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Wanted: Arts Protesters

By Steve Ramos · September 1st, 2004 · Arts Beat
Republican National Convention speeches from Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani offer few shocks, although McCain's plea to GOP faithful that Democrats aren't the enemy generated a chuckle's worth of surprise.

My curiosity has me half listening to partial speeches, but I'm completely mesmerized by the thousands of protesters expressing their disdain for the war in Iraq and President Bush. When it comes showmanship -- and the Republican National Convention is a nuclear explosion of Fourth of July picnics -- nothing compares to the ongoing demonstrations in New York City outside and around the convention. (See CityBeat's first-hand report on page 13.)

Granted, not everyone is enjoying the outdoors democratic discourse at its most colorful and chaotic. Leon Mosley, co-chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, recently said this to The New York Times: "I left God's country. They could use a bunch of people from Iowa to come here to show New Yorkers what life is all about, what being patriotic is all about and what country is all about."

Mosley might be biased in his view of Iowa as God's country, but he could well have been describing Cincinnati's seven hills and the muddy currents of the Ohio River.

Ohioans are every bit as polite as the good people of Iowa, and it's safe to say that the massive outpouring of activists and demonstrators currently taking place in Manhattan wouldn't have happened in Cincinnati.

Local liberals are too polite (apathetic), too few (disorganized) and without the resources to spread their pro-tolerance, pro-freedom, pro-peace messages to as many people as possible. If you remember the meager street protests surrounding the 2000 TransAtlantic Business Dialogue conference here, you know what I'm talking about.

Paired with the outdoor protests in New York City is the first annual Imagine Arts Festival, an impressive mix of arts and politics through film screenings, site-specific installations, stage performances and visual art exhibitions. Through art, protesters have found a new voice, one that reaches beyond a wooden sign with a drawing of Bush and the word "Liar" outlined in large block letters.

With art, cries for justice can be expressed in hundreds of ways, engaging people who might have previously ignored the pleas. One crowd carries a giant Earth globe, a clear play for environment policy. Across the street, a Freedom Salon displays photographs by Iraqi civilians.

Hundreds of coffins representing the soldiers who have died in the Iraq war are wheeled down the Manhattan streets. Nearby cinemas show political movies like OutFoxed, Control Room, The Fog of War and Medium Cool, Haskell Wexller's classic film of the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Back in our corner of God's country, there are signs of political life within our own arts community. Cincinnati Opera Artistic Director Nic Muni and Cincinnati Ballet Artistic Director Victoria Morgan plan to join a fund-raiser later this month for Citizens to Restore Fairness, a group out to repeal Article 12 of the Cincinnati City Charter that allows discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce supports the repeal of Article 12. It's good for business. So arts organizations have little to fear when taking a stand on this particular issue.

The support from arts organizations for Citizens to Restore Fairness is a start. Some tough stances on more controversial topics might be next.

News reports list the weeklong protests as the largest to take place in Manhattan in decades. Let's hope the show goes on tour, with a stop in God's country here in southwest Ohio.



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