In a gesture of solidarity and dissent, we’re gathering today to protest censorship. “Free Belarus,” a theater company performing in downtown’s Under the Radar Festival, has temporarily escaped suppression by fleeing Belarus for New York. Their play, “Being Harold Pinter,” is the runaway hit of the moment.
Today’s demonstration has been organized via text message: “PROTEST JAN 19@12P. RAIN OR SHINE. WE WILL NOT BE DETERRED. SPREAD THE WORD.” The Public Theater (which runs Under the Radar) is producing the event with Amnesty International. At noon, the scheduled starting time, about 200 very prompt people have gathered on East 67th and Lex. Some signs are homemade but most bear the trademark diagonal, block lettering of all Public Theater advertising. (Am I a cynic for thinking that this marketing continuity makes the whole protest look like an exercise in brand expansion?)
We’re a docile lot, we protestors. We file carefully onto our patch of sidewalk on the southern side of the street while photographers take their place to our north. It’s worth noting that we’re actually a whole block away from the Belarusian mission to the UN — permit shenanigans mean we can only shout to that most political of sites, the Hunter College Bookstore.
Still, the event has a feeling of urgency. Public Theater interns lead chants:
Intern: “What do we want?”
Us: “Human Rights!”
Intern: “When do we want it?”
When we tire of this call and response, we’re told to shout something that sounds like “Jeevay Belarus! Jeevay Belarus!” This is Belarusian, I guess; most of us just skip the “Jeevay” part and join in on “Belarus.” (Note to self: learn Belarusian for next year’s protest.)
The Police are out, and, ever to form, we all politely defer and go where we’re told. We don’t want to crowd the sidewalk, do we?