An Unwelcome Gift from Lincoln Center (and no, it's not a tote-bag!)

by Eric Walton on December 2nd, 2011

by Eric Walton

Lincoln Center has given much to the world of art, and thus given much to the world at large. It’s home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet, and the New York City Opera and since its inception in 1956, has given the world something it desperately needs: a place to enjoy the performing arts. Last night, December 1st, 2011, Lincoln Center gave the world something it decidedly did not need: a new synonym for the word “hypocrisy.”

Satyagraha, the opera by Phillip Glass that closed last night at the Metropolitan Opera, is the story of the early years of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent protest and peaceful resistance in South Africa. And although I have not seen the opera myself and am therefore open to correction on this point, I assume that Satyagraha casts Gandhi and the tactics of non-violence that he and his followers employed, in a favorable light. If so, that is a view apparently not shared by some at Lincoln Center toward actual, living and breathing non-violent protestors in the twenty-first century.

In a breath-taking display of untrammeled hypocrisy and tone-deafness, the powers that be at Lincoln Center, one of the world’s great cultural institutions, blocked the main entrance to Lincoln Plaza (which is, according to my sources anyway, a public space) with steel barricades in order to keep peaceful, non-violent protestors from the Occupy Wall Street movement from assembling there; and in doing so demonstrated plainly and unequivocally that the principles of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience advocated by Gandhi were to be glorified on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, but scorned on the steps of that very same building. It seems that the basis upon which non-violent protest and, for that matter, Constitutional liberties, are to be tolerated in and around Lincoln Center can be summed up in three simple words: location, location, location.
Naturally, the NYPD, to which Mayor Bloomberg had referred only two days earlier as “[his] own army,” were on hand to contend with those who dared to breach the barricade or defy the orders of Lincoln Center’s director of security, Susan Bick. At one point, the hundreds gathered on the sidewalk used the people’s mic to address Bick directly and by name, asking her politely to approach the crowd and discuss her tactics. In response, Bick folded her arms, turned her back, and then defiantly walked away. I can recall no time at which I have been addressed by name by a group of hundreds of people speaking in unison, so in fairness, I can’t say what my response would have been in that situation; but apparently condescension, annoyance, and dismissal were the best Ms. Bick could manage under the circumstances.

Ms. Bick's feckless response was, just like Lincoln Center’s decision to obstruct the right of free assembly of non-violent protestors in a public space on the closing night of an opera about non-violent resistance, a completely wasted opportunity.

Text and image © 2011 Eric Walton

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