America Must Evolve Beyond The Binary Division

In The Theatre of War, protagonists and antagonists are binary: A parallel of #BlackLivesMatter and civil resistance against the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

 “Art is not a mirror to society but a hammer with which to shape it,” said Bertolt Brecht. Theater director Stefan Dzeparoski takes the reader on a journey of non-violent protests and resistance movements (OTPOR) in Serbia against Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s to explain how, through a theatrical set-up, it all connects to America today.

 We are all storytellers and the stories we tell shape our reality. 

Stories are language and language is memory. Which role or roles we played in the events determines what we remember and how we remember the events of and in life. The story is not the same for a character actively participating in the event and for the character observing the event. Since life is not giving us the casting list, we must discover on our own which role in the great theater of life we play.

Through those stories, we attempt at the same time to understand the world and the reality we create; narratives are repetitive, and we go forward. If this sounds like the tale of historical cycles and progress — that is true. What do we seek in our attempt to understand the world and the reality we created?

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Are you going to be the hero of your story, or will your story be written for you? In times of crisis, that question becomes the defining question for our future. 

 We seek the truth, throughout history often proclaimed dead just as the theater itself. It is our fascination with endings that prevents us from seeing clearly. 

Are you going to be the hero of your story, or will your story be written for you? In times of crisis, that question becomes the defining question for our future. 

We are now in the play, The Theatre of War. The streets in the cities across the globe become the stages; we are the characters in search of a narrative that will unite us. The stakes in this theater are real and the dead character is not standing up at the end of the show taking a bow while the masses applaud.

Our understanding of the possible consequences and the direction in which events might go happens right in front of us. It is as if we are able to see the future for a split second. 

In theater, the same dramatic structures are visible in different scenes, in different plays, and from different time periods. Often we tend to refer to certain events in real life as being a reflection from Shakespeare, Chekhov, or Beckett plays. Something more real happened in that reflection. 

Our understanding of the possible consequences and the direction in which events might go happens right in front of us. It is as if we are able to see the future for a split second. 

When the events in life take us on a similar path, reflecting on another event in real life, we say that history repeats itself. That is the moment when we face the determinism of the undeniable ending. We know how the event ended in the past. That moment is the decisive one because we get to choose whether we will be a hero or an observer. 

I remember how it spread all over Serbia

Overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, October 5, 2000

We believed in the great spontaneity of the events. We believed in the idea that our creativity genuinely changes the future. We believed in the narrative of the spontaneity of protest. Later, I came to the conclusion that in history there is no room for spontaneous events.

I was young, but I do remember the Belgrade streets during the mid-1990. I remember the Student resistance movement OTPOR (RESISTANCE) and the creative acts of civil disobedience. I remember how the protest spread all over Serbia.  At that time, we believed in the great spontaneity of the events. We believed in the idea that our creativity genuinely changes the future. We believed in the narrative of the spontaneity of protest. Later, I came to the conclusion that in history there is no room for spontaneous events.

As in every drama or screenplay, there are antagonists and protagonists. In Belgrade, during all the exhausting months of protests, our antagonist was clear. It was Milošević. The protagonists were us, citizens united around the elusive idea of change. We marched the streets. Some of us peacefully, and others more violently looting the stores and breaking the shop windows. 

The rule was simple: do not talk to the police. 

Later we learned that many of the unruly citizens were actually police agents placed to create chaos so that the brutal police actions against protesters could be justified.  Much later, during the protests, the police will slowly start to join the protesters. There were a number of heartfelt moments of the sincerest embraces between police officers in full anti-riot gear and civilian protesters.

In the meantime, we distributed flyers with phone numbers and addresses of human rights organizations and individuals that can protect us in case the police caught us. The rule was simple: do not talk to the police. 

Pro-regime media in Serbia would promote the images of chaos and violence deliberately, avoiding images that show people dancing, creating public performances, and live art.

Overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, October 5, 2000

OTPOR coordinated daily actions and established new lines of communications with the protest organizers. That was the time before smartphones. New protesting materials would arrive almost daily including flyers, stickers, posters, t-shirts with a rising fist on them. 

City theaters opened their doors to various kinds of artistic expression and to the protesters.

At that moment, no one asked where all that material came from. As the protest grew daily, some small local businesses such as bakeries would support protesters by distributing their goods and products freely. 

City theaters opened their doors to various kinds of artistic expression and to the protesters. From the masses of us, a unified protagonist, a few figures became more prominent. The leadership of OTPOR organization became the protagonist. That was the moment when the movement started to shift. The movement got a few recognizable faces. We The People of the movement voluntarily gave our collective power to the faces of few. They became leaders. Today a few of them are still present in the political life of Serbia, but I am not sure they remember their OTPOR days.

The unwritten rule of three

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In theater and dramaturgy, in general, there is an unwritten rule of three. Meaning that every action, including its reaction, happens in three steps. What we witness now with all the protesting might seem bizarre and unusual because it was never before seen on this scale in the U.S. Activism can easily turn into a religion that sparks the fervent tribalism, and after that is anarchy. 

Every story has three acts. We are now halfway through act one. The second act starts usually with the new information coming in changing the circumstances, which leads towards the culmination, which is usually the end of act two. Act three can start with facing the consequences of culmination, then the second new information comes in and shifts the action towards the undeniable end and hopefully catharsis. 

Activism can easily turn into a religion that sparks the fervent tribalism, and after that is anarchy. 

Since we live in this structure, we do not know how long this play will be. In the case of Belgrade resistance, the finale of the third act came years after the protests finished. The finale of the third act was the bombing of Belgrade from March 24, 1999, to June 10, 1999.

Overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, October 5, 2000The greatest danger in any dramatic structure is to lose sight of your antagonists; they will be precisely structured and remarkably recognizable. To call Shakespeare again in help; do you know any more recognizable antagonist than Richard III, a “hunchback”? According to Shakespeare he also had ‘a limp and a withered arm’. This and all his Machiavellian rise to power makes Richard III one of the most recognizable antagonists. 

The Theatre of War that we live now has all the elements of tragedy. Our antagonist will perpetually create subplots and sub narratives that will distract the attention of the audience. What the antagonist is probably not realizing at the moment is that there is no audience anymore. We are all an integral part of The Theatre of War. We all act, perform, and watch ourselves at the same time all searching for the narrative that will unite us.

Our antagonist will perpetually create subplots and sub narratives that will distract the attention of the audience.

It happens that the antagonist in The Theatre of War is the elected leader of the U.S. What the protagonists feel is that the leader lost.  Where is the President?  Where is the Leader?  Through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance a new story must tell itself that will explain the world to us, which will give us a new shape to our reality.

We are in the war now.

It is a war against our consciousness.  It is a war that goes beyond religion, color of the skin, or ethnicity. This is a war against the human spirit.  Probably at this very moment the best we can do when we feel lost is not to fight that feeling, but just to bear witness to it; to acknowledge the presence of loss.

Overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, October 5, 2000

OTPOR emerged, providing a structure for action in the form of peaceful, civil disobedience, a nonviolent action.  

For some young rebels in Serbia during the 1990s, one book circulating through underground channels was a great discovery and inspiration.  The book was ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’, by William Powell, published in 1971 in the United States.  The need to dismantle the destructive structures of Milošević’s power and systematic oppression was strong.  For many, the narrative necessary for that dismantling was evident in the mentioned book.  In reality, nothing from that book was ever implemented into action.  Instead, the book fueled imaginations.

 OTPOR emerged, providing a structure for action in the form of peaceful, civil disobedience, a nonviolent action.  The OTPOR based itself on the premise that once one oppressive political structure disappears, Democracy will arrive, and that will solve all the problems.  The other side of the oppression was known and identified as Democracy.

The change necessary now and asked for, as we are about to enter the second act of The Theatre of War is articulating the ideology of the other option, Democracy.

What is the other option in post-capitalist neoliberal democracy?

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Once that question articulates itself in actionable terms, we will face the consequences of that decision in the first half of the third act.  Choices made then will determine how we live in the future.  Once we are ready to accept and acknowledge the consequences we are ready to enter the catharsis.

The entire American XX century could be seen as a socioeconomic experiment that did not evolve beyond binary division so deeply rooted in the fabric of American society.  This divide created dangerous mechanisms of systematic oppression towards black communities and police brutality revealed that there are many other oppressed, unloved, unheard, neglected, and discriminated voices who challenge their anger and rightful frustration by embracing Black Lives Matters movement as the only boat of Hope.

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The catharsis is a grand finale of the third act.

The Theatre of War is the patterns and paradigms that have their historical, political, and economical origin since the Enlightenment.  There was a dark side to the Enlightenment. 

If that is true, then the entire American XX century could be seen as a socioeconomic experiment that did not evolve beyond binary division so deeply rooted in the fabric of American society.  This divide created dangerous mechanisms of systematic oppression towards black communities and police brutality revealed that there are many other oppressed, unloved, unheard, neglected, and discriminated voices who challenge their anger and rightful frustration by embracing Black Lives Matters movement as the only boat of Hope.

We The People must make different choices if we want to end this war.  The Theatre of War must have a catharsis that will take us far from binary political, economical, and class division. 

Through this catharsis, we must find ways of greater social mobility. Only through just social mobility, can we move forward from repeating the historical cycles. We all act, perform, and watch ourselves at the same time all searching for the narrative that will unite us.


 

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