October 20th, 2012 | WEEKEND

Opening My Mind — Experiencing an ‘Art Intervention’

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Photo by Chris Randall.

“Mitt Romney needs a haircut!” I screamed unto the gods.

Why? I was protesting — obviously. Over the course of 20 minutes this Thursday, I did a lot of that. I shouted to the world — or, at least, anyone who would listen to me on Cross Campus — that prisons should be burned, and, consequently, cats should be hugged. I commanded people to take their egos out of art. I chant-asked, “What’s your privilege?” (Oh, the sass.) I almost interpretive-danced in silent protest of my protesting being silenced.

What?

I’m not crazy, I promise. The powers that be told me to immerse myself in a student-run experimental protest (WEEKEND editors, you win). Eager freshman that I am, I submitted, against my many apprehensions: I don’t like screaming, marching in circles or demonstrating to people that I’m more opinionated than I let on.

I pushed these concerns aside, however, and prepare to traipse from Silliman to Cross Campus.

I figured I’d dress for the occasion; the event was described to me as an “artistic” protest, so I rifled through my closet and found some seriously clashing clothes. Soon enough, I was ready, clad in suede shorts, a tacky grandpa sweater and the ultimate disguise: Wayfarers. I needed to blend in with what I assumed would be a marginally hipster crowd. I mean, who else would aspire to indie-fy protest?

That would be Martina Crouch ’14, one of those people you look at and feel like telling, “I want you to be my friend so some of your coolness might rub off on me. Please?”

Martina said she has been trying to get the protest approved via Yale’s administrative channels for the past few years. Thankfully, she succeeded this semester.

The protest, which Martina described as an “art intervention” on the Facebook invitation, was inspiring (liberating?).

As random passersby walked through Cross Campus, they were invited to contribute to a whiteboard set up on the walkway, which already held messages — and some phallic drawings — courtesy of earlier contributors.

I wrote my own message: “Open your mind.” I figured it was mighty relevant, since I completely misjudged the protest. It was more than just aimless screaming. It was art.

A diverse, energized group of Martina’s friends volunteered to give voices to these anonymous messages in their tribally-inspired garb and colorful scarves, belts and trinkets. One guy spray-painted his hair green for the occasion. Another was smoking a wooden pipe, and I’m pretty sure he stepped directly out of the ’90s (grunge still exists?). Everyone looked artsy. Everyone was fabulous.

The protestors took to the walkway with their whiteboards and chanted their messages. Occasionally, the chants turned into songs, with syncopation and echoes abound. They were so casual and comfortable with themselves, despite all of the sideways glances and looks of incredulity they were getting. People shook their heads as they walked by, looking either slightly annoyed or genuinely confused by the ruckus. Martina got a call from a residential college master threatening to have Chief Higgins shut down the protest when it got too loud. Some people stopped to record the spectacle on their cell phones; a handful actually had the guts to ask what the noise was about.

One observer looked at me with a mix of amusement and fear playing in her eyes, “I’m totally confused. I don’t understand what’s going on.”

But I did. It was a lesson in freestyle. It was performance art. Martina videotaped the whole thing, focusing both on her actors and the reactions of the audience. The actors didn’t care what anyone thought of them; they were entertained by the reactions they were getting. It was, honest to goodness, one of the more inspiring things I’ve seen in a while.

At some point — between being massively pleased with the actor-protestors yelling, “Fuck that shit,” (midterm week — relevant), and seeing one of them, decked out in a Guy Fawkes mask and a rainbow of accessories, flaunt a whiteboard with someone’s anonymous marriage proposal, “Josefina, will you marry me?” — I realized I should let go and yell right along with them. Why the hell not?

So I did. And you know what?

It was brilliant.