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  • Ryan Oliveira

Admissions Long Overdue

I’ll admit it. I haven’t made many updates on the website. Sure, there are things going for me. An ALTA nomination for dramaturgical work at 16th Street Theatre. A development opportunity with the Austin Latinx New Play Festival. A finalist position here, a semi-finalist position there. Rediscovering why I love teaching and working a new job that I enjoy. These are all great things.


I’m on a little “theatre break” right now. I got tired of the missed and dropped opportunities to develop plays, the critics who questioned my educational credentials, the countless hours put into creative works I ultimately despised. It was time to focus on more personal things – my relationship with Alex, my guitar lessons, my novel that I’m still too scared to write. In the meantime, I read.


I’ve been reading Judith Butler’s latest book, The Force of Nonviolence. I highly suggest reading it; in fact, read any of her books. They’re required reading, wrestling with concepts we take for granted and deserve to be bent. In Gender Trouble, the concept is…well, gender. Take a guess what the concept will be in The Force of Nonviolence.


What struck me in the introduction and in her interview with the New Yorker’s Masha Gessen is the constitution of violence – namely, how violence is defined depending on the definer. For instance, an institution can commit atrocities upon its constituents and be labeled, on the outset, violent. However, the institution itself can name peaceful protests by its own constituents violent. And violence need not be a physical or mental damage. The damage can be intellectual, structural, linguistic, moral. Whether its aftermath is a bruise or silence, whether it acts through plain-as-day concentration camps or insidiously stripped voting rights – violence is complex. Heck, it is a complex, with all sorts of departments and protocols and fine print on contracts that lock you in and never let you out. Violence can deny you possibility. And sometimes, it is a denial of possibility.


Think about it. When people tell you something can’t and will never work, they are denying you possibility. They are operating under a present framework that is sold as a given to you, but is really a projection of what they assume is a natural state that they live in, they have always lived in, and therefore, they must continue to live in – and that includes you. It is the law and has always been the law, you could say. The Aquarius in me is severely troubled by that – we thrive on big ideas, on possibilities that may be beyond what we may be capable of right now, but nevertheless we strive for them. We build a foundation so that others may follow. So what if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a bartender-now-U.S. representative? She has every right to access in government as any white intern-D.C. power player – access that was traditionally exclusive to inner political circles and often excluded the changing communities they claimed to serve. And look at what she does: She not only represents her community, but exposes the inconsistencies between congressfolk and the average human in the United States, whether it be in terms of housing access or health care.


Oh, speaking of health care! Why can’t Medicare for All be a possibility? Because it’s too expensive? Studies (and doctors, even) have shown that it would actually and significant reduce health care costs for the average American. We rank near dead last when it comes to health care among developed nations, with overblown insurance and medication prices to show for it. We don’t have enough doctors to go around on account of the immense physical, intellectual, and financial stress we place on those training in the medical field. Greater, unobstructed access to medical care means a healthier population that can now afford preventive care, mental health care so desperately needed. It can mean less ER visits and better treatment for folx across the board. Yet the response to Medicare for All is a miser’s argument – it’s unrealistic, it’ll put people out of (needless administrative) work, it’ll make us wait in long lines for testing and surgeries.


(News Flash: You already wait months for specialist visits and testing under a capitalist health care system. And it’s no better than under a Medicare for All system that’s covered – or should be covered – by a percentage tax we all contribute for the collective benefit of every American. ‘Cause that’s what it should be, right? That’s the ideal we fight for? The betterment of your fellow American? Or is that something we only yell to prime one another for some war overseas?)


And so what if we need to re-train folx out from needless administrative work, or outdated and environmentally unsound coal mining? Times change. People have the capacity to change if we’re patient enough with them – if we’re committed to investing in economically disadvantaged communities ravaged by unsustainable work practices. It sounds Communist, but it’s not; it’s healing the sins of our messy, punitive histories. Slavery was abolished, only to be traded for incarceration as an alternative economy – and yes, the prison-industrial complex is an economy in more economically disadvantaged states, even useful to the Bloomberg election call-center run by a women’s prison. We shut down rust-belt businesses in order to grand-open opioid dispensaries. We declared such lives ungrievable unless it was our [white, higher-class] daughters, brothers, husbands, mothers. If they weren’t visible on Lifetime, they were invisible lifetimes.


Those we do not grieve, we do not believe.

And when we fail to believe, we leave room for violence.


We fail to believe women, we leave room to ignore their cries for help, on harassment. We perpetuate a culture that tells men to dominate women, that sex and pleasure unilateral power-plays, that women are only vessels mattering less than primordial, insentient tissue. We fail to believe black and brown folx, we leave room for authorities to perpetuate the sins they’ve planted, whether it be the CIA seeding crack in black communities or placing officers on administrative leave after stopping, frisking, beating, and bleeding brown folx for trivial offenses. And there are failures in believing disabled folx, queer folx, elderly folx, Native folx, veterans, the poor – the lists go on and on. And we fail to believe for the sake of presumed “safety”. It’s too dangerous to step into these othered lives. It’s too much trouble to consider these folx in the economic equation that results in some boot-strapped American success. I’ve often heard, “It’s too much to think about.” I’ve even heard it out of my own mouth. It’s safe to stay inside.


A famous drag queen once warned, “Safe…is a dirty word.”


We have to account for these marginalized experiences that are left behind by capitalism – that individualistic dogma dictating fuck everyone else but me. I must be the Joneses. I must be at the top of the Ponzi pyramid. I must be the 1%. And in America, that 1% does not reflect any of us. It reflects the face of a corporation. And the corporation, per the Supreme Court, is now a person. We have traded our revered human individuality – our talent, our wit, our innovation - for dissolution into a bald-headed blob stamped Organic, and Property of Amazon.


It’s why I applaud candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Are they problematic? Who isn’t? Are their followers problematic? Fanatic, and needing some tact sometimes. But they are passionate. They believe in possibility. They believe in a world where each of us has a face and a right to survive, regardless of our starting point. They’re full of radical ideas that, with the right administration and inspiration for folx to more actively participate in the political sphere (i.e. vote out the elitist congressional enablers who fail to represent any American populace other than themselves and their corporate sponsors), can be put into action. They inspire the collective, which is what we so desperately need to be right now. And I am attracted to big ideas that can be done.


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I’ll admit: I’ve avoided being political because it doesn’t make me kind. I get nervous. I hate arguments. I am also tired of watching our current administration be cruel to the United States by eviscerating national parks, gutting our water protections, caging masses of children at the border, stripping the marginalized of their rights, choking intellect with a financial leash, inviting hatred through dog-whistles, openly engaging in tacky mob-play on an international scale, wasting however many fucking days golfing in a fakety-fake Floridian paradise – the abuses go on and on and fucking on. Pardon my French, but I’m fucking over it. And I fucking hate French.


I was happy for Pete Buttigieg in the beginning, but his American Apple Pie queerness erases the fighting, playful, creative spirit that is queerness. He’s Call Me By Your Name; he’s queer cinema for an older, straighter edge. And let’s be frank: He lacks experience. He’s the mayor of an Indiana town, for crying out loud. He’s intelligent, he’s well-spoken, and he has some real issues with black folx in South Bend. He’s “safe” and “likable” – all dangerous buzz-words that deny the experiences of marginalized folx who need change, not some reactionary safety. Amy Klobuchar is no better. Once again, she’s appealing to some Midwestern sentiment of “keeping things comfortable” with a stern commitment to realism. Need I remind you: Realism denies possibility. And denying possibility is a violence against future generations who need to move forward, not be stifled by what cannot be done now and in the future. Fuck that. You can even tell by their presentations of policy on debate stages. Pete’s a straight-A student who dodges the uncomfortable questions with a schoolboy smirk that belies his time at McKinsey. Amy’s a schoolmarm who means the best until she warns you not to step out of her sight. God forbid you do – she’d probably throw a stapler at your head.


I haven’t even gotten to Michael Bloomberg.


He’s praised by folx for his extensive economic policies and panache for playing hardball in government. He’s a successful billionaire on top of a multimedia empire. Forget the fact that he prevents his own media company from investigating him. (Funny how that mirrors William Barr’s own barring of DOJ officials investigating the president.) Speaking of investigations: Approximately sixty counts of sexual harassment against him compared to our current president’s forty-ish – all silenced under NDA’s. (Worth repeating: Silence is a form of violence.) Stop-and-Frisk increased incarceration rates for black and brown folx and increased abuses by law enforcement upon black and brown bodies in New York City, but you wouldn’t be able to know that from his purported “work on incarceration and in communities of color” from his ads - which are everywhere. Which is easy when you’re a billionaire multimedia magnate who can purchase thousands of dollars worth in ads, mayoral influence, and Democratic National Debate time wherein the DNC changes its own rules to accommodate his presence. This, after many candidates of color dropped out of the presidential race who stood to benefit from the corporate donation rules Bloomberg features and the DNC now flaunts onto the national stage. And he’s quite the flaunt. It was said that he allowed protesters in Zucotti Park during Occupy Wall Street out of the goodness of his free-assemblied heart. The truth would come crashing down on protesters with sound blasters, SWAT teams, journalistic blackouts, burned documents, surveillance protocols, and arrest bottlenecks in the middle of the night – all to flaunt his might to his then-girlfriend who, surprise-surprised, owned Zucotti Park. Amazing what you learn on a temp assignment.

Some will say Bloomberg has apologized for Stop-and-Frisk. His actions and verbiage state…well, nothing to that effect, other than donating money to causes that, I would argue, are monetary transactions for their loyalties. In fact, the only candidates who have ever worked on or outwardly changed in order to better represent the people have been…Sanders and Warren. Bloomberg was a Republican turned Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat. He changes color when it suits him and endangers communities of color for his suits. Bloomberg is a tyrant. A smarter mogul who has bought his way into presidential candidacy like a true oligarch – like most corporate magnates have for other candidates. He is a hypocritical blight on the DNC and I’ll be damned if I’m forced to vote for the left’s answer to a tyrant. It’s New York City machismo politics played out onto a national stage, and I, for one, am fucking sick of it.


Where is the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Where is the party proposing bold changes for the benefit of America as we stare an economic nose-dive in the near future, courtesy of our current administration’s tax relief for the wealthy that never trickled down? Have we come to the point where Democrats and Republicans are now pigs turned humans turned pigs, straight out of George’s Orwell Animal Farm? Are we now one conglomerate under God, indivisible? George Washington warned us about how dangerous a two-party system could be, and here we are. Two houses, both alike in dignity, in (un)fair America, where we lay, unseen.


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We have to admit it. We are facing climate change. A changing class consciousness that demands equality across all spectra of humanity. An employment drive that masks a bubbling, unstable gig economy. A failing infrastructure and innovation-land falling behind with more cuts to arts, humanities, sciences, and education. An exercise in cruelty as we place folx seeking asylum from regimes that we placed in power into literal. Camps. Where they are concentrated. Where they are ignored. Where they are shredded inside documents purged by the National Archives. Where we have, still, no Secretary of State. No accountability for clearly corrupt actions. No call for order. Only congressionally sanctioned chaos.


I’m no expert. I’m just a playwright on a theatre break, too broken to work on anything but this one play. It’s called Take Care. It’s a play loosely based on my mother’s work as a caretaker, tackling issues of immigration, sexuality, and power between undocumented women under an American billionaress’ ceiling. One of the caretakers is an undocumented Brazilian woman who is a self-professed Evangelical Republican. I keep wrestling with the question of what will change her mind. Is it death? Is it kindness? What kind of kindness? What force of nonviolence can be shown to change her mind and give her the grace to see someone else as human and grievable?


I’m not sure. I’m not even done reading Judith Butler’s book, though I’m trudging through the muck as much as I can. (For the record, I don’t think her book is muck. Philosophy during my morning and afternoon commutes is hard to ingest.) Maybe it’s okay to be unsure. That’s what primaries are for anyway…at least, in my optimistic brain. There is so much toxic muck to sift through in the media. It’s one concession I will make to supporters of our current regime: The media machine relishes in crafting and dramatizing a narrative. When John Oliver and Trever Noah make education more palatable and more accurate than major news outlets like Fox, CNN, and MSNBC, there’s a huge problem. Strangely, it’s also a blessing – it means we’re returning to relying on comedians and artists as the soothsayers of our times. This also means their ripe targets for a fascist regime to quash, and it’s one caution I offer to conservative supporters – a caution among many that will affect them unless they’re rich enough to escape or benefit from such a regime.


It also means we return to our local, more collective roots. On Saturday, I spent brunch with my boyfriend Alex and his aunt. Toward the end of our brunch, the primaries came up in discussion. I always worry when politics come up because Alex is a fervent Bernie-supporter. I support Sanders as well, but I’m amenable to Warren. His aunt detailed why she couldn’t support Pete, but she leaned into her interests in Warren and Bloomberg because they seemed like sound choices given what she was informed by the media around her. After all, she’s a mother of two; she has her own work-life complex and the bandwidth she can dedicate to these primaries is extremely limited. Alex educated her as he typically does; he’s confident, collected, intelligent - all the things I love about him. And then I offered my own big-picture sense of the political atmosphere, informed by my readings of Judith Butler without the academic jargon. I recounted my knowledge of Bloomberg, having lived in his New York City for a short while and having heard of his metropolitan atrocities second-hand from friends and employers. I approached my argument like a teacher investing in a curious student, offering new perspectives, histories unknown, not judging or flaunting, just laying out the facts in studied, telescoping patterns. Who knows if I made a difference. What I do know is she was given better information than she had before to make a better decision in the future. She was given more possibilities to consider. I believe that’s what primaries should be about – ideas at their most communal, not bought or belittled, but full of possibility that we should all look toward rather than retreat from or reverse.

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Ryan Oliveira

Ideas.  I'm full of them.

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