Dear Friends and Readers,by Phong Bui
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
– The Declaration of Independence
“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your
government when it deserves it.”
– Mark Twain
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana
“I think I just had to wait for some of my friends to be born.”
– Gloria Steinem
The day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, my partner and I, together with art-world friends and family, filled two buses that took us to the historic Women’s March in Washington, D.C. We all knew in our gut that this event would be remembered with great significance. It began before dawn with our anticipation and ended at dusk. It has not stopped, since this marks the beginning of one of the most epochal moments of unity in this nation’s history. We held high hundreds of thousands of protest signs, and roared our dissent in a thunderous boom, or at times in a dissonant rumble, while marching together before the nation’s Capitol.
All of us felt alive and invigorated with a greater sense of purpose and urgency. I was personally reminded of what my family and millions of Vietnamese survived in Vietnam: how the war intensified under Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration in 1965 with regular bombing of North Vietnam, the Tet Offensive, the Battle of Hue, and the My Lai Massacre. I was reminded of, in the U.S., the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Just after Richard Nixon took office in January 1969, the secret bombings of Cambodia started, followed by his policy of “Vietnamization.” I need not include the full list of horrors, though one staggering and unimaginable fact—not one of Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts,” which are simply lies—was that seven million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during this period (more than twice the amount of bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II).
The Civil Rights Movement, spearheaded in large part by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led to the March on Washington D.C.; one of the SNCC speakers that day, John Lewis, is, today, a national hero and longtime Georgia congressman. Then came the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which gained national prominence by 1965. On October 21, 1967—in reaction to the draft of 40,000 young men per month, when U.S. casualties had reached 15,058 with an additional 109,527 wounded, at the yearly cost of twenty-five billion dollars—over 100,000 protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial; 30,000 continued to march to the Pentagon that night. Concurrently, in 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded, which led to a march on August 26, 1970 of 50,000 people in New York City with another 100,000 women in demonstration and rallies in ninety cities and forty-two states. It was another year before protesters organized simultaneous events and parades commemorating the Stonewall riots, that eventually resulted in the National March on Washington for Lesbians and Gay Rights on October 14, 1979 with 125,000 protesters, and the formation of groups like Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) which now has more than 350 chapters across the country, and more than 200,000 members and supporters. This inevitably gave impetus to the continual fight for the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people by the mid-to-late 1980s.
The birth of the modern environmental movement was the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970—the day twenty million Americans demonstrated in streets, parks, and auditoriums across the nation for environmental sustainability. How can we forget Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962, which raised public awareness about the fragility of the environment, as well as the direct links between pollution and public health?
Our present Women’s March is the first march to reawaken a vast constellation of global communities that have survived long histories of struggle against oppressive forces. This awesome responsibility now belongs to one mighty family of all movements with the brilliant hope of rising above and overcoming all forms of tyranny and exploitation of ethnic, religious, and racial divisions that favors the most abominable elements of our society, like the Ku Klux Klan and other resurgent hate groups by unleashing upsurges of racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and nativism. A baseball metaphor—“America’s favorite pastime”—is appropriate here: as my new friend Clark Winter shared, “baseball is the only sport where stealing is legal.” Yet, in the rules of this game, three strikes and you’re out. Mr. Trump has far exceeded his three strikes in word and tone. Now we must focus on deed, remembering that the power is with the people, and with the press who tell them the truth.
We, as a human collective, have come a long way since the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. According to political scientists from the Universities of Connecticut and Denver, the number of demonstrators in our recent Women’s March was in the ballpark of 3.3 to 4.7 million people, from more than 500 marches, making it the largest demonstration in American history. Attendance in New York alone is estimated to be between 400,000 and 500,000. And, in Washington D.C., over 470,000, not counting those who participated in numerous marches in cities around the world. The beginning.
In the spirit of solidarity,
PS: Thank you to Gessica Lesser for her exceptional attention to detail in organizing the bus to D.C. And congratulations to our friends Casimir Nozkowski and Hannah Bos on the birth of their son Rocket Bos Nozkowski. What a cool name.
PPS: There were also many inspiring recent exhibits in NYC, including Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Margot Norton, and Helga Christoffersen at the New Museum (October 26, 2016 – January 15, 2017); Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, curated by Catherine Morris and Carmen Hermo at the Brooklyn Museum (November 4, 2016 – April 2, 2017); Elizabeth Murray, curated by Carroll Dunham and Dan Nadel at CANADA (December 10, 2016 – January 29, 2017); Tamara Gonzales: Ometeotl at Klaus von Nichtssagend (January 6 – February 12, 2017); Katherine Bradford at Sperone Westwater (January 7 – February 11, 2017); and Marina Adams: Soft Power at Salon 94 (January 13 – February 22, 2017).
PHONG BUI is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.