(from Associate Artist in Residence, Jennifer Mendenhall)
Ignorance is bliss. Until it’s not. Then comes guilt, recrimination, and feeling like a fool.
I just closed Imagining Madoff, in which I played The Secretary who is, in the playwright Deb Margolin’s words, “bloated with remorse”. She questions how she could have been so blind to the activity on the floor below hers in the building where Bernie Madoff conducted his infamous Ponzi scheme, stealing 65 billion dollars and ruining so many people’s lives and financial security. She feels guilty about the man in Europe who, after losing all his clients’ money, jumped out of a window to his death. “I feel I played a part. I had a small part”.
Tonight we read After The Fall on the first day of our rehearsal process. I play Holga, a German woman who, once she became aware of the concentration camps, worked as a courier for the men who were planning Hitler’s assassination. She says to Quentin: “It was my country – longer, perhaps, than it should have been. But I didn’t know. And now I don’t know how I could not have known”.
The moment that those words came out of my mouth, I gasped, Ari laughed, and Jose Carresquillo (our director) lifted his hands in a gesture of “how is this possible?”
Two women, years apart, guilty of the same crime: ignorance. We are all in some way guilty of choosing to remain ignorant of certain things. There is so much that we have no control of. It becomes an unbearable task to move forward with one’s life, knowing that one cannot change an evil of which one is aware. So we choose. We do the best we can. We are as honest as we can be. And we turn a blind eye when it all becomes too much.
I spend an inordinate amount of time on facebook, because that is where I get the news that’s not in the Washington Post, which I read daily. One story that you won’t see much about in mainstream media is “Occupy Wall Street”. This is an anti-corporation, anti-Wall Street protest now in its second week. People are gathering peacefully but vocally to protest the choke hold of corporations on wealth and politics in America. Protesters are young and old – there’s a group of septuagenarians called Raging Grannies – white, black and brown, urban and from the suburbs, and from other states as well.
The NYPD has responded with aggression, using pepper spray on protestors who are standing still, behind police barricades. There is a clip of an officer slamming a young man’s head into a parked car. Police have been filmed hand cuffing the grannies, pressing old necks to the pavement and holding them there under uniformed knees.
Say what you will about the content of the protest: you may not think that the divide between rich and poor has become untenable, and you may not feel that the political process in this country is unhealthy and unfair. You might believe that the protesters are wrong to target Wall Street, with its hedge fund traders and their billion dollar bonuses, banks we bailed out which have reported their highest profits in years, and the whole corporation kingdom, whose CEOs donate millions to politicians (can you say Koch brothers?)
But the issue of police aggression should definitely be publicized in our mainstream media, and those officers should be held accountable for violating our right, as citizens of a free country, to express our opinion peaceably without fear of violent reprisal.
Laurence O’Donnell of msnbc filmed a “The Last Word” segment on police brutality, which includes detailed clips of the scene on Wall Street. He is scathing in his report, condemning the American police force in general, not just the NYPD. He refers back to Rodney King’s beating in LA, which could not be covered up because a civilian had captured it on film. Many of us were shocked, O’Donnell says, but not black Americans: “there’s a Rodney King every day in this country, and black America has always known that”.
Occupy Wall Street, and the police brutality occurring in New York City, is barely being reported in the mainstream press, and you don’t have to be a conspiracy nut to think it’s because Wall Street owns the mainstream press.
I do not want to say what my characters do: how could I not have known? It is always easier to believe what the reigning powers would like you to think. And the oppressed are usually portrayed in negative terms, which makes dismissing them that much more justifiable.
Until it’s not.