“The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people”.—Glen Greenwald, writing in The Intercept
Although seemingly an eternity, it’s only been a week since the US woke up with perhaps the worst case of collective bed head since Richard Nixon departed on Marine One for a legacy of ignominy. Our country survived that crook; it’s too early to know if we’ll survive a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, con man. One thing is for certain. The White House is about to undergo a tasteless makeover that will benefit few, astonish most everyone, and likely damage (if not destroy) the lives of many. Don’t fret, there is something to be done. But I get ahead of myself. Bear with me first for some post-election analysis of Cut Your Hair in the Socialist Style.
Foremost. Big hugs to collaborator and barber-in-residence, Sarah Star. And to guest barber, Phyllis Manley of Phyllis’ Barber Shop. And to our guest artists/community activists/folks in-need-of-a-haircut (in order of appearance): Dylan Mortimer, Misha Kligman, Amber Hansen, Nicholas Ward, Kendall Harbin, Dina Newman, and Brandon Forest Fredrick. And to the many who participated in our series of salon-within-a-salon events. And to MC MCL who graciously manned our propaganda table and helped with our installations. Shout out to The Drugstore KC, our temporary venue, and to Farm to Market Bread Company and Boulevard Beer for supplying locally produced fare to feed and quench our souls. And of course, to Charlotte Street Foundation, the Spencer Museum of Art at Kansas University, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, organizations who implement the Rocket Grants program, which made this work possible.
A reminder those whose locks have grown a bit unruly over the past weeks. Cut Your Hair in the Socialist Style events took place in a working barbershop and each program bore the name of a current hairstyle. Thus, the Disconnected Undercut, the Fade, and Center Part referred to programs about: 1) why socialism is/and has been a term used to undercut credibility in this country; 2) the role of artists in bringing community together to reach a shared consensus about collective stories; and 3) novel ways of activating your community, neighborhood, and as importantly, yourself (note to self: feed your people with a potluck).
In case you decided to skip directly to the comments, I’ll simplify the programming. It was never, ever, about socialism. Or Bernie Sanders. Or Pope Francis. Or who you should vote for in the last election. Except for yourself. That’s the person you should vote for. As well as your sisters and brothers of all colors, creeds, and persuasions who are united with you in the struggle to improve the lives of the collective good of all people. Not some people. Not just those people who think like you do. Who dress like you do. Who act like you. Who talk and look like you. But all of us. Vote for the common good of people, our country, and the world. Enough of that. Let’s get down to analyzing the votes because the pundits, like the institutions they cater to, and who support them, got it all wrong. And have gotten it wrong for a long time.
In the closing weeks of the Presidential election, we asked Cut Your Hair in the Socialist Styles attendees to vote. Vote for whatever you wish—preferably not a candidate—because our project was a platform for ideas, rather than politicians. Politicians have enough platforms. People do not. We were interested in the people’s voice. And the people spoke. There was only one caveat, ballots had to be validated with your thumbprint. We did that for several reasons. In many parts of the world, where getting to a polling place is not easy, and people often have very limited opportunity for self-expression, a mark on your thumb to indicate you voted in an election is a badge of honor. It can also be a mark (or its absence), that could get you killed in some parts of the world. We wanted you to take your voting rights seriously and we wanted you to carry forth a temporary tattoo of our project into the world. If only for a day or two beyond our barbershop so that you might reflect upon what happened therein. We also gave you a sticker. Because we like stickers and know that you do as well. Stickers are great. Stickers are fun. But stickers are not a substitute for democracy. Or action.
We tallied the ballots on the second Monday of November and held off reporting them so as not to sway the outcome of the (now ill-fated) election that took place the following day. The results turned out to be prescient. Remember we asked people to vote for ideas, rather than candidates.
Things to note about the voting patterns. People voted for in increasing order: tasty treats, opportunities, things or people, and civic duties. A few votes were nullified because voters did not authenticate them. Tasty treats were things like free stuff and chocolate. Equal pay for women, release from student debt, and legalization of marijuana were opportunities that voters saw. The largest voting block referred to civic duties: equality, justice, reconciliation, humility, love, and trust are examples of what was written. Some voters did write in candidate names and in what was a surprising outcome, Hillary Clinton, received slightly fewer votes than one other candidate, Bob the Plumber. That seemed funny the day before the election but now seems telling. Look to the pundits for a deeper analysis of why, but more importantly, and this is something you can take away, we found people are largely driven to action by what they perceive as their civic and just duty. It’s wrong-headed to assume that others who may have a different set of priorities than yours, lack a sense of values that places the collective good at the top. Moving everyone to civic action is the trickiest part and the next step to be taken. And one not to be taken lightly. Get a haircut and freshen up before you begin because the tasks we face will not be easy.
The barbershop is closed for business until further notice. We will return but in a different form and with some different approaches.We are asking ourselves, how did we get here? and what can we do about it? We have not abandoned hope, although we our taking time to reflect upon our accomplishments, our missed opportunities, and quite frankly, the noticeable failure of many, many others to wake up to the relational difference between current power structures (including arts institutions) and the lives that most Americans lead. Meanwhile, we will keep the razors finely honed, the scissors sharpened, and the propaganda mirrored to the face of the status quo. We will be the hair tonic that soothes your dry and aching scalp.
We want to leave you with a reminder that hashtags, i.e. #cutyourhairinthesocialiststyle, never completely go away. Sometimes they are front and center, sometimes they appear to fade from views. But they remain, lurking in the background, ready to spring forth again.
Soldiers! Citizens of the Republic! The question we first posed remains, ‘Are you doing enough’? Let us hope so.
Yours in solidarity and love,
m.o.i. and Sarah Star for Cut Your Hair in the Socialist Style
Hear the artists discuss the project on ArtSpeak radio. Learn more about the project here. And here. And here. View socialist hairstyles from some people you may know. And some that you don’t.
Propaganda from Cut Your Hair in the Socialist Style, as well as other works by m.o.i. and Sarah Star, are currently on view through the end of 2016 at the Blue Valley Library, 9000 W 151st St, Overland Park, KS, as part of the Johnson County Library’s Bear Witness.