Brick X Brick’s Socially Engaged Performances Protest US Policies that Uphold White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Rape Culture by Ada Pinkston
On October 5th, I woke up at 5:00 am without an alarm. Mostly because my anxiety has increased since I have heard the echoes of war drums being beaten by this current presidential administration. Beyond the war drums that are being produced in the face of consequences of global warming, world famine, right wing fascism with white supremacy, and increased xenophobia throughout the world, there are the impacts and consequences of the current political powers and agendas of the United States of America.
I volunteered to work with Sarah Sandman and Jessica Brown of Brick x Brick to build a wall against patriarchy, white supremacy, and the policies of this administration including inducting Brett Kavanaugh onto The United States Supreme Court. If you feel like we are in the twilight zone, know that you are not alone.
Brick x Brick is a socially engaged performance and design project by Sarah Sandman, Andrea Lauer, Joey Foster Ellis and Kyra Gaunt implemented by an amazing team of artists, designers, and choreographers in Brooklyn and beyond. The work started in August 2016, shortly before 45 was elected President. At this point, the design of the jumpsuits began, fundraising started, and these costumes that carry the weight of the problematic statements made by 45 over the years were produced, with phrases on our jumpsuits like “Grab ’em by the pussy.”
Their first intervention wall was on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. And October 5th was the most recent of the countless public performative interventions enacted across the country over the last two years.
“Many people ask me, do you think that your project is changing minds? The truth is ‘no,’” says Sarah Sandman. “It started that way. I thought we could bring attention to undecided white women before the 2016 election to turn their backs on Trump and sexism. But over the past two years a new impact has revealed itself. I’ve seen this collective, grassroots project bring unfathomable solidarity and raw love (in) the face of public trauma. I believe art, when combined with protest, results in collective healing. When we get together and put our bodies where are hearts are, we fulfill an indescribable human need. And right now, we need our collective voice to be heard and collective heart to be healed.”
On the first day of our performative protest which took place on October 5, 2018, we met at Union station. We were a group of women of various ages and races from different parts of the country. All of us wore the Brick X Brick costumes. We moved around different parts of the capital and attempted to stand side by side, holding hands and to perform this wall. However, our wall was never fully built or static on October 5th because we were faced with the choice by the capitol police: either move or be arrested. Once we finally found a place to stand without the intervention of state censorship, we were accosted by an angry white supremacist.
Why was I out there? I thought that by standing to create that wall, we could voice our dissent in the trajectory of this government. We need checks and balances in our government in order for it to work effectively. And right now, I am afraid that the combination of power, privilege, and wealth will cause our future to be more bleak than I thought before. In reality, the President is just a figurehead. It remains to be seen how Obama’s policies were drastically different from the current administration. (We can look at the number of drones that were dropped over the years he was in control of the White House as a concrete example of that.) But this writing is not about my perspective of politics, but the ways that we can use our skills, tools, and resources to make our voices heard on a national and global scale.
The performance is a simple gesture. People standing side by side, in silence, for a durational period of time, staring out into space. Each performer has a different intention that they set for themselves. Naoko Wowsugi told me that she was sending positive energy and meditation to Dr. Blasey Ford. I myself was meditating on the injustice of the criminal justice system. Either way, our voices remain stoic for the duration of the performance. We are the embodiment of a wall. A wall that is built against oppression and tyranny.
This performance is meant to be durational in time (for at least one hour). However, we could not start the full performance on the first day. Every time we tried to join hands to stand in our performative wall against oppression, we were interrupted.
The first location that we attempted to build our wall against patriarchy was in the state office building. Here, we walked in past security. Then we entered the main room entrance. Immediately after we walked in to this room a courteous capitol police officer walks up to us and says. “I’m just telling you, this is warning number one.”
After this warning, the stress and tension in the room increased, and so did the tension of the Brick x Brick group. We then moved outside of the building and convened as a group to check in on everyone’s relative comfort. Many of the people in our group were not willing or able to get arrested that day. The inability for most of the people in our group to be arrested stems from a variety of issues from not having enough money for bail to immigration status. We then walked out of that building to go to the next site and build our performative wall against white supremacy, patriarchy, and rape culture.
Then we went to the steps of the Senate. We were told we could not stand on the steps of the Senate as soon as we walk towards it.
Then a white man came out of nowhere who said he is a lawyer from DC and he expressed his extreme dismay over the fact that a location where people usually go to take photos can not be stood on by us because of our costumes. Our costumes equated protest in the judgement of the police officer. These types of rules and regulations are always subjectively decided upon on the spot. At that a point, we proceeded to take pictures incredibly fast for the press on the steps.
Across the pathway, people were speaking out at the rally. We stood still on the grass in front of the capital. Here, we were able to do the performance and take the necessary photos to ensure that our performance carried a huge impact.
Really, it did not matter where we were. People noticed and read the details of the Brick X Brick whenever we stood side by side, holding hands.
At the end of the day we were berated by an aggressive white supremacist man with no shoes and no shirt. He screamed and yelled while we stood holding hands. Screaming and yelling all sorts of crazy messages. Here he was running around us with no shoes or shirt on declaring emphatically, “You’re baby killers, you’re evil, the wrath of god is upon you!”
One of the people in the group told me that she doesn’t think he’s crazy, she thinks he was just racist and blinded by his hatred and that is why he felt so emboldened in his message.
Either way, it felt like I was in the twilight zone. I left that Friday at around 1:00pm after I heard that Susan M. Collins, a swing vote Senator from Maine announced that she would vote for Brett Kavanaugh. If this person is as non-partisan as she claims to be, then she would not have made this vote. Additionally, it is appalling to me the way that white women have demonstrated how much they are a part of their own oppression. It is not surprising, because this is the reality of the history that we come from: the role of white women in a plantation society was always clearly above all of the slaves. But if a person who is a politician that speaks of this need to make choices across party lines makes a choice that is clearly in opposition to the facts of the matter, then what else am I to see, think, and hear?
Judge Kavanaugh lied multiple times in his testimony. This is a fact. He never took a polygraph test. This is also a fact. Senator Collins did not vote on the right side of history. Neither did Senator Manuchin, a so-called Democrat. Neither did many other Republicans who are currently sitting at the table of political power of the Senate. And perhaps it is this thirst and desire for maintaining power that made them vote without a conscious.
On Saturday, October 6th we were faced with more courteous Capital police force telling us where we could and could not stand. At the beginning of the second day of our performative intervention, there were litterally only four people willing and able to take a part in this action. We were, literally four women, wearing costumes standing in our silent protest. But the power of the image of all of us wearing these costumes is what made our performance loud.
As soon as we banded together and held hands, there were more police that stopped us. They told us that we could not stand on the steps of the Supreme Court and protest. Sarah, our fearless, courageous lead artist was like: “We just have on outfits that say what Donald Trump says. If that is a protest, what about everyone else standing on the steps with protest t-shirts and MAGA hats?”
The officer said, “Well, you are drawing attention to yourself with those outfits.” And what if we had on red dresses? The idea that because we are drawing attention to ourselves we could be arrested is exactly the issue with the current state of politics and the continued imbalance of the judicial system.
We stood together on those steps for a few moments, took a few pictures, and then were told to move otherwise we would be arrested immediately, with no warning.
Then, we went down into the crowd and stood still for an hour and a half. In silence. Holding hands. We still drew attention to ourselves even though we were not on the steps. That is is the power of performance art as an act of protest. Over time, more women joined on. And our group of four women expanded into seven women.
During this silent protest, many people stopped to watch or pass by. There were other people there who were not in support of a Kavanough confirmation and there to protest along with us. There were school groups from all around the country. Some groups had entire classes of white students with one or two people of color. In one group, there were 18-20 teenagers. Two of these young people had on MAGA hats. Some of these young people ogled and smirked at us and our costumes as they passed by. The adults in this tourist crowd seemed happy, as it became clear that the votes were in favor of a new Supreme court Justice who is clearly a liar, not at all impartial and very far to the right.
There were hundreds of anti-Kavanugh protestors on the streets of the capital. And then, there were handful of counter-protestors. In all of my 35 years of living, and attending protests, I have never encountered as much antagonism as I experienced in the past two days.
The man with no shirt and shoes showed up again, this time with a pink sign. Conservative media outlets wearing MAGA and NRA hats came in to antagonize protesters. And the ideas of logic never came to the table of any debate.
I attempted to engage in a dialogue with one of these conservative outlets, and they expressed how glad they were that Kavanagh was appointed, integrating God and morals whenever they felt it was relevant. Which makes no sense to me because if we were to consider god and morals then they would not be supporting a man who has been accused by multiple women of being immoral. It is clear that all of the women have nothing to gain by stepping forward. So the fact that conservative media outlets are brainwashing and indoctrinating people to believe things like women who step forward about sexual assault are lying is astounding.
After the votes were announced, a group of posters lined up to get arrested by standing on the capitol steps. After protester number one was arrested and the crowd (which was in the hundreds) started cheering, it seemed like the police stopped arresting the protesters.
After it was announced that not only did Kavanaugh have all of the votes, he was getting sworn in, a group of at least 300 protestors stormed the steps of the Supreme Court. At this point, all of the police went inside of the building. Perhaps it was decided that the optics of arresting hundreds of more people after the swearing in of this Supreme Court Justice would not look good for any global or national news outlet. So they let the protestors stand on the steps in the building. That was a good choice. We are in a moment of extreme polarization. The polarization that this country is currently experiencing echoes the scabs left behind by the polarization that was present during the Civil War.
However, it hurt my heart to see that ALL media outlets, labeled “conservative” and “liberal” did not cover the power of the protests. Why did they make the choice not to show these important moments? Perhaps someone saw that it may polarize the country even more than it is?
I have a friend whose mother is a professor in Providence. She went to an anti-Kavanaugh protest there and was trampled by a conservative protestor. Thankfully, one of her students was there to protect her and take the blows. But this is one of the many examples of the polarized state of this country. Is this polarization new? No. But it is escalating. And that is why now more than ever, people who are in the middle need to take a stand against oppression and ignorance.
What really hurts my heart are white women supporting Kavanaugh and therefore upholding and internalizing their own oppression. There were two white women from a conservative media outlet with shirts that said: “Women in Support of Kavanaugh.” Then there were women who stood there and tried to debate with me and other anti-Kavanaugh protestors to say that, “If a woman lies about a man raping her, should she go to jail?” I responded yes, everyone and anyone that commits perjury should go to jail. That includes The President, Kavanaugh, and every other man in power. The men wearing the NRA hat and the MAGA hat looked at me and did not respond.
This simple performance that gained an incredible amount of attention is something that speaks to the power of art — when we use it for good. When it is used for wrongdoing, then we see advertisements that manipulate and expound the idea of multiculturalism with no substance behind it. The court is meant to keep the government in a constant state of checks and balances. However, the ruling made on Saturday October 6th is setting the stage for this mounting tension and divide to continue to escalate.
Sarah left the suits for Brick By Brick with us in DC. We have the suits to continue our performance of building a wall against 45 and policies that uphold white supremacy, patriarchy, and rape culture.
After I wrote this essay, more things came up in the news cycle. An Addendum is below.
Kavanough was elected and sworn in on Saturday, October 6, 2018. Monday the powers that be did a ceremonial swearing in. Kavanugh then made a promise to keep an all female team of law clerks in his office. This makes him the first Justice in history to have an all-female support staff. Would this have happened if hundreds of people did not storm the steps of the Supreme Court on October 6th? No. Will these women in his cabinet be susceptible to the whims of his patriarchal, anti-feminist approach to life? Probably so. Will the women who are his support staff ensure that he makes choices that are not grounded in internalized oppression or desire to fall within the boundaries and standards predetermined by party lines? Where will the women he hires this year be employed five, ten, twenty years from now? Time will tell.
Looking ahead to mid-term elections, some political analysts say that Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas can potentially turn blue. Yesterday was the last day to register to vote in many states. If you want to find out where and how to register to vote in your state, now is the time to participate in your democracy.