A man stands in a black robe and hood, arms outstretched in a crucifixion pose. The image is newly infamous, emblematic of the rapidly escalating Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal in Iraq. But in this case, the hooded man is not an Iraqi prisoner, and he is not terrified. He's hanging out with college friends in a Capitol Hill apartment amid scissors, thread and scraps of black fabric. He and seven other members of Creative Resistance, an Auraria campus-based group of theatrical radical activists, are preparing for the next day's protest, and they're having a damn good time.
Pizza boxes, PBR cans and cigarette butts litter the apartment they've holed up in while trying to determine how to counter United States Army recruiters scheduled to appear on campus in just under twenty hours.
Their plan, in broad strokes, is to have two of their male members, dressed in the black costumes, stand in silent protest on either side of the recruiters' "Army of One" Hummer. After the Army reps set up their usual rock-climbing wall, one of Creative Resistance's more agile members will approach the recruiters, ask a few questions and then request to scale the wall. Once at the top, this activist will unfurl a protest banner and refuse to descend, presenting the recruiters with a dilemma: Allow the protester to remain, or yank him down by his top rope, potentially injuring him in the process. The third element of their plan comes down to this crucial question: To puke or not to puke?
The activists debate at length whether one of their members should be led on all fours by a leash in a replication of another of the repulsive Abu Ghraib photographs, approach the Army recruiting table, announce "War makes me sick," then vomit on the army's table of propaganda pamphlets, at the feet of the recruiters, on the sidewalk or, if doable, all three.
"College students vomit every weekend in the name of drunken recreation," says Creative Resistance co-founder Lindsey Trout. "We can at least vomit once for peace and justice."
The volunteer vomiters have experimented repeatedly with syrup of ipecac versus the more traditional finger-down the-throat method, and have gained confidence in their synchronized vomiting ability.
But some members feel that actual spewing is unnecessarily sensational. And with the hour growing late, members of the Resistance, who reach all decisions by consensus, decide to table the puking issue until a second planning session the following morning.
There are more than fifty members of Creative Resistance, most of them majoring in philosophy, art and political science. They are an officially registered campus group, dedicated to guerrilla street theater and other non-traditional forms of protest. Their agenda is primarily anti-war at present, but their causes also include workers' rights, abortion rights, anti-racism, feminism and combating the influence of multinational corporations. As a group, Creative Resistance has done its thing at more than fifty events just in the previous six months, including Transform Columbus Day and ESPN X-Games Rock the Vote.
In early March, the members spent ten hours around a flagpole near the center of the Auraria campus, drawing 10,282 chalk body outlines to represent the most widely accepted estimate of the number of Iraqi civilian casualties in the first year of the war.
"It was an artistic attack on apathy, which is really what we're all about," says Creative Resistance co-founder Zoe Williams.
Many of the members also perform as part of Denver's "Radical Cheerleaders" squad, the local manifestation of an international ironic, satirical, grassroots protest movement. Jared Rice, whose nom de cheer is Captain Pinko, performs in pink shades, Soviet combat boots and a cape fashioned from a hammer-and-sickle banner. "The goal of radical cheerleading is to make protests more fun and more accessible," he says. "At every protest, there's always the brilliant speaker who makes people pensive instead of excited. That's where the cheerleaders step in."
One of the radical squads' most popular cheers is titled "Riot, Don't Diet," which the local cheerleaders performed at a massive March 20 peace rally in Denver marking the first anniversary of the ground invasion of Iraq. Mockingly mimicking mainstream cheerleading styles, part of the cheer goes:
"Riot!" Clap, stomp, clap. "Don't diet! Get up, get out and try it! If Cosmo makes you sick and pale, you know what to do: Mol-o-tov Cocktail!"
Williams also pens original works, having recently written a parody of the "Star-Spangled Banner," called the "Radical National Anthem," that goes like this:
Oh, say, can you see/By the TV's blue light/When democracy failed/And Wall Street was scheming/The jail stripes and iron bars/Left the ghettos in scars/From our sofas we watched/As the nation was screaming/And the missiles red glare/Star Wars nukes in the air/If you're not rich and white/Then your rights are stripped bare/Oh, say, will that blood-spattered dollar yet reign/In the land of corporate greed/And the home of the slave."
Right-wing talk-radio host Mike Rosen is no fan of Creative Resistance's message or medium, especially after Williams berated him at a campus rally for his comments defending the embattled University of Colorado football-recruiting program. Since then, his producers have hounded her with calls, challenging her to come on his show for a debate. He has repeatedly called Williams out on air, branding her the leader of "a group of silly young radical feminists."
"She brought my name up at one of their hate rallies," Rosen says, "and she said she was going to call my show every day, and she never did, so we're calling her. I'd love to have her on. It would be an adversarial forum, but a civil one."
It's an invitation Williams has thus far refused. "Mike Rosen is obviously secretly in love with me," Williams says. "He's really approaching stalker point with all these calls.
"The Radical Cheerleaders are here to take the 'Kumbaya' out of rallies," she adds. "The same-old, same-old protest movement listens to 'Imagine' and 'Give Peace a Chance.' The revolution has Radical Cheerleaders. I could edit all our cheers to become 'If Cosmo makes you sick and pale, you know what to do: write a letter of complaint,' but, come on, that sucks, and it's boring."
With the black-robe costumes sewn and a few more PBRs consumed, the meeting of the Creative Resistance turns into a lively rant session in which the activists sound off on the war and the trade embargo against Cuba.
While the music of the classic hip-hop protest group Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy plays in the background, prospective new member Moura Connoa sits quietly in a corner for most of the meeting. When she discusses her reasons for coming, though, she is met with a respectful silence.
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She's from Texas, she says, and has a friend who joined the Army to be a medic. He was stationed in Baghdad first, and now he's in Karbala, where heavy fighting takes place daily. "I talked to him three mornings ago, and he told me five of his friends have been killed. He's seen friends with their deltoids blown off. He's been there a year, with no days off. His leave's been canceled, he has no idea how long he's going to be there, and I just think he's done enough. I want him to come home, so I'm just here to learn more about politics."
A few minutes later she leaves with Trout, after making plans with the others to rendezvous on campus an hour before the Army recruiters are supposed to arrive.
The next day, just after noon, the recruiters roll on to campus with a semi truck and a Humvee. They take one look at the approaching silent figures in black hoods and robes, hastily pack up their gear and beat a fast retreat. There will be no puking this day. But that's okay with Williams.
"I'm going to the Republican convention this summer, and they make me sick, too."