As we celebrate Down Syndrome Day today I am reminded of how important it is to step out of our comfort zones and explore the world around us.
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Tears come to my eyes
The story isn’t on stage. It’s in the applause. That moment when a spontaneous connection erupts and interrupts something we can all recognise with something new, a reverberation in the air between actors and audience, and a sense of possibility about which they agree.
I was watching poets from 2 Cents Movement perform their spoken word play about gender-based violence to secondary school students. My attention was drawn to their shouts of support, squeals of laughter and raucous identification with both scenes of gender-based violence and scenes of resistance, realisation and transformation.
The play is set in a café, meant to be a safe space for everyone, both women and men who have experienced violence and those who need to let go of their anger and will to harm. There’s a simple, but disturbing scenario where a couple come in for a drink and he tells her what she should have, even when she says she wants something else, even when she says no.
A confrontation results, because we all know that’s how easy it is, maybe not over a mauby, but maybe over some other decision a woman isn’t allowed to make if her man disagrees. You can feel the girls identifying. They’ve seen this before. It isn’t new. That’s just as disturbing.
The boys are also familiar, but there’s ambivalence. They want to identify with the man. He’s articulate and in charge. He’s taking care of his woman and demands respect. Yet, violence is always ugly. The negotiation between the couple plays itself out among groups of girls and boys. They are not only interacting with the play. They’re reacting to each other’s experiences, responses and emotions.
There’s another brilliant transition when the waiter serves up a moment of solidarity, and both boys and girls react, for we don’t see this enough either. The man wants his order. The waiter gives him something else. He tells him that he is the boss and he is the man and he decides what his customer drinks. First, the man explains this isn’t what he wants. Then, he gets angry, the way experiencing domination breathes a slow, focused, incredulous anger into you. Then, it clicks. This is what it feels like to her. 2 Cents will say that when poetry drops, it’s louder than a bomb, and you hear it right then when that lesson lands on the man. Boom. Noise fills the room.
The applause comes again and again, at points I didn’t expect, with emotional outbursts that surprise me. Laughter at a tension that shouldn’t be funny reveals, rather than hides, discomfort and uncertainty or maybe desensitisation to what shouldn’t be normal. Given the paucity of local television shows, as the couple negotiates, those school children are seeing something rare. They are watching someone who looks like them or could be their neighbour or friend rewrite a dominant and toxic script, stand up for herself and be prepared to walk away. The uproar is loud when she exits because she sets the terms for her relationship, at least in this play.
This is what school children need to see: Safe spaces as common as your corner rum shop or café. Men and women challenging violence, individually and together. Information about how to manage all that hurt, fear and lashing out. Honesty about how early it is that harm begins. Individuals open to accountability and equality when old ways are wrong and need to change.
After it’s done, students write what they learned about how to end GBV. Currently a collaboration among Bocas Lit Fest, Courts, 2 Cents Movement and the IGDS, we want those messages, in students’ own words, to reach you.
This movement can never be too large and such joyful noise can never be too loud. One secret. Such applause can bring quiet tears to your eyes when you stand watching from the back of the crowd.
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