Monday, January 30, 2017

Our Bodies for the Revolution

As I watched the premier of Philly-based Interact Theater's MARCUS/EMMA last Wednesday, I thought about the Women's March on Washington, which reached seven continents on Saturday, January 21.

Marcus Garvey was a native Jamaican and one of only two children in his family of eleven children who survived to adulthood. He studied philosophy in London and became a great American orator, advocating for Pan-Africanism and founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. (Video: Know Yourself Speech) (NYT obituary.)

Emma Goldman was a Russian-born anarchist who immigrated to the United States as a teen. She'd already been a victim of her father's steady abuse, endured rape at the hands of a suitor and borne witness to brutal state violence. Within a few years, she was at the center of New York's anarchist movement advocating for worker's rights, women's rights and free love (although she was too far left for the suffrage movement). (Video: The Revolutionary Life of Emma Goldman.)

In the play, Emma is an oversexed older woman who seduces the younger Garvey. They were contemporaries, but didn't meet in life. Somewhere in their fictional seduction, they find common ground: human suffering.

Both revolutionaries had early and regular reminders of mortality and the power of having one healthy human body: Garvey's nine dead siblings, Goldman's regular beatings. They brought the power of their physical bodies directly to their revolutions, and therein lay the strength and integrity of their message.

Bodies: the actor's bodies onstage in passion and violence embodying our revolutionary forebears; the physical bodies of millions of Americans in dozens of cities denouncing the discrimination, misogyny and narcissism of our president.

In recent years, Black Lives Matter knew it first. Perhaps only through risking our bodies can we keep them safe.

The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man's right to his body, or woman's right to her soul. -- Emma Goldman. 

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