It always begins on January, 20th: „20. Jänner“, it’s more than a date, it’s a quote, a code-word for freaks of German literature. The best text begins like this: „Am 20. Jänner ging Lenz durchs Gebirg’“. On Jan. 20th Lenz crossed the mountains. LENZ, by Georg Büchner. Sturm & Drang (Storm & Stress): time of revolutions, the years between the American and the French revolution. And Büchner on the run after a failed revolution like all other democratic radicals, early socialists… TIME LOOPS. (If I could only walk on my head…)
I remember Jan. 20th, 2001– how I realized that 21st century had began, when I wrote down the date in the European fashion: 20.01.2001. In the following eleven years we had one futuristic date like that every year until 20th of decembre, 2012: 20.12.2012. It coincided with the end of the Maya calendar. We all know what happened: nothing. But shortly afterwards: the escalation in Ukraine, followed by the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of a „new cold war“: Has the „short 20th century“ begun all over again? TIME LOOPS.
And every fourth year: the inauguration of an American president. Jan. 20th, 2001: George W. Bush. What has happened that I almost look at his face with nostalgia now as I see him next to Obama on stage for Trump’s inauguration? Adam Broomberg picks me up to join a banner to drop down from Oberbaumbrücke: „Bridges not walls“ (after Angela Davis: „Walls turned sideways are bridges.“) Nobody is there, except the police and two women who work for Lush Company. When the banner finally arrives, it is rather small. And unlike in many other cities, no masses assemble. We meet 4-5 people who hand me a tiny, almost child-like megaphone: „It would be cool if you shout Pussy grabs back!“ I do it: „Donald J. Trump – this is Berlin speaking: Pussy grabs back, MOTHERFUCK!“ I quickly glance at Adam’s small son. I hope he is not too irritated. I think he is. Someone says: „It would be cool, if that kid also spoke!“ He doesn’t want to, although the megaphone looks as if it was made for him. We split.
In the afternoon I join the march of the Berlin Coalition „against global trumpism“ with my little son. It starts in front of the headquarter of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), the new far-right party (their slogan after the US-election: „We are president!“) I tell him we were on our way to fight. He asks: „Do you have a sword?“ – „No. We fight with words.“ We shout with the crowd: „Donald Trump in your tower / this is called People’s Power!“ I hope he gets the idea. The TV asks for an interview: „It would be nice with your son on your arm.“ No way. I can hardly speak a straight sentence. That’s the Trump trauma: you become like him, you just repeat sentences: „I am here in solidarity with my friends & comrades in the US who are taking the streets right now.“ Well, they are not actually taking the streets but the museums: Our friend, comrade & artistic collaborator Noah Fischer and his group „Occupy Museum“ are temporary occupying the Whitney Museum in New York for an ART STRIKE: J20artstrike.org. From Cindy Sherman, Martha Rosler, Hans Haacke to radical anti-gentrification activists who normally protest in front of the museum, not inside, especially not on invitation of the institution. A very unlikely coalition. At least that is something positive that Trump achieved, unwillingly… They ask me: „But how does it effect YOU? Personally?“ I want to shout: „ME PERSONALLY? I am so over the top, I am almost collapsing! I haven’t slept for days. My brain is not functioning, I can hardly keep up a conversation…“ Instead I try to say: „It’s an ongoing nightmare and I want to wake up.“ ALPTRUMP!
Today is the ceremonial bridge from three months of pre-reality depression and anxiety to a reality of the Trump regime – January 20.th And what does it mean to be US American on this bridge today? Do I jump off? I’m from one of many Americas: California hippy Buddhism. A child of the 1970’s, my parents and their affinity group, our intentional community, revolved around formal religious rituals imported from Japan. We are the alt-Left. But I understand the power of ceremony to alchemically fix power into place. And now these theatrical & magic-producing moments are much more dangerous weapons in the hands of Steve Bannon a propagandist in the White House who would make the worst of the 20th century proud. So I either refused to watch the inauguration on TV or maybe just didn’t have the strength to stare it down.
The days leading up to it were a blur of organizing part of the ArtStrike actions: a kind of “counter ceremony” at the Whitney Museum of New York. We (Occupy Museums) invited 30 artists writers activists and institutional representatives to give statements for three hours straight. We didn’t ask them to speak against Trump. Rather than fall into the trap of going burzerk at an orange clown-face, we decided instead to proclaim what we have stood for and therefore, what we most deeply commit to fight for. Among the voices at the mic I began to imagine the existence of a common front. But as Alex said, it was an unlikely coalition from hardcore anti-Gentrification activists to leaders of institutions closely tied into art markets and Hedge Funds. The ceremony was about naming this new community standing together on a bridge. Down in DC they were holding a ceremony for the re-emergence of a proudly belligerent White Race with the White House draped in Immense red white and blue flags. And up in New York we also had a banner, which read: “Resistance Against Fascism is the Best Art.” I felt that the ceremony called for the used of the “F word.” And when OUR ceremony ended, I took a subway to the airport and flew to Dusseldorf on a diplomatic mission.
Day 1 of Darkness. I should not have watched the inauguration-speech. Another sleepless night. The next morning I am on the train to Düsseldorf, Noah is in the plane: „Meet me in the sun.“ Can’t wait to hear from ART STRIKE. „It was epic!“ We arrive just in time for SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. Oliver Marchart lectures on TIME LOOPS and the new genre of ‘preenactments’. How we jump back & forth in time all the time. Translating live offers quite a good example/experience of it. At the same time my mind jumps all around: Abbie Hoffman’s money drop at the NY stock exchange as a happening? Noah made money rain in the Guggenheim Museum, transforming Abbie’s action into a preenactment of his own. Or Schlingensief’s plan to throw money from the Reichstag: „Give away your money and thus save the market.“ That’s why I had asked Noah to design a euro-riot bill as motive for our piece Not my revolution, if…: The Stories of Angie O. Tonight he would finally meet her. Not only did he create the stage, but he collaborated with us on a deep level. What began as a nostalgic, slightly anachronistic reference to his time with Occupy Wall Street (www.summerofchange.net) gained frightening contemporaneity over night between the 8th to the 9th of novembre. Another loaded date, if not the loaded date in German history (End of World War 1, Hitler’s attempt for a coup d’etat, Crystall Night, Fall of the Wall). From now on it has another layer of historic falsity – maybe the beginning of a new form of fascism.
It’s our turn now, Noah and I go on stage, Noah is holding on to his ART STRIKE banner like a baby: „RESISTANCE AGAINST FASCISM IS THE BEST ART.“ His jacket is stuffed with letters of solidarity. One arrived from Poland, unexpectedly. The author, Marta, is in the room: affinity! That’s the word. A word which use has become annoying in German as part of the bullshit-language: „I am so whatever-affine…“ Who cares! This is not about being attracted to an object or a specific activity, but to groups of people: affinity groups. A rather technical term (in German: „Bezugsgruppe“), which we have explored on stage (and backstage) in Angie O. You can experience it in many different ways: as part of a political circle during a consensus-making process or of a free theatre group during rehearsals. Team up to get through – a demonstration, a performance, times of crisis or Trump-trauma… If there is a message, then it is this: Explore affinity! Begin! Begin! Begin!
By afternoon as Alex and I walk briskly toward the theater, my wife Brenda’s mother Kathie, and daughter Luna are already in the morning streets of Washington DC: a sea of people in the Women’s March. Brenda texts me a pic: Luna has a sign attached to her stroller: “Nasty Woman in Training.”
The scary thing about Mr. President Trump is that everything is on the table, desensitization strategy: the shocking no longer shocking so I don’t know if they are really safe marching in resistance out there or not. I worried that the trip might have been a mistake, I might be in the wrong place at the wrong time (Isn’t it maybe the hour to stop jet-setting and get to work locally?) And that’s why it’s a relief when we enter a full room at the FFT that seem earnest, attentive, very much part of the same moment but with just enough distance to inject into it a needed dose of philosophical tools: TIME LOOPS –a necessary dimension for participating in politics. It’s a conversation about aesthetics and politics. A good conversation for The “post-truth” era and poisonous constructed realities.
And I play the prophet, reading from my solidarity letters I tell them: “As my friend the Hungarian artist Csaba Nemes says: ‘Post-Fascism is tricky its never clear and it doesn’t show us its real face. Post Fascism perfectly speaks the new post truth language.’ My friend in Argentina writes: ‘He is already a billionaire and doesn’t need to steal they said. And a corporate mass media gland is now the president. A new level of media manipulation and intelligence tests our brains…hearts and minds are wide open. All this is happening already one year in Argentina with Macri.’ And My comrade in Colombia writes: ‘The frictions of the art, tools that helped to shape alternative views and subjectivities in the social space today appear trapped in complex systems that we call reality where the truth is denied by the triumphant lie.’ ”
“And there you have it. All comrades around the world see it: A Constructed reality. A terrifying one. And you know what? A few years ago I went to visit Csaba in Budapest, to give a talk there. We walked around the city, the mood grim, the resistance movement having recently died down, anti-democracy was being normalized and we viewed a pile of rubble of a monument to a Leftist poet outside an official building that had been recently decimated by the state. And I felt bad for the stone Leftist poet and for my Hungarian comrades, but I also thought “this is something far away.”
“And today unfortunately I cannot say that. So as I address you – and I don’t have to tell you because this is something you know – it can soon be for you not at all far away but rather experience of waking up in a nightmare like it is for me. Which means it’s not a bad idea to begin the struggle right now as if the official racist nightmare was certain to come here to Germany if you did not. Everybody wished they did this when it has come.”
And then in the discussion we conclude that the best answer to “what can I do?” is to immediately form affinity groups, autonomous clusters of people power!
And then I sit in the big theater next to Marta, a Polish solidarity-letter author and watch Angie O, the struggle of an affinity group to find its agency in the age of Starbucks. And months previous I had challenged the Andcos to make a play with dummies come to life like those statistic charts that use little generic human figures to talk about inequality. Actors would be matched by a group of floppy “dummies.” Now the constructed reality is in front of me: I now see these dummies emerge from the big class pyramid onstage and I watch the actors play at organizing them into various lockdown tactics through absurd arrests, arguments, songs, and lots of smoke. One of the actors even has a knack for turning into a floppy foam dummy himself. And Angie O is full of echoes from my own life in Occupy Wall Street and also, incredibly, already ringing with language & emotion of the current moment: time of the dangerous dummies.
Day 2 of Darkness, but the sun shines on in Düsseldorf. What a privilege to spend the whole day with political conversations. To practice what I preach: Don’t stay in your four walls. Take the streets. Fill the public space with your spirit. Politicize every-day life, your friendships, your art, your breakfast… explore affinity. I remember a documentary film about 1968 in Germany, how an elderly woman (a professor?) said in a teach-in: „We have to start this conversation now…“ An ongoing discourse on democracy. An antifascist talk. That’s the stuff ‘civil society’ is made of. Isn’t it? For decades liberals have been using this word – where is it now, when we need it for our political struggle? To SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER! Or at least to each other.
Maybe it’s the other way around: LIE TO POWER, but speak truth to each other! It could begin with two people in a café. Or three: It begins with a minimum of three people in café. And it starts like so many conversations start these days: „For the first time I can imagine how it felt like to live in Germany in the early 30’s: you see it coming, but you think, you cannot do anything, so you keep doing what you are doing, because you don’t have any idea what could be done!“ Well, if we can agree on one thing than it’s this: People only start to get active when it is too late. As Noah said: „It will hit you too, so you better start now.“ While we were meeting in Düsseldorf there was also a meeting in Koblenz of Frauke Petry, Marine LePen and Geert Wilders. Press was not allowed. Someone filmed Wilders with a hidden camera: „Hallo Deutschland! Wie geht es Euch? Mir geht es gut. Gestern USA, heute Koblenz, morgen Europa.“ („Hello Germany! How are you? I am fine. Yesterday USA, today Koblenz, tomorrow Europe!“) Tomorrow means March 15th, then it’s his turn. On May 7th Marine’s. And on Septembre 24th Frauke’s. They are ready.
This new reality, its necessary to sleep through it sometimes. I woke up jetlagged & late then walk to the big river, sun shining on Dusseldorf and as Alex points out maybe the only place in the world feeling its benevolence today. But I need this rest from Political Dread and I watch those long narrow industrial boats going by each flying its National flag, long hulls in front and each having a little European car or two riding on the back near the captain’s cabin. For me this paints a picture of the tidy unity of industry and middle class life that you see only in Europe, a picture of the presence of both capitalism and socialism. Then I remember Austrian artist Oliver Ressler’s recent billboard a depiction of the same kind of boats I think, that have been put to a different kind of use – In his picture they are not pointed along with the current but across it. Like Angie O’s dummies an improvised barricade blocking the industrial flow of the river, stopping business as usual. It’s the image of a general strike when resistance to accumulated power means SHUTTING DOWN even the last picture of tranquility. We’ll have to see.
Day 3. I spent hours watching the footage of the women’s march: Washington D.C., so pretty in pink… For this one day, pink didn’t stink! I use the chance to show my daughter the pictures, trying to connect this colour with women’s power. It seems to be working. She was jealous that I didn’t take her to the demo but her smaller brother. (It was a coincidence, not a conscious choice.) Her almost 100 years old great grandmother will knit a pink hat for her, her granddaugher, her daughter and herself! The fight about the size of the inauguration ceremony is bizarre and could be funny, but the Trump gang is too vicious. And obviously crazy. Who would dare to tell the CIA that the sun came out when you began to speak while we all saw how it rained in your f*cking face? We realize the power now – how every lie manifests itself like a fact, even if it’s an „alternative fact“. This term itself is the proof. As people born in the 20th century we know: That’s how totalitarianism begins. This is exactly what Hannah Arendt called „pretotalitarian reality“. That’s how postdemocracy looks like…
Day 4. I have to write an email to someone, but I only have contact via facebook. I have avoided to open it for months, immediately I am trapped again: my filter-bubble is providing me with just too many interesting political articles on Trump & his gang, global right-wing populism, anti-austerity protests etc. My facebook fall-back: Trump’s fault. But his rise is their fault! I hate you, fascbook! I can’t even write my message, as soon as I see that blue page, I am sucked into the data-stream. I force myself to close it again and wonder: Why did I open it in the first place? I start to do strange things…
One morning I even bought the BILD Zeitung because Trump’s face was all over it: „the“ interview. Disturbing, already the beginning, Kai Dieckmann’s intro, calling him „disturbingly honest“ („verstörend ehrlich“). HONEST? (It’s Diekman’s last interview, he got fired after having harrassed a woman, little wonder that he admires Trump…) Disturbing it is, but sometimes even funny: „Mr. Trump, your slogan America first is not so nice for the rest of the world.“ – „I love the world, but…“
Disturbing for most cold warriors is this: NATO is „obsolete“? Wow. One of my first memories of political graffiti is from the early 1980’s: „Nötig: Nato“ („Necessary: Nato“). I probably remember it because it was so different from all the other slogans – not a sentence to be screamed, but a laconic, almost elegant statement. A short poem. And this morning it was back on my mind – with all the horrors of the early 1980’s. We told you so… we ended our last radio-piece with the words: „Next time we put the Doomsday clock on 2 to 12.“ That was a joke. Now it’s reality.
I can’t keep track anymore. This is definitely SHOCK STRATEGY as Naomi Klein has called it. Trump keeps signing papers and the state-machine starts working: „That’s fun!“ In the evening I join a meeting of The Berlin Coalition against „global Trumpism“. It is the first political meeting I attend in ages. After a successful action – like this demo – comes the hard part: How to keep the momentum? Easily one gets lost in: we could do this or that, join this demo, support that action. I hope The Coalition really remains a coalition, a politially diverse gathering of people. Angie O. was also about that: coalition work. How horrible it can be. How little fun. „Why do you spend time with people who could kill you? Because you don’t see another way of staying alive.“ Wise words by the really experienced Bernice Johnson Reagon: „Coalition Politics: Turning the century“ from 1983 (Home Girls) – definitely worth to be reread…
I am back in New York and my city, a city of immigrants, a city with a giant woman standing in its harbor who says “Give me your poor and huddled Masses/ Yearning to be Free” Is reeling from the pain and fear inflicted onto immigrants by Trump’s poison pen today. Its now clear that all the talk of building walls and banning immigrants was not hyperbole but exactly the plan, and that every existent power in the president’s office would be used. As Arun Gupta wrote on Fascbook: “Remember in January 2009 when Obama had been in office for only a week, he signed executive orders halting all home foreclosures, commanded the Department of Justice to file criminal charges against all Wall Street executives implicated in the subprime crisis…Neither do I.” It was always about limitations on power and back to boats: Obama’s favorite metaphor for executive power was a huge oceanliner. If you want to change directions you just turn the wheel a few degrees and it will end up in a different direction. Spin the wheel wildly and the ship goes down. Now we get to see a true experiment in alt-limits of executive power. And that night I am on the streets with hundreds on my way from Washington Square Park to Trump Tower, a protest called for by Muslim groups and then later take up by anti-fascist YOUTH alternating between “No Wall No Ban!”, “Trans Lives Matter”, “Immigrants Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter!”
I can’t remember. Maybe an „alternative date“? Journalists covering inauguration day protests were arrested, now facing felony riot charges. The Black Bloc was marching, lots of broken glass. It’s weird to see the Black Bloc waving the Antifa-flagg in America. Even weirder those young guys in suits who call themselvs „alt-right“ (alternative right). These are the ones who saluted Trump with „Hail victory“ and a raised arm: „No, I am not a neo-nazi…“ BAM! A masked guy punches his face. „Right on!“, is what they say in America…
I am texting a friend who said he can’t make it to our meeting. I write „all right“ and wonder when the auto-correction will start to change it into „alt-right“. And I remember a TV program explaining the origin of the expression OK. It was a spelling mistake by an American president that the current administration likes a lot: Andrew Jackson, the inventor of „populism“ and mass-murderer of native population (just google ‘trail of tears’). He also liked to sign papers, he just wrote „all correct“ and decided to use an abbreviation: O like „all“ and K like „correct“. OK?
International Holocaust memorial day. The liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army. Late at night I receive a link to The Guardian by a friend from the US: „White House holocaust remembrance day no Jews?“ Weird and frightening: the White House managed to commemorate the Holocaust without once using the words „Jewish“. One day later we hear that this was the day the orders were signed for the Muslim Ban. Chaos breaks out at the airports. I see people crying and I see people protesting with signs like „Refugees welcome“ and „No one is illegal!“ Again this feeling of estrangement: „It looks like the summer of 2015 in German trainstations.“ Forms of protest, political actions, concepts, ideas spread like a virus – for good or bad. Time gets loops, places swaps, history flip-flops… The most bizarre example: Trump’s wall. „Walls work.“ This truly is the end of the post-war period. And the beginning of what?
So it bears repeating here that it was on Friday night, Holocaust Remembrance Day, that Trump signed the hate-baiting order to block refugees and immigrants from entering the US, and the next day it turns out that hundreds are TRAPPED in airports. And this is a mistake. January 28th mark this one for history the first effective day of resistance, the spontaneous coalitions having now gelled enough for real action. Because people are stuck in airports across the US, and they are not the dummies seen in statistic charts but real people- they have names and families who are freaking out. One of them even worked for the US as a military translator for a decade! They are trapped and now we have vigilance sites and targets. And everyone starts spontaneously going to JFK. #OccupyAirports! All over the US, a movement the mic checks and cardboard signs juxtaposed with futuristically corporate airport architecture. And you can feel a new dynamic: the unfortunate people trapped inside airports, held by customs agents who are probably confused as hell, many probably from immigrant families themselves, and people from everywhere coming to stand in solidarity with them. Because protest works best when concrete and narrative: princess trapped in the castle! Trump fucked up and constructed the wrong reality! And I can’t make it to the airport but see on Twitter (new best news source) that people are now going to the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn which I can join, and I chant for an hour with a big crowd of lawyers – the most upscale group of protesters I had ever been among, a good sign! – until the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) lawyer emerges to tell us that the Judge has not upheld the executive deportation order: a stay has been granted. A minor win, but the FIRST anti-Fascist win against Trumpism. And now, in this new reality these little wins must be celebrated.
And later that night, right in my neighborhood at the Brooklyn Library there is a strange cultural event, which I have never seen before in the US. It’s an all-night philosophy and performance jam between bookshelves and in every available space all over the old library. It’s packed with thousands of Leftists as if everyone occupying the airport went right to the library. The event is without a doubt a direct institutional response to the moment. Many of the talks touch on the linguistics of Trump, understanding immigration and dealing with the idea of apocalypse in our heads. A photo from that night would look like 1968- that year that ended in the US with the worst possible election outcome because we are in a TIME LOOP and I think: it may not be a bad time to be alive.
74th return of the day Hitler took power: „Machtergreifung“. This term was always critized for being misleading: Hitler didn’t grab power, power was transferred to him. By the elites: „We hired Mr. Hitler.“ But also by the people. To make Germany great again. (The German lesson.) Fascist farce: while we protest against muslim ban, Trump puts Stephen Bannon into the National Security Council. Now he has access to the list of „enemies“ which can be killed with drones. There is music in this: LOVE! DRONE BOMB ME! Blow me from the mountain / And into the sea / Blow my head off… Let me be the one / the one that you choose from above / After all / I’m partly to blame…
On the reading list today: 10 Days that shook the world about the Russian Revolution, written by a US citizen eye-witness: Happy birthday, Red October! The title comes in mind reviewing this entry: Jan. 20th–30th. What’s to be done with the term „revolution“ now? Not my revolution, if…it wants to return somewhere instead of progressing? But hasn’t this always been part of the concept? Let’s not get confused: It’s not a revolution we are witnessing, it’s a counter-revolution. Against the revolutions of 2011, 1989, 1968, feminism, civil rights, LGBTIG rights… Against LOVE, since love is for everyone… (equal rights). But as we all know: there is love hidden in r-EVOL-ution. And there is hate in patriotism: hatriotism…hatriarchy. Not my revoution if … it’s not your revolution: our revolution! Let’s conclude with Adam’s website: www.handsoffourrevolution.com