An Arts Approach to Tonight’s Debate

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"The Trump & Clinton Show" by Flickr user, bronosuras.

The divisiveness and unpredictability of this campaign season has been exhausting and depleting. A recent American Psychological Association survey revealed “those registered as Democrats (55 percent) and Republicans (59 percent) are statistically equally likely to say the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.” Many people in my circles are worried for this country no matter the outcome. Several have reported that they just want this to all be over. Yet this piece of political theater has another scene or two to go, and we need to get through it.

On the other hand, maybe we should demonstrate some citizenry stamina. It will never be the 2016 presidential race again; this will be a notable episode in history. This is unlike anything we’ve seen before, and personally this is the first time that my identity as the survivor of sexual assault by a member of the US military has been truly integrated with my identity as a voter. My gut was wrenched hearing the entitled, adulterous and predatory #TrumpTapes be normalized. Saying it’s natural for men to be vile, exploitative, wolfish and vulturine while together in private zones perpetuates rape culture.

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On the same day that the tape was released and those indefensible defenses of “locker room talk” began, I was at a conference experiencing my first gender-neutral bathroom, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in discussion with men and others at the sinks. It was lovely in its equity. It was empowering. It was very important and it should be happening more and more throughout this world.

It had taken years for me to feel ownership of my body after what my attacker had done to me. During that era, I also grew in my knowledge of religion, immigration, peace and more. As I was progressing, so was the country under the leadership of the Obama administration.

We have come far, and I now thank Donald J. Trump and his supporters for making it boldly clear how we, as citizens, need to go further in addressing our rape culture, and in civil rights for all, including LGBT and Queer Americans, and in policing, implicit bias, and religious pluralism, and in our strategies for diplomacy and peace over war, and regarding domestic “homegrown” terrorism and jihadism and much more.

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This election is still a way into that conversation. As the arts give us tools for perceiving and reflecting on the world, I propose that we approach tonight’s final Clinton vs. Trump debate with artistic curiosity and engagement. We can join the political dance. Here are 10 activities to do just that. Feel free to make modifications.

What you will need is: three blank pieces of paper or journal pages, one pen or pencil, three to six square feet of open space, one light scarf or napkin, and one smartphone.

  • Create a list of all the questions you would ask the two leading 2016 presidential candidates if you were moderator and Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace — and if you were somehow guaranteed honest answers.
  • If either candidate sniffs, take one diaphragmatic breath with the arms outstretched. If either candidate coughs, toss a light scarf or napkin from one hand to the other.
  • Look for shapes in the negative space around the candidates on this political stage.
  • Write down eight words you hear that stand out to you, and then create a sentence of between seven and 12 syllables around each word. Number those sentences one-to-eight, then structure them into a pantoum poem using this template:

1

2

3

4

 

2

5

4

6

 

5

7

6

8

 

7

3

8

1

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  • Build some kinetic empathy by “stepping into the shoes” of each candidate and mirroring their gestures, breathing patterns and eye movements. Continue for five minutes.
  • Holding a light scarf or napkin, let your emotions extend into your arms and legs. Allow for natural reactions and exploration. Permit yourself to go off-balance, twist and find extremes in both symmetrical and cross-lateral shapes.
  • Turn off the debate, take three objects that draw your attention and create 10 different photos using those objects.
  • Stand with the posture, face and breath support you wish to have on Nov. 9, 2016.

Enjoy. And feel free to share your creative outputs in the comments section below.

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Shawn Lent

Shawn Lent moves this world as both a program manager and a social practice dance artist, with experience from a field in Bosnia to a children’s cancer hospital in revolutionary Egypt. She is a U.S. Fulbright Scholar and UNAOC International Fellow, and has spoken at the University of Maryland, Universal Exposition Milan, TEDx Shibin El Kom, Sandbox Industries, and Commencement for Millikin University. From 2013-2015, Shawn served as the EducationUSA Egypt Coordinator for AMIDEAST and the U.S. Department of State. In 2013, her blog post “Am I a Dancer Who Gave Up?,” went viral. Shawn holds a Masters in Arts Management from Columbia College Chicago and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Youth Arts Development from Goldsmith’s College.