I began watching at 10PM UK time. From my laptop screen I had the chants, screams and songs of New York blasting on my speakers uniting over 5 words and 6 syllables: HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US.
In no better words than the creators of this project themselves:
“…the public is invited to deliver the words “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US” into a camera mounted on a wall outside the Museum of the Moving Image, New York, repeating the phrase as many times, and for as long as they wish.”
Open to all, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the participatory performance will be live-streamed continuously for four years… “
It’s gotten to 10:30 and the rhythms, beats and each and every possible annunciation and stress of the words has rung loops through the air through the throats of New York citizens. I’ve heard whispers, lamentations, prayers and songs. Under shared umbrellas of shelter against torrential rain I see a group of women encouraging passers-by on the street to join in their echoing chants and songs through a make-shift drum kit pulsating on the pavement. What I thought would be an interesting dip into one of the most talked about livestreams to date has engulfed into the words circulating my mind like an infectious pop song long after I shut the tab (only with substantially more profound lyrics).
I’m not here to talk about Shia Labeouf’s previous artistic endeavours with Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner or his personal life; it’s irrelevant and in all honesty insulting to detract from the political harmony he is trying to achieve. I appreciate his past work and care little about his personal life as it has no implications upon his art or influence in the interactive performances he’s devised. What I see before me are a group of individuals coming together to state what they want to encourage through an innovative and inclusive platform. In a time of deep political divide not just nationally in the US but globally in the rise in right-wing ideologies in mainstream politics and a struggling resurgence of the left, “ a show of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each individual participant and the community” may just about be what we need as a reminder for the uphill battle that will be the next 4 years.
On the surface, this is just a newfound mantra in defiance against the Trump administration. It will pass. Lefties will find an opportunity to “heal”in a one-off streamed liberation of political tension and those thirsty for their five minutes of online fame will feel themselves projected to an anonymous, global community. However, the mantra is accessible. Contrary to popular belief and selective right-wing media reports, this isn’t a platform exclusively for left-wing rebellion. Anybody with an open mind can look at the deliberately vague declarative statement and see that not allowing Donald Trump to “divide us” is not asking for rebellion, it’s pleading for unity on both sides throughout the following 4 years.
A handful of days in and the team behind this project have already experienced the worst of mankind crawling out of dusty crevices to profess “Hitler did nothing wrong”, referencing “1488” (a white supremacist encryption) as well as abusing this livestream in order to spread Nazi propaganda of the need to “secure the existence of white people“. As a result of Shia’s on-site retalliation to these appalling invasions of a harmonious environment, the project has drawn more press from Shia’s respone against this abuse of his platform rather than the project himself. Sadly, whilst researching this piece, I found notoriously right-wing tabloid columns and YouTube videos appear up upon a quick Google search for the project before their own website showing just how thwarted the media are allowing an attempt to neutralise a volatile and dangerous situation as”physical” and “verbal assault” in their titles free from condemnation for the white supremacist beside him. I don’t know about you, but if my mother was also Jewish and a neo-Nazi was using my platform to spout fascist propaganda, I’d be rightfully pissed, too.
The livestream has prompted discussion towards the baton of liability Labeouf Rönkkö and Turner face for what could be perceived to be a badly thought out plan. What began as a livestream fell into the inevitable susceptibility of allowing fascists just as much of an opportunity to declare their views as the liberals opposing them. Conflict has already arisen, but should that really be allowed to undermine the concept? I found the video of Labeouf drowning out fascist propaganda with the mantra touching and poignant; here we saw the embodiment of our current crisis through two figures in the public. Despite the tragic abuse of the livestream, Labeouf’s resilient defiance against its exploitation and antithetical practice proved an example to not back down and passively let bigots pollute safe environments.
For once, I want to beg the world to allow a good, selfless act to flourish. This isn’t about the names and faces behind the scenes any more than it is about the individuals sharing their voices and souls to a camera on a wall. The following 4 years will be difficult regardless of our political stances and the only real chance we have of peacefully wading through it will be through unity over divisions. We are all worthy of an opinion, however it should be done so with respect to all sides and ideologies. Perhaps by embracing such a simple, hopeful concept and allowing it to shape meaning rather than rule, we can take a step closer to not allowing these next four years to divide us.
– Words by Camila Florencia.