Emotiolitical 08/10/2011 10:18am

I'm a recovering alcoholic. I haven't had a drink in nearly one and a half years, due in part to a willingness to face facts, and also to the 12 Step program I choose to follow.* My recovery program is my life, and I'm grateful it exists and grateful to be sober today. I bring it up because for the last three days I've been thinking about passion, frustration, anger, fear, politics and theatre. I've talked about how angry I get when politicians suggest my way of thinking is wrong. I've also been kicking around the idea that political art is like a creative defense against other people's "wrong thinking" or emotional salve for those of us who suffer when thinking about all this crap. Bill W, the co-founder of the 12 Steps and Alcoholics Anonymous, had a lot to say about anger and resentment. "If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison." In other words, if you want to stay sober, stay away from argument, retaliation, or anything that stirs you up inside. Wise advice. As an actor, I've never really made choices to take work because of political messaging. I don't think of myself as a political artist. Because of past successes and continued relationships with commercial clients, I'm in a privileged position to take work because I think I'm going to have a good time. If anything I'm a hedonistic artist. So how and why does an ex-drunk non-political artist wind up co-founding a political community organization full of artists? Good question. Uh... Here's what happened. Though I don't think of myself as a political artist, I do think about politics. I pay attention to what's happening on Minnesota Public Radio and read interesting links from politically-minded friends on Facebook. I don't watch television, so I don't feel like my inflow of political news has the sensational, disproportionate amount of spin the majority of Americans has to wade through. Maybe that's naive, but I have yet to see any similarities in the ways MPR and FoxNews deliver the facts. The conservative shift in the Minnesota legislature in the last election got my attention. As much as I'd like to dismiss them as extremists and simple-minded fools with inadequate socioeconomic education, the Tea Party's influence on all of us is huge. Look at Wisconsin. Look at what's happening in the United States legislature. Here in Minnesota, the GOP and its Tea Party bullying and unwillingness to do the business of state politics with dignity and respect brought us the government shut down and the return of Michelle Bachmann's "anti-gay marriage" amendment. I've got real problems with hypocrisy. The Tea Party screams about freedom and yet has no problem telling LGBT citizens they don't deserve it. Though few GOP politicians will admit it, this discriminatory view stems from religious dogma. It is prevailing Christian "wisdom" that tells us God thinks homosexuality is an abomination. Not science. Not fact. Not any information gleaned from observation, analysis, and conclusion. Just human judgment handed down from a book written so long ago there's no consensus on who wrote it, when they wrote it, or what they were trying to say. Despite the fact that our country is founded on the separation of church and state, it seems too many conservatives are willing to fudge things to support their views. I find some of the same fudging in AA. Though AA supports the notion that everyone may search for a spiritual experience and "Higher Power" of their own understanding, which I am in the process of doing, all too often one finds meetings that end with the "Our Father" prayer, which Jesus of Nazareth purportedly shared as part of his Sermon on the Mount. I don't know about you, but if I was Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist or any other kind of non-Christian religious type attending one of these "Our Father" meetings, the "God of my understanding" would sure seem Christian to me. Our country struggles with the same problem. As a non-Christian American, I'm not OK with this. Religious freedom is at the heart of this country's belief system, but nowhere does it say that the majority's religious views should be held by all or that those views should have any bearing on the laws that govern our citizens. When I heard that the Minnesota Senate was going to reintroduce the constitutional amendment to define marriage in the state as being heterosexual only, I had to be there. I wanted to see the faces of the people who thought this was a good idea. I sat in the Senate gallery and watched the whole four hour debacle. When the motion passed and the bill was set to move on to the House, I was furious. The GOP hid behind "let the people vote" to absolve themselves of their wrongdoing. I wanted to leap down onto the Senate floor and grab Senator Limmer by the collar and say, "the people should not be voting on the freedoms of other people! Do you have any idea what the state constitution is for? Who the fuck are you or your constituents to tell me or anyone else what's right or wrong when it comes to sexual orientation? Who are you to tell my next door neighbor that her love for someone isn't legitimate and shouldn't be recognized by the supposedly secular state? Who are you to foist yours and your constituents religious views on me and my friends and family? Do you have any idea what you've done?!" I'm getting angry just thinking about it. I tend to agree that if you're not angry, or at least if you're not emotionally engaged in what's going on, then you're not paying attention. You're asleep at the wheel, which means not only are you allowing bad things to happen to yourself, but you're dangerous to the rest of us, too. Your vote and your words to your fellow humans have value, meaning, and power. I spewed a lot of words all over my Facebook friends and had been for weeks. I started talking about cutting myself off from those who didn't agree with me. I started insulting other people's intelligence. I let my anger lead me. I turned to the Dark Side. It feels good. It always does. Let out some anger. Get your blood pressure up. Tense up your muscles. It almost feels like you just went for a run. There's euphoria in it. The more anger you express, the hotter you get, the bigger the release. It can be addictive. You're high on your own intensity. It also hurts people. You and the people around you. It's hellish. As a newly sober person, I've learned a lot about how my self-centeredness has been my undoing and negatively affected a lot of people. The part of me that wants to be clean and clear doesn't want to live angry. So the Facebook posts stopped. My wife and I talked about what we could actually do. I joined OutFront Minnesota and did some data entry and put together information packets for them. I attended protest rallies. I shouted and held up signs. That felt good, too, but it still wasn't enough. Some acquaintances of ours got a hold of us and shared their anger and frustration, as well as their passion and energy. They wanted to do something, too. We're all actors. Most of our friends are actors and musicians. What can we do as artists? What can artists do? What could ALL of the artists do? Suddenly one of our friends had a name. Minnesota Artists for Equality. Suddenly there was an idea. What if the artists of Minnesota volunteered their time and talents, doing what they do as artists to support the people who need signs, posters, slogans, entertainment for fund raisers, spokespeople, flash mobs, murals, etc? What if we could have an online list of these people that other people could search and find the artists they needed? We came up with language. We shot a teaser video. We brought in people to make the website work. We have T-shirts. We have postcards. We're calling people to action. We exist. And it's working. It's only going to get bigger and better and more useful. So why do this? Because I don't want to be angry. I'm afraid to be angry and resentful. I'm afraid of what I'll do or not do. I'm afraid for my health. I also want to be useful. I'm tired of being a selfish person. I don't want to be one of those people who talks and talks and doesn't act. So now I'm an actor who takes action. Alright. I guess I am a political artist. Just don't ask me to do your political play unless you can GUARANTEE I'm going to have a really, really good time. Up next, I just called this woman who's been reading this blog and wants to have lunch and talk political art. Then I'm going to write about it. *Part of following a 12 Step program is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. If you believe you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, feel free to send them my way.
Headshot of Adam Whisner
Adam Whisner
Emotiolitical: A professional actor turned political activist attempts to connect art, politics, the Fringe, and the desire to change things without being so mad all the damn time.