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From Denver With Love

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On a sunny Wednesday at the DNC, with the streets of Denver full of riot police and Obama-mania, artist Sharon Hayes produced an unlikely protest equipped. Titled Revolutionary Love: I am Your Worst Fear, this performance piece in the center of DNC madness was a mass reading of a first person love letter addressed an unknown lover (possibly a specific queer activist, possibly the Democratic Party, possibly the bystander observing the performance). The text, read by scores of local LGBT community members, shifted between discussions of politics and discussions of intimacy. It was not a typical protest gesture to say the least, but as the radical left feels increasing pressure to join the electoral game, investigating alternative models of protest and resistance seems apropos.

Part of the letter reads: "In April I told you 'We become the enemy of our own liberation when we insist that we are not oppressed.' In March I said, 'I demand the right to be gay anytime, anyplace. The right to modify my sex for free and on demand. The right to free dress and adornment.' In February you said, 'I was too loud, too opinionated, and too gay.' In January you told me that 'it wasn't so easy to just end a war.'"

Hayes took the spirit of her letters directly from the gay power movements of the early seventies, when homosexuals were more militant and separatist in their approach to politics. "I realized how wisely [gay liberationists in 1971] exerted their precise power to fuck and to love, to chant about fucking and loving." says Hayes. ""It is this relationship between love and politics that I am interested in re-inserting into the current dialog about queerness and politics in 2008."

The environment outside the DNC was a muted affair overall. Hayes' project was flanked on either block by an anti-abortion demonstration and an ad-hoc legalize marijuana protest by four 16-year-olds, but the only sense of real drama came from the overwhelming amount of police on the scene. I couldn't help but think back Los Angeles in 2000 when the Nader campaign rallied folks against the neoliberal policies in the Democratic Party. Many people blame Nader for ushering in the Bush regime; now, it seems, the political temperature was eerily chock full of compromise.

By 5 o'clock, as the performance began, a cadre of burly men carrying homophobic banners suddenly appeared. Their fundamentalist placards were a flash point for civic tension, so it was unsurprising that asserting the rights of queer people to express themselves. The collision between what were clearly two performances produced a heightened sense of urgency as Hayes' volunteers began to recite her text. The form of a love letter--with its evocation of pain, desire, longing, and heartache--challenged the simplicity of the homophobes to the point of absurdity. But equally, in demonstrating a logic full of personal passion and commitment to resistance, I couldn't help but feel it challenged many of the forms of protest. The frustrations with the political process as a whole became articulated in a pained and emotional chorus.

Two days ago, Hayes took the project to the RNC with the second iteration, entitled Revolutionary Love: I am Your Best Fantasy. This time, the love letter turned toward the specific mood of the RNC: "When you called me a moral pervert on the floor of the Senate but then whispered your apologies sweetly in my ear, I told you to use me as your scapegoat. But when you gestured to shake my hand and spit on me instead, I told you I was the rage of all queers condensed to the point of explosion." The love affair with national electoral politics for queer people across the United States lends profound credence to the personal becoming political.