In reading my Sunday LA times I read two articles that had me more scared for the future of the country than normal. I know we cycle through things, and old ideas, especially in fashion, become new again. It's the idea that everyone is under suspicion in this time of terror activity that is cycling back into our society. Not as blatantly as it did in 2002 but it's still here perculating and it's troubling. It's the concept that as artists with our free speech needs, we can express freely, as long as those ideas are not seen as terrorists ideas by the folks in charge. Remember the vigor McCarthy had in going after writers in Hollywood? Aren't we allowed to be Communists in America? Aren't we, infact, guaranteed that right?
There is an artist named Alex Schaefer who was painting on a street in Van Nuys and received a vist from two local police that wanted to ask him about his painting. Someone "had called in saying they were threatened by his painting" and the police had to investigate. His subject? A Chase bank branch in flames. He was asked about his intentions and if he was a terrorist and if he was going to follow through on the vision in his painting. I'm sure a lot of folks would see this as a good precautionary measure, but here is my issue…
On page A16 there is an article about how the NRA seeks to take another clarifying argument concerning the 2nd Amendment back to the Supreme court to get a ruling that states in plain english that every person in America has the right to carry a concealed weapon. This massive lobby group that is dedicating it's time and considerable money to the principle that we have the right to carry weapons at all times is seen as just defending our rights, but this painter who is expressing himself as an artist, is questioned twice by police about whether his hours spent painting something is really a gateway exercise to the plan to burn down the bank, which is, somehow, a terroist action. Gosh, I wonder if the manager of the bank (who was quoted in the article) called the police saying he was threatened by a man who was painting his branch in flames?
Don't start with the old; "you can't be too careful these days " dialog with me either. That's how McCarthy and Hitler started their reigns of fear, "Everyone is after you! Look! A guy with a paintbrush!!" In the big picture the NRA is doing is what they've always done; fighting to make your world "safer" by defending everyone's right to carry a gun. Ask Gabby Giffords how much safer she feels knowing that all the people of Arizona might soon be allowed to carry guns under their jackets.
So, to summarize… if you express your 1st Amendment right in a safe way, that contains a violent overtone (which is also your right) you are a suspected terrorist and need to clear your intentions with the police. If you lobby the Supreme Court for clairification of the 2nd Amendment that will win the right for all Americans to carry violence in their pockets, you're a patriot fighting for your rights.
Not everyone looks forward to expressing like we do. Artists, you must keep speaking up and making your thoughts known. Because, I ask you; If this man was painting a bakey in flames, do you think he would have been questioned about it? There is a system in America that says "Whoever has the most money is right." We hear it everyday and we learn it with every piece of lousy legislation we are forced to live with.
Paint every feeling you have about the system, write songs, create operas and musicals, write plays, keep expressing as purely as you can. Our connection to the human spirit is the world's only antidote to the corporate message of fear and control that makes my Sunday reading upsetting not just a couple stories about a guy who was rounded up because his painting expressed a vision that was a threat to society, and a huge lobby group that holds the vision that every person you pass should possess a threat to society and is getting ready argue for that vision with the highest court in the land.