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Transcript Arlene Goldbard: Bottom-up Self-Censorship, Top-down Consensus Reality

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A.G.: Well cultural citizenship is a term for something very fuller than legal citizenship. So you know you or I may be citizens of the United States, we may have the papers, the entitlement, we can vote, that kind of thing. But it may be that we are not given the fullness of cultural citizenship which is to feel at home in our communities. To feel that our own contributions count as much as anyone else's, to feel that there's equal acknowledgment for our roles in shaping the world that we live in, to feel that our beliefs, our celebrations, our aspirations, our commemorations have equal validity with other people to understand that our past is worth preserving inside the public memory.

I could go on and on and on, so we all know lots of people who may have actual legal citizenship but to whom the fullness of cultural citizenship, that true feeling of belonging has been denied on account of all forms of discrimination, right? Racism, the anti-immigrant feeling that is so pervasive in this country now. The differential ways that men and women are treated. Questions of ability, these all shape whether someone is truly able to experience full cultural citizenship or not, and full cultural citizenship should be our aspiration. You know, it-

R.K.: Absolutely. I think the opposite of this sense of full cultural citizenship is disconnection and I recently interview Keith Farnish who wrote a book called Undermining which gives this thorough, very complete list of all the different ways that Datastan, as you describe it, or "the System" intentionally and systematically disconnects us from that state that you're describing that is so necessary.

Now you have, I just went through the first four, then you have creativity as the sixth which is kind of obvious but then you have another one, connectivity as one of the skills for artists and for the people who are engaged in the Arab Spring. You talk about the person-to-person horizontal relationships that create community. Can you talk a little bit about that connectivity and how that fits in with these other five?

A.G.: Sure, absolutely. You know there's a practical way that I talk about in my book, for example that section is in the context of a communication I had with one of the leaders of the uprising in Tunisia a few years ago and he and his colleagues were activists in the international coalition around net neutrality and restricted internet aspect.

That's one idea of connectivity but more importantly I think it's the question of what are all the different modes of communication possible between us and how do we want to be communicated with. A lot of the communication that I am on the receiving end is a lot of more or less electronic yelling at me by somebody who wants to sell me something. And that's not true connectivity. You talked earlier about new digital technologies and the way they're opening up the possibility of multi-directional communication.

Back in the 30's, Brandt pointed out that as radio networks have been set up a little bit earlier in the century around the world, that every radio transmitter is potentially a receiver too and the decision was made to use those technologies as modes of uni-directional communication.

So when I talk about connectivity I am talking about people who understand that multi-directional communication is the only possibility for true democracy, and who understand that it's not just the sending of a linear logical message from one place to another but that images, music, other kinds of sounds, many different artifacts of a particular moment indicate often much more powerfully even than the traditional old-style communication.

And artists of course are the people who are so adept at doing this, I mean that's why zillions of them work for advertising agencies. Again, just like story is intrinsically neutral, you can tell a story to justify the old order. There are artists who work to justify the old order as well but the ones I am interested in are the ones who see the potential for real democracy. For a social order of justice tempered by-

R.K.: I'm talking to Arlene Goldbard, she is, you can find her info at and she is the author of The Culture of Possibility; Art, Artists, and the Future . And you know, what you have described, what I take from; the reason I got into this book was because of the way it creates such a different alternative to most of the people I talk to about how to make change happen. Most of the people I have talked to are activists and I think you're an activist, too.

But they're activists who engage in civil disobedience, and protests, and who organize rallies and petitions and things like this, and what I am getting from your book is that profound powerful changes can happen by, in addition to those things or instead of them, looking at stories and looking at applying stories and getting people to embrace them and share them and working in all different kinds of art.

I have a friend, she goes out and provides art experiences to different groups of people and I have observed it on one occasion and it was unbelievable to see the changes in the people just by going through the process of painting flower pots. It was such a simple thing but these were young women who had been homeless with children and they were tough. These were people who were afraid to sleep with their eyes closed because they'd get raped. But then when they started doing the art, it was a huge change.

Your idea is this consensus reality, the way art can affect that in a way that just by engaging in it seems to me so powerful. I know when, during Occupy I spent a time at about a half a dozen different Occupy locales and one of the things that always fascinated me was the art that was always there. The size, the posters, it really felt like an important part of it and I think that one thing that you really flesh out in great eloquent, beautiful language and imagery is this idea that art is revolutionary and art can change the world and has changed the world.

A.G.: Well thank you Rob. I am, indeed trying to convey that idea to people because from what I have been able to see, a lot of the old modalities of protests and proposition aren't actually moving the needle in the way that people would like them to, and my sense is that they are not doing that because they don't engage the whole person.

So that very often we have someone that is already convinced of something, committed to a certain set of ideas, wants to see a particular set of actions follow from that, those people get mobilized and come out into the streets or do their campaigns in other ways and that, I'm not saying that doesn't have value, I've done my share of it! but lately I have been asked to speak at conferences that were about climate change and sustainability because people in that movement are looking at the underlying question of how can we get more people to see the urgency of this crises and act on it.

And there's a lot of puzzlement in the question that they're posing, right? The feeling is this effects everyone on the planet, it's happening really fast, the whole world is in danger, why are you just sitting there? That would be the way to sum up some of the attitudes that I hear a lot and I've been talking to people about the way that specific pieces of legislation or social actions are kind of like the software on a computer.

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