DC’s many prankster activists turn anger into street theater
By ASHRAF KHALIL
Monday, February 18
WASHINGTON (AP) — In the nation’s capital, it can be hard for protesters to stand out. A group of 50 people — or even 500 — holding signs and shouting hardly merits a second glance in this city of protests.
That’s why Washington activists have to get creative. There’s an ethos of performative prankster-style protest wired into the District of Columbia’s history, dating back decades.
This confrontational street-theater school is flourishing with the Trump administration as its nemesis. Each month brings new acts of political theater — some confrontational, some deliberately absurdist.
“It can take a serious issue into more of a playful place,” said Robin Bell, who regularly projects disparaging messages onto the outside of the Trump International Hotel. “Oftentimes we visualize the absurdity of the situation.”
In January, a group of activists associated with political pranksters The Yes Men passed out dozens of fake Washington Posts , with detailed articles depicting President Donald Trump resigning and fleeing the White House. For about a month last fall, a Robert Mueller investigation-themed ice cream truck roamed Washington, passing out free scoops with names like IndictMint Chip and Rocky Rod Rosenstein.
While some protests are designed to get attention, others hide in plain sight like Easter eggs for the observant. Within sight of the White House, a realistic-looking street sign declares the street Khashoggi Way, after Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi journalist killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. About 10 of these signs have been scattered around Washington.
Activist Claude Taylor said he planted his first sign in front of the Saudi Embassy, where it lasted 24 hours before being removed. But he’s pleased the sign outside the White House has lasted so long — more than a month — since his protest is against both Khashoggi’s murder and what he considers Trump’s soft response. Taylor also drives around town carrying an inflatable effigy depicting the president as a giant rat .
“It’s got to be art, it’s got to be creative. That’s what gets people hooked,” said Adam Eidinger, perhaps Washington’s most high-profile political provocateur.
Eidinger is one of the District’s public faces for marijuana legalization and is known for disruptive protests. In 2017, his group passed out 1,000 joints on Capitol Hill, but only to ID-carrying congressional staffers. He says he still owns a small jail cell on wheels for use in political stunts.
Eidinger lists the advantages to this sort of theatrical approach. It’s more enjoyable and inspiring for the participants, more likely to garner media attention and go viral. Equally important, it’s more likely to annoy opponents.
“One of the goals is to have a psychological impact, to get into their heads,” he said.
He says he’s been arrested 23 times, although he emphasizes that usually isn’t the point.
“Just getting arrested is not creative. You should be willing to get arrested doing something else transgressive,” he said.
The Trump administration is not the only target for these sorts of protests. On Thursday, two female activists disrobed inside the National Gallery of Art to protest what they say is a lack of diversity in the artists being featured. One led security on a brief chase before being subdued. The National Gallery of Art did not respond to a request for comment.
A day earlier, activists targeted the Philippine Embassy with a protest that was deliberately obscure. Around 7 a.m., several people strung swaths of red jute fabric on every tree, sign and lamp post surrounding the embassy, including the nearby statue of Daniel Webster. Last month, this group wrapped an enormous stretch of jute around the entire embassy fence, blocking both driveways.
It’s an elaborate protest against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, in which human rights groups estimate more than 10,000 people have been killed by police and militias.
But there were no signs indicating that. In fact, given the date, most passers-by probably assumed it was related to Valentine’s Day.
“There’s a deliberate mystery to what we’re doing” said an organizer, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid prosecution. “Our audience is the embassy. Hopefully the guy at the embassy is going to be like ‘I don’t know what this is about, but I better tell my boss.’”
An embassy spokesman said local authorities had been contacted, but that all forms of “peaceful freedom of expression are all welcome.”
The godmother of this local protest ethos is Nadine Bloch, a resident of the historically liberal hotspot of Takoma Park, Maryland, located just over the Washington line. Bloch’s activism goes back to captaining a ship for Greenpeace in the 1990s seeking to disrupt French nuclear tests. Both Eidinger and Bell credit her with helping form their own sensibilities as part of the Washington Action Group.
“Nadine gathered all these people in the late ’90s and now they’re out there on their own doing it,” Eidinger said.
Bloch speaks of the “artist-activist” and trains activists in a school of creative revolution known as “beautiful trouble.” She said simple public weirdness is not enough and counsels activists to think through their goals, their message and their audience.
“A lot of people are in love with their clever tactics,” Bloch said. “But if you don’t know what your goal is, then good luck if your message actually delivers.”
In the institutional memory of Washington’s activists, December 1987 stands as an iconic moment. That’s when posters suddenly appeared across town with a brutal assessment of President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, Edwin Meese: “Experts Agree: Meese is a Pig.”
Their origin was a local mystery at first, eventually revealed to be the work of Jeff Nelson, drummer for the Washington-based political hardcore band Minor Threat.
Nelson said his posters weren’t particularly clever or constructive but more like a vulgar scream of frustration.
“I was just looking for some sort of megaphone to shout back,” said Nelson, now 56 and living in Toledo, Ohio. “Basically I did what I knew how to do, which was silkscreen posters.”
But Nelson’s legacy lingers.
When Bell, the projectionist, started targeting the Trump hotel after the 2016 election, he paid homage to his forebears.
His first projection said: “Experts Agree: Trump is a Pig.”
Did Abraham Lincoln’s bromance alter the course of American history?
February 15, 2017
Author: Charles B. Strozier, Professor of History, City University of New York
Disclosure statement: Charles B. Strozier does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
In the spring of 1837, a “long, gawky, ugly, shapeless man” walked into Joshua Speed’s dry goods store in Springfield, Illinois, requesting supplies for a bed. Speed said the cost would be US $17, which ended up being too pricey for the visitor, who asked instead for credit until Christmas. The 23-year-old Speed was nonetheless taken with this stranger; he “threw such charm around him” and betrayed a “perfect naturalness.”
The stranger was none other than a 28-year-old Abraham Lincoln, a quarter-century before he would take the oath as the 16th U.S. president.
Speed spontaneously came up with an alternative plan. He said he had a large room upstairs above the store and a double bed he was happy to share. Without a word, Lincoln picked up saddlebags that contained his life’s possessions and walked upstairs. He came back down and said, with a big smile, “Well, Speed, I’m moved.”
So began what would become one of the most important friendships in American history. It was a friendship that proved redemptive for Lincoln, helping him through two serious, suicidal bouts of depression that threatened his relationship with his future wife and his political ambitions. It is a story I tell in my new book, “Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed.”
Love and loss
After Lincoln moved in, the two men became inseparable, sharing stories, feelings, fears, hopes and dreams.
Speed intensely idealized the impressive, articulate and very funny Lincoln, who in turn felt safe opening up to his younger friend. They shared that common bed for nearly four years, though all the evidence suggests their relationship was not sexual. It was, instead, a paradigmatic 19th-century male friendship: close, even loving, as each young man sought solace in their anxious, confused attempts at wooing women.
Lincoln especially struggled with intimacy. His first love, Ann Rutledge, had died suddenly in 1835, leaving him distraught. When he moved to Springfield, Lincoln was not in a good place. But he was still hopeful for love.
In late 1839, 21-year-old Mary Todd moved to Springfield from Lexington, Kentucky (likely to escape the stepmother she despised). Mary moved in with her older sister, Elizabeth Edwards, and her husband, Ninian, in their imposing mansion. A sprightly, appealing woman, Mary was fluent in French, could cite long passages of poetry from memory, had an excellent sense of humor and closely followed politics.
Lincoln met her at a soiree in the Edwards’ mansion – he often attended these events with Speed – and became immediately enchanted with Mary. That winter Lincoln seriously courted her. By the following summer, the two were engaged to be married, with a date set for Jan. 1, 1841.
But in a move that has baffled historians, Lincoln broke off the engagement in late December 1840 and fell into a suicidal depression. Bedridden, he was prone to hallucinations, and his friends were worried enough to hide his razor. He was, in the words of his friend, future law partner, and eventual biographer William H. Herndon, “crazy as a loon.”
What historians haven’t noted – and what I was able to discover in the course of my research – is that Speed, whose father had died in the spring of 1840, had been planning to return to Louisville, Kentucky, to straighten out the affairs of the family’s large plantation. In August and September, Speed began to post notices in the local paper, calling in his debts as he prepared to sell his store and return to Louisville.
Speed ended up not leaving until the spring of 1841. But in the fall of 1840, as his marriage to Mary Todd approached, Lincoln lived with the prospect of losing his best friend. My argument is that Lincoln became confused – even panicked – at the looming loss of Speed coupled with the fast-approaching wedding date. He spiraled and, without warning, suddenly broke off his engagement with Mary.
A brief reunion
Late in the summer of 1841, Lincoln visited Speed’s Louisville plantation. Reunited, the friends took long walks together, and Speed’s mother, Lucy, doted on Lincoln. Around this time, Speed met and quickly became engaged to Fanny Henning – at which point he also got depressed, just as Lincoln had earlier in the year.
Speed’s fears of intimacy, as he later wrote in a letter to Herndon, mirrored those of Lincoln. He even feared being separated again from his friend and ended up returning to Springfield for the rest of the fall to be with Lincoln.
But by the end of the year, Speed felt he needed to go back to Kentucky to prepare for his marriage in February. (There was no way, given the distance and his work obligations, for Lincoln to travel to Louisville for the wedding.)
It was wrenching for both men to be separated again.
During those first two months of 1842, Lincoln wrote a remarkable series of letters to Speed leading up to the marriage on Feb. 15. (Unfortunately, we don’t have Speed’s replies.) This most interior of men – “shut-mouthed,” as Herndon called him – bared his deepest feelings to his best friend.
“You know my desire to befriend you is everlasting,” Lincoln wrote in one of these letters, “that I will never cease, while I know how to do any thing.”
Lincoln’s special knowledge of Speed’s inner life pervades the very fabric of the letters. “Feeling, as I know you do,” begins the very first sentence of the first letter. In another letter, Lincoln notes, “You well know that I do not feel my own sorrows much more keenly than I do yours.” “You will feel verry badly,” he says knowingly of Speed’s fears about consummating the marriage. And later: “…it is the peculiar misfortune of both you and me, to dream dreams of Elysium [paradise in classical mythology] far exceeding all that any thing earthly can realize.”
In other words, what Speed feels, Lincoln feels. What Speed knows, Lincoln knows. What Speed does, so does Lincoln. Lincoln inserts himself into Speed’s self, which he experiences as a dimension of his own.
Testing the waters of intimacy
As Speed’s marriage approached, Lincoln projected his own confused fantasies onto his friend to vicariously test the waters of intimacy. (Lincoln and Mary Todd, at that point, weren’t in contact.)
It seems Speed barely tumbled out of his wedding bed on the morning of Feb. 16 to write his friend of his successful consummation – and how the roof didn’t fall in – which elicited a fervid response from Lincoln:
“I received yours of the 12th written the day you went down to William’s place, some days since; but delayed answering it, till I should receive the promised one, of the 16th, which came last night. I opened that latter, with intense anxiety and trepidation – so much, that although it turned out better than I expected, I have hardly yet, at the distance of ten hours, become calm.”
It’s remarkable to think that the 33-year-old Abraham Lincoln was still feeling anxious a full 10 hours after reading the news of Speed’s successful wedding. Was this an emotional turning point for Lincoln? It’s as if his fears of intimacy were suddenly allayed: If Joshua could do it, so could he. Within a few months, he resumed his courtship of Mary Todd, who had graciously waited for him. They married on Nov. 4, 1842, in the parlor of the Edwards’ home.
Some 10 days later, Lincoln ended an otherwise innocuous letter to a business partner, Samuel D. Marshall, by noting, “Nothing new here, except my marrying, which to me is a matter of profound wonder.” Lincoln would remain often sad and melancholy, but he was never again clinically depressed and suicidal. His friendship with Speed proved therapeutic, even redemptive.
Joshua Speed certainly helped guide him emotionally toward intimacy and love. As one old friend put it, Lincoln “allways thanked Josh for his Mary.”
Foxconn Bilked Wisconsin and the GOP Helped
After pocketing a huge taxpayer bribe from former Gov. Scott Walker, the manufacturer all but canceled plans to build a factory in the state.
By Jim Hightower | February 13, 2019
A newspaper photograph last summer portrayed three guys in suits and ties shoveling dirt. They were Donald Trump, then-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and the chairman of Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics conglomerate.
They were doing a PR groundbreaking for a new Foxconn plant that supposedly would hire thousands of blue-collar workers in Wisconsin to make flat-screen televisions. All three hailed the event as the start of a Made-in-the-USA manufacturing renaissance.
But it was actually a corporate scam.
Walker, who was up for re-election, was giving away a whopping $4 billion from his state’s taxpayers to lure Foxconn. Still, Trump hailed the deal as “the eighth wonder of the world.”
Less than a year later, though — oops — it turns out the three had been shoveling BS.
In January, Foxconn quietly backed away from its promise of all those factory jobs, declaring that “the global market environment” had changed. “In terms of TV,” they said, “we have no place in the U.S.” Having already pocketed much of Walker’s bribe money, Foxconn was downsizing its project from a mass-production blue-collar factory to a much, much smaller R&D operation.
It turns out that the Taiwanese giant has a history of reneging on its grandiose schemes, including failing to deliver on a Pennsylvania factory it promised in 2013.
Still, Foxconn is right that the environment had changed — Walker was defeated in November. Wisconsinites are in an uproar over both his extravagant giveaway and the corporation’s backaway. New Democratic Governor Tony Evers is asking pointed questions. And Trump’s slaphappy zig-zags on tariffs have roiled the whole high-tech market.
So, beware: When you see a picture of politicians shoveling people’s tax dollars into corporate coffers, the only sure thing is that the people are being played for suckers.
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
Marijuana Can Help Fight Opioid Abuse
A huge pile of data shows that medical cannabis helps people reduce or eliminate opioid use for chronic pain.
By Paul Armentano | February 13, 2019
In the struggle to address rising levels of opioid misuse and mortality, an unlikely ally has emerged: marijuana.
The relationship between cannabis and opioid use is among of the best-documented aspects of marijuana policy. In short, the science demonstrates that marijuana is a relatively safe and effective pain reliever — and that patients with legal access to it often reduce their use of conventional opiates.
Over 35 controlled clinical trials, involving over 2,000 subjects, have been conducted to assess the safety and usefulness of cannabis or its components for the treatment of chronic pain. Many of these trials specifically evaluate the plant’s ability to target hard-to-treat neuropathic pain.
An exhaustive literature review of over 10,000 scientific abstracts by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined: “There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis is effective for the treatment of chronic pain in adults.”
In clinical trial settings, pain patients provided with cannabis as part of their treatment typically reduce their use of opioids.
It’s worth looking at in some detail.
For instance, in one recent study — which assessed cannabis use among the elderly — investigators reported that over 18 percent of the study’s participants “stopped using opioid analgesics or reduced their dose.” They concluded: “Cannabis can decrease the use of other prescription medicines, including opioids.”
Another clinical trial, which looked at cohort of over 1,200 cancer patients over a six-month period, concluded that nearly half of respondents reported either decreasing or eliminating their use of opioids when given access to cannabis during their treatment.
In yet another recent trial, Columbia University scientists documented that using cannabis along with “sub-therapeutic” — that is, lower than usual — doses of opioids resulted in pain relief at a level “comparable to an effective opioid analgesic dose.” These findings point to the “opioid-sparing effects of cannabis,” investigators concluded.
Given this reality, it should hardly come as a surprise that in states where cannabis is legal, rates of opioid-specific abuse, hospitalizations, and mortality fall. One particularly notable study reported a 20 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths one year following the enactment of medical marijuana legislation — and a 33 percent reduction in mortality by year six.
Assessments of pain patient cohorts in medical cannabis access states affirm this observational data. For example, the Minnesota Department of Health in 2017 reported that over 60 percent of state-registered patients using cannabis for chronic pain “were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after six months.”
Minnesota’s findings are hardly unique. 2016 data gathered from patients enrolled in Michigan’s cannabis access program reported that marijuana treatment “was associated with a 64 percent decrease in opioid use, decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life.”
A 2017 assessment of medical cannabis patients in Illinois revealed that participants in the state-run program frequently reported using marijuana “as an alternative to other medications — most commonly opioids, but also anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatories, and over-the-counter analgesics.”
New Mexico patient data reports: Compared to non-users, medical cannabis enrollees “were more likely either to reduce daily opioid prescription dosages between the beginning and end of the sample period (83.8 percent versus 44.8 percent) or to cease filling opioid prescriptions altogether (40.5 percent versus 3.4 percent).”
The available scientific data to date is consistent and persuasive: For many patients, cannabis offers a viable alternative to opioids.
It’s time for lawmakers and health officials to recognize the well-established power of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain — and to acknowledge its emerging role in combatting the opioid abuse crisis.
Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He’s the author of The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws (Whitman Press, 2015). Distributed by OtherWords.org.