How far must each of us go to reclaim our broken democracy?

By Adam Klugman of Portland, Oregon. Adam is an activist, media strategist, playwright, and the host of "Mad as Hell in America", a show on Portland's KPOJ 620.

Here’s a question that rarely gets asked anymore: what is the role of art in politics? The tradition has been that writers, performance artists, painters and the like would interpret world events and then import them into their art - a play about El Salvador, a painting that explores the theme of poverty, a novel about government corruption, etc. For the most part, these noble, well-intended works always remain, in a word, art. That is to say, they are rarely able to break from the confines of their assigned role to become another category altogether: politics.

There have, however, been a few historical exceptions to this rule. Picasso’s “Guernica” and Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” immediately come to mind. These were works of art that transformed the perception of world events and in doing so, became political. But Bertolt Brecht positioned art a little differently. He believed that art should not just deal with political issues, it should be a political act. This can be a tricky assignment in a society that permits every manner of speech because art is only dangerous when it is threatening or forbidden in some way. Indeed, it is one of the downsides of democracy that art is often relegated to the domain of entertainment and thereby stripped of it power to effect political change. I believe it is time for art to become dangerous again.

In that spirit, I have written a play called “Treason” that explores the intersection of politics and violence as a way to ask what I believe is the most pressing and politically dangerous questions of our time: How far must each of us go to reclaim our broken democracy?

The story centers around Scott Kragen, a self-proclaimed revolutionary who has mounted a successful peace and social justice movement that employs non-violent methods to take a radical stand outside the system of a terminally corrupt government. During one of his protests, however, Scott is provoked into an act of violence that results in the deaths of many fellow protestors. He is held accountable for their deaths, named as an “Enemy Combatant” and is sentenced to die as the first American citizen convicted of Treason in the twenty-first century. The action of the play takes place in the twenty-four hours leading up to Scott’s execution.

The play is going to be read this Saturday at Artist Repertory Theatre (2 p.m., 1515 Southwest Morrison Street) as part of the Fertile Ground Festival but that is not my only reason posting here. Of course I would like as many of my blue-hearted comrades to attend as is humanly possible, but not just to have bodies in the seats. The real reason I am posting here is because there will be a talk back afterwards where I hope to get answers from the audience about the worthiness of the piece. I can think of better audience in Oregon, or anywhere for that matter, to help me do this than the readers and bloggers of BlueOregon.

For those of you are interested in more, I have posted a clip here of a table reading I did with an earlier version of the script. It will hopefully give you a sense of what the play is all about and help you decided if its worth the price of admission – your Saturday afternoon.

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