I love public radio. I listen to KCRW my local NPR station, while cooking, while driving in the car, while cleaning the apartment, sometimes even while eating dinner. So during this year”s winter fundraising drive, after listening to the station managers plead with listeners to donate more money to offset our bad economic times, I decided to give an extra donation on top of my yearly membership . When I called, the volunteer with whom I spoke mentioned that two tickets were available to a dance performance by The Batsheva Dance Company. The company was co-founded by Martha Graham, the volunteer explained. Enough said. I had never heard of Batsheva, but I love Martha Graham and I love dance. I bought the tickets as part of my extra donation.
My tickets were for last Saturday night”s performance. I had thought about writing a post this week about the performance, about the power of watching bodies in motion, about the things dance can teach us about our own bodies” capacities and abilities. But when I opened my email Saturday morning, I had a message from a friend involved in the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. She was going to be protesting the Batsheva Dance Company, and linked to her email a story about the protest from the LA Times. Batsheva is actively funded by the Israeli government. She was hoping I would join the protest. Now this was a quandary.
I”ve participated before in boycotts and protests of Israeli government actions against Palestinians, and think I understand many of the issues that make speaking about Israel and Palestine in the US so complicated. But protesting dancers? What pressure would be put on Israel to stop its treatment of Palestinians if I let my dance tickets sit empty? I”m a writer and I believe strongly in supporting other artists. I also wouldn”t want to be protested because of the actions of the American government, especially the actions of the past eight years.
But the Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is based on similar boycotts of South African artists and scholars during apartheid, and is supported by people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu who believe the anti-apartheid boycotts were effective in South Africa. Putting pressure on a country from all angles–politically, economically, religiously, culturally, socially–enacts change much more quickly than focusing on one angle.
I wrote back to my friend and she responded, “Of course we wouldn’t have gone to see an all-white South African dance troupe that refused to denounce apartheid policies, or supported a segregated South African soccer team.” That”s right, of course. Just like I won”t support cosmetic companies that insist on testing on animals or businesses that discriminate against people with disabilities. Maybe it doesn”t make a difference in the world that Proctor and Gamble hasn”t received my money for the past 10 years–it certainly isn”t hurting their bottom line. But as an activist, don”t I have to make these statements, even with just the hope that they will enact change? And why should artists and scholars be immune to responses to the actions of their country”s governments? Aren”t I always arguing that art and politics go hand in hand?
Indeed. And that means that I can”t attend the performance of an Israeli government supported dance company while Israel”s government supports an apartheid system. And I have to do something more than just letting my tickets go unused. I have to make it known why those seats were empty, what my dissatisfaction is. So here goes: I believe in the inherent dignity of the human body, no matter its color, size, sex, gender, religion, ability, preferences. I believe the human body should be treated with respect and should be valued from birth until death, and then even after death. And when the human body isn”t treated with respect, I believe it is my duty to take a stand against that treatment, no matter if that stand is big or small, wildly important or invisible to all but a few.
So instead of writing about dance, about the body”s ability to awe through movement, I”m writing about the importance of bodies at rest. About the ability of silence, an empty seat, an empty audience, a business no longer frequented, a product no longer purchased, to enact change. About the ability of every human body to help another that”s being oppressed.
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Andrea Scarpino is the West Coast Bureau Chief of POTB.
Visit her at: www.andreascarpino.com