one topic to the next, the Olympic games being focused on instead of more important things, parliament’s lack of effort, his animosity toward politicians, and closing down community centers are things that really seem to disturb Drew. He then switches the tone with a violent threat, or in my opinion a realistic threat. When he gets to his monologue, his message couldn’t possibly be clearer.

We’ve had it with you politicians

You bloody rich kids never listen

There’s no such thing as Broken Britain

We’re just bloody broke in Britain

What needs fixing is the system

Not shop windows down in Brixton

Riots on the Television

You can’t put us all in prison!

            Guardian UK and many other newspapers, websites and media personalities have compared its impact through England, to the likes of the classic song “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. Most did argue that while Gaye’s soulful plea was created to offer healing and caring during a time when it was nonexistent, Ill Manors is a song about alienation, the psychology of the class system, Britain’s prejudice, that sounds just like a riot. It offers little hope, because he is realistic that we don’t live in a kind world.

The same goes for La Haine, it is a fairly neutral Movie, because it isn’t a call to go out and love each other or destroy things. It fits somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, what La Haine and Ill Manors have in common, is the idea that if you treat someone like a dog, they’ll act like a dog. The failings of the system have bred the so called trouble makers to become what they are. Once you realize that, seeing La Haine or hearing Ill Manors, becomes much more of an experience then a leisure activity.

Falun Gong: Atrocity Exhibition

      Governor and Vice presidential candidate Mitt Romney has made some seriously bombastic promises, statements and claims in the past few months but one he made was that he would demand that China stopped persecuting the spiritual/religious faction Falun Gong.

          Woah! Mr. Romney, calm down and back up. Read some literature, no president could do anything about this mess. It’s a mess, it’s a power struggle between two super powers and it’s something that won’t have anyone held accountable for. America is powerless against China on the issue of the Falun Gong, even after the Tiananmen Square massacre outrage didn’t lead to much accountability. The Chinese government arguably has even gone above that in atrocious behavior. Falun Gong has been labeled a cult, and after a vicious crackdown is still to this day being inhumanely shut down. How did this happen? What is the Falun Gong? Could the United States change China’s position?

          I still couldn’t help but laugh at Romney’s demands. The atrocity has gone more under the radar then previous abominations involving superpowers, such as the Chechen wars involving Chechnya and Russia. What the Falun Gong crisis and the Chechen massacres have in common, is that they both involve the superpowers that are in some ways still at odds with the United States. Both were allowed, due to fear of political and international imbalance. Its preposterous and a complete shame, but that’s just the way it is.

          What’s mostly the shame is that the most peaceful are the ones who are persecuted and beat down. Falun Gong or Falun Dafa (Great Dharma Wheel) combines the practice of meditation with slow exercise and moral philosophy. Falun Gong tends to emphasize morality and cultivation of virtue in it’s tenets, which are truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. It mixes elements from the Buddhist school as well as teachings from Taoist. The goal is to better health and ultimately in the long run spiritual enlightenment.

          Falun Gong’s founder was Li Hongzhi, who spread the lessons through China in the 1980s and 1990s through extensive tours and lectures, went on to separate the Falun Gong from the Qigong movement in Deng Xiaoping’s administration as the Chairman of the communist party. Qigong was a movement in the 80s and 90s in China, which included the a form of enlightenment for the Chinese community, where they began to become more interested in the practices of aligning health, breathing techniques, movements with meditation. There were various individual techniques, and Li Hongzhi went on to criticize the movement he was an originally classified in, calling them “False teaching with frauds, greedy masters.”

          Falun Gong had considerable and unprecedented support from the Chinese communist Party through the 90s, however as size grew and the outspoken leader Li Hongzhi continued to rise in prominence, the Falun Gong became seen as a serious danger to the country’s security and its control. So the Chinese government blocked all websites with Falun Gong information. On July 20th 1999, after tensions rose exponentially, crackdowns began. Military raided houses and sought out Falun Gong leaders for arrest. Li Hongzhi fled to the United States where he has found refuge ever since.

          The Falun Gong faced detainment and propaganda from the government, whom declared them an illegal organization and elaborated in a statement stating the Falun Gong, “Engaged in illegal activities, advocating superstition, spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances and jeopardizing social stability.”

You can read that any way you want but none of its true, however the Falun Gong have a very strong willed mind, and aren’t willing to give up their beliefs due to punishment. The punishment usually is in the form of torture that is meant to re-educate the followers. The supporters are sent to concentration camps and labor camps, where they are subjected to extreme force feeding, immersing people’s heads in chamber pots full of feces and urine, long vicious beatings, hypothermia torture, extreme humiliation, rape, forced and violent abortions and various other inhumane and outrageous technique. However in pictures depicting the torture, the Falun Gong followers is always seen with a defiant, clear minded and strong willed facial expression. This represents the Falun Gong unprecedented belief in their way of life and spirituality.

This atrocity exhibition is one that isn’t often recognized, various Pro-Falun Gong groups have been reaching out to American officials and legislators. One in particular is the nonprofit organization Friends of Falun Gong which has insisted that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney watch a video detailing the Falun Gong’s struggle.

One instance of the complete lack of power of international forces was when Canadian secretary of state David Kilgour and Human Rights lawyer David Mates wrote an investigative report requested by Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (CIPFG) regarding allegations of Organ Harvesting. The conclusion was that “there has been, and continue today to be a large-scale organ harvesting seizures from unwilling Falun Gong followers.”

The problem was that the Kilgour-Matas Report relied excessively on logical inference, and presented barely any new facts or reports that were factual. There was a lack of independently-obtained testimony, And it was the United Nations Committee Against Torture who requested a “Full explanation of the source of organ transplants.”

Upon release of the report, Chinese officials simply slammed the report by saying it as smears based on rumors and false allegations. Without any direct or groundbreaking evidence, not even a dent could be put into the Chinese defense. And the logical inference makes so much sense due to all the overwhelming testimony from the Falun Gong members who have claimed to have been the victims of heinous torture. The State Department of the United states released a statement saying

“Independent of these specific allegations, the United States remains concerned over China’s repression of Falun Gong practioners and by reports of Organ Harvesting.” They went on to say, “US representatives have found no evidence to support allegations that a site in northern China has been used as a concentration camp to jail Falun Gong members and harvest their organs.”

The international community has been able to do nothing, except for let China know that they are aware. When I first did a report on the Falun Gong, I was in sixth grade about seven years ago and there was little social media and there wasn’t any hope for Falun Gong. But as Falun Gong spreads to hundreds of countries with millions upon millions of followers, the movement has become bigger than ever expected. And if something like the Arab Spring could be struck so quickly and with such pace, there is little doubt that Falun Gong can in some way rise above and at least defeat the more open aspect of their persecution. When an outrageous event happens and is broadcast, it goes through homes worldwide, the attention is brought to the government and its leaders and their actions are condemned and often it’s a warning which is looked into. At this point it’s the best anyone can do.

This article leaves readers to think about some tough questions, should there be some form of a more competent intervention? What does the future look like for a group like the Falun Gong?

There is no question that what is happening is barbaric, but in the world of international diplomacy and politics, do right and wrong really matter sometimes?