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Drumming at Demonstrations

This coming Saturday is a big demonstration in Washington DC and as is often the case, we’ll have a smaller parallel one here in SF. It’s organized by the ANSWER coalition, but as most of us like to say, they make the reservation but they don’t necessarily determine the dinner or the tone of the meal… The “spontaneous” march from Powell Street on the night of Bush’s escalation speech was really abysmal. About 200 people, which wasn’t the problem, but the tone was so off-putting. What is it about ANSWER and its minions that prevents them from figuring out that there’s hardly anything worse than actually turning up to a protest only to be barked at in a scolding tone by unimpressive orators with amplification?

Anyway, in spite of the ever-offensive sounds we have imposed on us by these self-deluding enlightened ones–or maybe because of them–we like to show up and drum. We don’t have signs or name tags but we go to anti-war demos with our drums as one of the many, largely informal incarnations of the Committee for Full Enjoyment. I know there’s a bunch of tired leftists who lament the arrival of the “hippie drummers,” partly because we are out of step with the barking self-importance and self-righteous tone of the march. Well, pshaw on that…

Demonstrations are mostly a dead form. When I go to demos without a drum, they make me feel puny and stupid and weak. If I go with friends and we lay down some serious rhythm, get people dancing with us, it doesn’t matter how lame and shallow the politics of the surrounding march are, we’re literally bringing a Dionysian impulse to the experience, tapping a deep-seated need for public celebration, conviviality, dare I say ‘joy’? Happily, Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book “Dancing in the Streets” is about this exactly. In fact, she notes that in recent years political demonstrations have increasingly harbored the kinds of behaviors that were once more commonly associated with parties or festivals, showing that the need for public sharing of spirited life cannot be shunted aside or suppressed. It’s neither wrong nor extraneous to the reasons why we publicly demonstrate.


George Katsiaficas has written eloquently about the political power of what he terms the “eros effect,” global circulations of political expression that mutually amplify uprisings. He has written two volumes of a trilogy that “seeks to uncover the hidden logic and reasonability of social movements in contemporary urbanized societies.”

“The politics of eros infuse everyday life with a content that subverts its would-be colonizers and preserves it as a reservoir of the life-force. The “eros effect” indicates hwo social movements are an expression of people’s loving connectedness with each other… my view of the role of movement participation is that it preserves and expands the domain of the heart–of all that is uniquely human, all that stands opposed to machine culture.” (from The Subversion of Politics, p. 220

When we go out to drum, we know sometimes it seems a bit out of kilter with the point of the protest, e.g. when Israel was bombing Lebanon last summer and many were dressed in mourning black, we were there doing our usual upbeat answer to that madness with pounding rhythms. But that’s essentially our point, not to let the palpably insane completely determine our world AND our response to it, but to recognize the power of pleasurable association as more subversive than the droning sheep-like chanting of the mainstream left. Yes things are insane and fucked, but the answer isn’t to follow some aspiring bureaucrat’s diktat, or to assume a somber and reverential tone in acceptance of the horror and defeat. No, like an Irish wake’s exuberant refusal to simply mourn, we drum for life, for the living, for the possibility of collectively seizing the moment and changing direction.

The market society, which repeatedly produces open war as a logical component of a daily life that depends on violent coercion to maintain itself, is the real enemy we face. The personal response in isolation is depression, which only undercuts our possibilities, diminishing our ability to connect to each other. If we go out to assert our socialness, our collective revulsion at the war criminals, we’d better be asserting our liveliness too, our independence and pleasure in mutual engagement. In joining together to occupy public space, we can begin to trigger Katsiaficas’s eros effect. It’s that effect which gives us energy and power and helps us believe we CAN change things. Ehrenreich’s book is illuminating and subversive precisely because she clearly makes that connection:

“If we are looking for a common source of depression, on the one hand, and the suppression of festivities, on the other, it is not hard to find. Urbanization and the rise of a competitive, market-based economy favored a more anxious and isolated sort of person” potentially both prone to depression and distrustful of communal pleasures. Calvinism provided a transcendent rationale for this shift, intensifying the isolation and practically institutionalizing depression as a stage in the quest for salvation.”

Saturday is another anti-war demonstration. We know the kleptocrats and war criminals don’t care and won’t respond with anything but derision. We’re not demonstrating for them! I go to embrace life and living and to publicly refuse support for anything less than an unconditional immediate withdrawal from Iraq, followed soon after by withdrawal from the 100+ countries that harbor U.S. bases, and then the radical shrinking of the U.S. military into a militia-based force to defend against actual invasion. Join us if you will! Bring a drum and join us if you feel like it. We’re easy to find if you follow your ears…

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One Response to “Drumming at Demonstrations”

  1. 1
    Jym Dyer:

    =v= If you see white people attempting to sing “Give Peace A Chance,” please help them out. Many of them seem unaware that it is essentially a rap song, and needs percussion.

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