FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Come Dance With Me … and Thomas Jefferson

“Music, this favorite passion of my soul.”

–Thomas Jefferson

Dancing can be dangerous. In Ceausescu’s Romania I was arrested for dancing without a partner. In newly independent Guinea Bissau, my dancing partner was thrown in jail for boogying before the President and his wife had the first dance. In Cuba I was awoken at 4 am to bail out a friend who had been locked up for “lesbian dancing.” And in Afghanistan I narrowly escaped arrest for dancing on a “men-only” dance floor. On each occasion I was shocked by the misuse of government power and disrespect for personal freedom.

So I naturally felt the same sense of outrage when I heard about the case of Mary Brooke Oberwetter, who was arrested for dancing quietly (with a headset on) at the Jefferson Memorial back in 2008. She sued the Park Police, lost and then appealed. On May 17, 2011 the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against her, saying that that dancing at memorials is forbidden “because it stands out as a type of performance, creating its own center of attention and distracting from the atmosphere of solemn commemoration.” Never mind that Oberwetter was arrested at midnight, when there was nobody but her and her friends around. Never mind that tourists at these memorials are always talking loudly, posing for photos and making all kinds of “distractions.” Never mind that dance can be a way to express joy at the freedoms espoused by our founding fathers.

To protest this absurd ruling, some folks put out a call on Facebook to gather on Saturday, May 28, to dance at the Memorial. I heard about it from my friend Adam Kokesh, an Iraq war vet and producer of the show Adam vs. the Man on the network Russia Today. A committed libertarian, Adam decided to help spread the word and join the protest.

It was Memorial Day weekend. My partner Tighe Barry and I were on our way to New York, but we decided to make a quick trip to the Memorial to support the dancers. When we got there, two park policemen were talking to the group. We moved closer to hear what they were saying and overheard someone ask the police how they define dancing. Tighe put his arms around my waist and started swaying, illustrating how hard it is to define what, precisely, is dancing.

Suddenly, to our utter amazement, we were set upon by the police. They yanked us apart, handcuffed us and shoved us on the ground. That’s when three members of the group put on their headsets and started boogying. The police went wild, bodyslamming, chokeholding, and jumping on top of them. The police cleared out the entire Memorial as if they were protecting the tourists from some kind of terrorist threat, then threw us in a paddywagon and hauled us off to jail. Three hours later, after mug shots and fingerprinting, we were charged with “dancing in a restricted area” and cited to come back to court.

But then something even more remarkable happened. We looked online and discovered that a video taken of the event was already out, and had gone viral. In just a few hours, thousands had seen it and were reposting it all over cyberspace. Other video versions began popping up, and the media starting calling. We were on Fox News, CNN, the Washington Post. In a few days, over 1 million people had seen a version of the video, and over 10,000 people were engaging in an intense on-line debate about it. Sure, some thought we “got what we deserved,” but most were as outraged as we were?and they wanted to do something about it.

So we decided to invite people back again, the next Saturday, to dance. Adam put up a Facebook event page, and before the week’s end, over 2,500 people had signed up.

Of all the issues I have been part of in recent years?protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Wall Street banksters, the BP oil spill, attacks on immigrants, draconian drug laws?few have struck a chord like this. People around the nation, both progressive and conservative, are appalled that the police would so violently arrest people for dancing?silently?in a memorial built to a man who was this nation’s most passionate defender of the rights of the individual against the state. It was, after all, Jefferson who asked, “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” It was also Jefferson who warned that “a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

The interior walls of the Jefferson Memorial are engraved with passages from Jefferson’s writings and on the southwest wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

What could be more emblematic of the pursuit of happiness than dance? Surely Jefferson, an avid fiddler and jig lover, would agree.

If you are in the DC area, come join us Saturday, June 4th at noon at the Jefferson Memorial. You don’t have to risk arrest. You can dance on the steps (legal), you can observe (legal) or, you can bring your dancing shoes and your smoothest moves. If you can’t come, you can sign this petition to the DC Park Police urging them to Let the Dancers Dance.

So this Saturday, we’ll be dancing in reverence to Thomas Jefferson’s spirit of resistance. We’ll be dancing to reclaim our nation’s memorials for us, the people. We’ll be dancing because we are freedom-lovers and want to preserve our freedoms. Most important, we’ll be dancing for the pure joy of dancing.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and the human rights group Global Exchange.

 

 

More articles by:

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human right organization Global Exchange. Follow her on twitter at @MedeaBenjamin.

August 16, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
“Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare
W. T. Whitney
New Facebook Alliance Endangers Access to News about Latin America
Ramzy Baroud
Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege
Larry Atkins
Why Parkland Students, Not Trump, Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize
William Hartung
Donald Trump, Gunrunner for Hire
Yves Engler
Will Trudeau Stand Up to Mohammad bin Salman?
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Morality Tales in US Public Life?
Vijay Prashad
Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist
Binoy Kampmark
Boris Johnson and the Exploding Burka
Eric Toussaint
Nicaragua: The Evolution of the Government of President Daniel Ortega Since 2007 
Adolf Alzuphar
Days of Sagebrush, Nights of Jasmine in LA
Robert J. Burrowes
A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail