Many of you who know me remember the days when I organized against war (with the DC Anti-War Network) and global imperialist financial institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF. Or, perhaps you knew of the last 10 years when I was volunteering with Buffalo Field Campaign, organizing Buffalo Allies of Bozeman, or was heavily involved with Occupy Bozeman and the Rocky Mountain Independent Media Network.
A lot of things happened in my life that took me out of the streets and forced me to reassess who I was as a man and indeed to grow into the man I have become. My anarchist political ideology never shifted, but I had to focus for years on being a father and dealing with issues in my life that had prevented me from fully realizing my own potential as an activist.
My focus over the last eight years has been on dancing, particularly freeform ecstatic dancing, and I even became a licensed Chakradance facilitator. Perhaps less known by many of you is that I have taken a number of courses in tantra, which has been quite influential in how I approach life and relationships with myself and others. I rekindled my love affair with Yellowstone and discovered a new love in Death Valley, and I spent much of my time wandering and dancing in the wilderness as I learned to love my own company and to find new ways to express myself outwardly (such as through fashion). All of this has brought me much closer to who I really believe I have always been meant to be as a person.
Very recently, I have made the most wonderful friend, Aly White, whom I met in a dance context. And in the sharing of her own life experience and beliefs, I discovered in her someone who had a kindred set of beliefs not only about the dance world in which I met her but also about the larger world, where we have seen patriarchy, racism, classism, sexism, nationalism, and any other system of injustice where one person sets themselves as superior and more entitled than another. In many respects, we find ourselves participating in these various isms just by being born into them. These isms destroy any ability to have the most beautiful world we can imagine. Yes, I have seen plenty of astoundingly beautiful places, but all that did was make me wonder why the inspiration from these special places was not universal. Why were we as humans not living to our own potential as beautiful people? We don’t really dance much, do we? In this shared space of realizing that the beauty that could be our lives is not remotely being realized by anyone – and especially by those who have been most left out by the abuses of our society – Aly and I have become fast and close friends.
Building off the shared momentum we felt from our participation in larger local Black Lives Matter actions here in Bozeman, we both realized that we wanted to do something that spoke (perhaps sang is a better word) to our shared and broader worldview. We see people who are stuck in their ways, trapped by their lives, unable to express who they might be if they did not fear the eyes of social judgment. We see a lot of people being horrible to each other, too. And we don’t think that those are two unrelated observations. Capitalism conditions us by those who control its ebbs and flows (they claim it’s a market; we say the rich) into particular choices, into particular behaviors, and what capitalism doesn’t do, autocracy does. For us, it is all the same thing; that is, fascism is the fusion of corporate capitalism with government. And we mimic these models in everything; the power relationships go all the way down into our most personal relationships. Exchanges of money and power infect everything we do and everywhere we go and keep us from anything approaching healthy relationships.
So, we developed a tactical umbrella called Bozeman Antifa Dance (& Theatre Collective). The acronym for it is BAD. We want to invite people to use creativity, art, and especially dance and drama as a tactic to take on fascism and all it represents. So, we are not BAD – what a thing to say about us – but we believe in BAD as a set of tactics open to anyone with shared beliefs. Those tactics call for creative expression through dance, song, and acting as part of the cure while being used as a form of direct action in ways to resist injustice in our community and larger society.
Today, we walked through downtown Bozeman for a little while carrying the two signs that you see in the pictures. We weren’t dressed as you see in the picture here, but we took the spirit of our previous evening with us. In the very clothes in the photo, we danced and frolicked along the Madison River and then enjoyed a production of Footloose (about a town where it was illegal to dance) at West Yellowstone’s Playmill Theatre. Today, much in the spirit of the night prior, we put on our best clothes and held signs as we walked, twirled, and sang occasionally on the downtown sidewalks this afternoon. We mostly kept it low key so that we could just observe what two people walking through the streets with these signs might provoke.
And provoke we did, much of it very positive. We met people who wondered what “antifa” means. When explaining what anti-fascism is, we found one man particularly receptive. And as we shared, it shifted to us hearing and holding space for his story and why he found governments and corporations particularly foul and his own sense of how the police only serves the interests of the rich. Another man, a war veteran from Libya, also wondered what “antifa” was and while not fully receptive to the message, told us a tale of his own woe at the hands of police, at how he could not get any treatment for all kinds of sicknesses, and how unfair he felt the patterns of our society are. I wish I could remember his quote about patterns, though we left our conversation all agreeing that it is the patterns of our unjust society that we must break.
Indeed, BAD holds to the principle that dance is a pattern-breaking habit. It is more than a cute, creative tactical choice. If we do not learn to break the patterns that cause injustice in the first place, we will only recreate social injustice. Dancing and other artistic expression more than anything break old patterns and align us more fully with who we were always meant to be as people. If we direct that creative energy and combine it with our thirst for justice for everyone, we have a dancer’s chance of the world we’d like to sing and play in.
It was not all positive reaction, as one man we kept running into was particularly vile and did his very best to abuse and harass Aly – and in my experience, these sorts of men do tend to find the women in any group for their venom. He called her derogatory names, tried to physically intimidate her, spat at her, and said one of the most viciously racist things I’d ever heard involving the “n-word”. The last time we saw him he wished us buried beneath the ground. In a number of other cases, we had dirty looks. Aly, for her part, was completely poised and strong. She kept on walking while standing her ground, and I was proud to stand beside her.
This was all part of the goal – to break patterns. That racist, sexist abusive man walking the streets felt provoked to out himself as such, and that wouldn’t have happened without us there. People with stories to tell would not have told them without us there – only two people undertaking the simple act of holding signs while dressed well, gleaming brightly with smiles that you could still tell we had even as we walked masked. And when we choose to do something more creative, I only expect the conversations and the conflict to grow more intense. Racism, sexism, capitalism, and other nasty isms in our society will not be exposed if people bury them under while continuing their robotic patterns of life. They are still there, as are the patterns, and we will confront them and bring them up to the surface.
This was a promising start, and we invite anyone who is against fascism, against racism, against classism, against sexism anywhere – though particularly in our community – to find your own creative ways so that the conversation rises and that we are forced to confront our patterns and then move and dance as we were always meant to do. We do not need to be part of your BAD action. Anyone can be BAD; just make sure you are antifascist!
Now, in my own life, the activist is back; the dancer has not left. I am happy to fuse all the parts of me into this new endeavor. I’m thankful for a new friend to sing and dance with in the cause of a just world where we may all have the privilege of that freedom.