BY Michaela Herrmann, PJC Intern
The documentary Wounds of Waziristan reveals the damage caused by American drones. Waziristan is a federally administered tribal area in Pakistan. This area has a long history of being bombed by US drone strikes. Many believe that force is necessary in Waziristan because there is no real law. In the film, one schoolboy speaks about how a US drone struck his house and killed his sister-in-law and baby niece in 2010. He told Madiha Tahir, the film’s director, that he feels guilty about being alive and is tired of innocent people being killed by US drones.
Obama admits that, “It is a hard fact that US strikes have resulted in civilian casualties…those deaths will haunt us for as long as we live”. After each strike the media reports how many people died. Noor Behram, a Waziristan journalist featured in the documentary, argues that people can’t tell how many have died in a drone strike because random body parts are the only evidence left behind. Kareem Khan expresses how he believes Bush and Obama are the greatest terrorist, because there is nobody worse than someone who could send drones into the homes of innocent people.
I highly recommend watching, Wounds of Waziristan because it’s our drones that haunt the people of Waziristan and it’s time we take responsibility for our actions.
On Art, Pedagogy & Activism with Comedian Hari Kondabolu
By: Armando Carmona
Armando: “I’m from California and have been living in Vermont for a little over a year.”
Hari Kondabolu: laughs, “Wow, culture shock.”
Unapologetic and thought provoking, Hari Kondabolu is a comedian who “tells jokes for money” yet feels a sense of responsibility to make people laugh and not cause harm. We briefly discussed the intersection between art and politics and whether comedy can be a tool to facilitate learning. Hari is a Brooklyn-based comic, currently NYU’s APA Institute’s “Artist in Residence” for the 2014-2015 Academic year. He addresses issues of Race, Gender, Colonialism, Baseball and other topics everyday people like to discuss.
His recently released comedy album is now available “Waiting for 2042”.
Hari Kondabolu will perform in Burlington, VT at Arts Riot on September 18 2014 as part of the Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series.
AC: I, as many others, appreciate your work and the topics you are able to bring up in the mainstream comedy scene. How do you decide what words or type of language you utilize?
HK: It depends on the circumstances. Context is very important. When on stage I have a less reasonable version of myself and I think that’s okay because when you’re trying to make big points and get laughs you have to be very clear about what your point of view is.
I am going to be a bit more aggressive and direct, but I think when I have a conversation with someone one on one I’m not the person who is on stage, I’m a different version of myself. One on one, we can have a conversation, we can get to know each other, we can start from a common area and talk.
We can say, ‘This is why we disagree, this is how and why I see the world in this way.’ You can do a version of that on stage, but it changes with one on one interactions. It’s not politics when you’re dealing with human beings, it’s personal. People may disagree with you, but it’s about finding some common place. There are people that hate my stand up but would get along with me on an everyday level. I yell on stage – I don’t yell as much in my private life.
AC: They say a jester can say the truth to the king without getting his head cut off but have you ever felt you’ve had to withhold a certain truth or statement of yours?
HK: I don’t like sugarcoating what I do. What my truth is – I am going to say what I have to say. When I’m on stage, I’m not a political figure, I’m a comedian. I have to think about what is the best way for a particular audience to get the message. But, I also think it’s not so cut and dry. You need to make adjustments. If it’s a white crowd, I’ll get to the race issue, but I need to earn enough trust with jokes that are not about race. Once they know who I am, they’ll like me and they’ll know how to listen.
That’s showmanship, that’s being a performer.
However, I do think people are more willing to listen to the jester.
AC: How do you (if you do) distinguish between art and politics?
HK: I think everything is political, so I don’t quite distinguish.
I might tell stories about my family that aren’t particularly political, (my family dealt with racism, they dealt with having to migrate to this country)… there will be jokes and ways to talk about it, but I’m not going to always hit people with the same thing.
Me not saying certain things are also political. Those are positions I take, to not say certain things. All choices and all art is political. Every choice we make as a human has some significance.
AC: Does comedy fulfill an intellectual or political pursuit of yours? If so what about it and how?
HK: Kind of… It’s definitely fun and rewarding to write, I have a sense of catharsis when I have people laughing because they agree with things I say – that “yes this is messed up.” Certainly, there is value in that. I think art has a certain political end; you can influence people and give them a sense that they are unified with other people.
The work as an organizer was more direct. I always get frustrated when people say that I’m an activist comedian. I know people doing activism and real community work. I tell jokes for money.
I think the things I say have value and maybe I have a function in society, but it’s not the most important function. I think that once you put labels on art like saying, “it’s a form of activism,” you’ve taken them out of the mainstream. My goal is to reach as many people as possible. I believe that me talking about justice is not a niche idea, it belongs to everybody. So I think it’s important for everyone.
People will say “I hate activism,” but if you ask them if they believe in equality, they will probably say yes, do they believe in equal opportunities for children, they will probably say yes. Sometimes calling something activist is counterproductive.
Certainly I was a more well-rounded human being when I was an organizer. When I decided to do comedy there was no room for other things. Organizing is not a part time profession. When you’re working for your community – that’s everything, you can’t do it part time or you can’t do it as a hobby.
There are things I used to get that I don’t get now, but I am proud of the work I do and am happy to be doing it.
AC: Do you think there is a danger in having certain statements, or topics you talk about be left as comedy?
HK: What you’re saying is true of everything. That’s all art. Comedy, because it’s so direct, people take advantage.
People make fun of the poor or homeless, certainly, but that’s true of all art. When artists put their work out there and aren’t thoughtful… there’s always been that risk.
Let’s be thoughtful about the things we talk about and what we share. Let’s be honest. Often people talk out of ignorance. Certainly there are things I regret that I’ve said. Comedy is an alive process, its something that’s in the moment. And of course, it means that you run the risk of causing harm, but I believe in the responsibility of the artist to make honest decisions.
Once someone told me, “I love you because you’re not offensive.” That doesn’t mean anything to me because I am offensive to someone. I would like it if someone said, “I like you because you’re thoughtful.”
I can’t think about you. I can’t account for you. I do the best I can to be honest with myself – “how do I think this will affect people” – but that doesn’t mean that I can write for every single human.
AC: I know professors, faculty and people in supposed “social justice” jobs that put very little thought or care into their work. So I understand and very much appreciate this point.
HK: Especially in jobs where other people are listening to you and actually value what you’re saying. How many people do you [the audience] actually listen to? How many people are you willing and able to listen to publicly?
It’s a powerful thing and that’s something that needs to be respected.
I don’t want to hurt people, and that’s tough because it happens. It’s the risk of the public sphere. It’s the risk of walking around every day. I feel a sense of responsibility to create as much enjoyment as possible and as little harm as possible because I do respect the fact that it’s a sacred space when someone gives you their ear.
This includes being aware of what your privileges are and how they are being received… There are all these lenses that I have and that people have and they certainly have an impact. It’s important to be aware of that. We have to take a little extra care.
If a person of color says something about race and a white person says the same thing – yes, it can hurt more if a white person says it because they still get to hold on to their privilege.
AC: Do you think comedy facilitates learning or can be used pedagogically?
HK: Umm, I think so, based on people telling me they’ve used my comedy in classrooms. That’s proof that it can be useful. As a 14 year old, I hadn’t seen the world, but I heard comedians simplify difficult concepts… and made ways to educate and share these ideas and concepts with as many people as possible… and there’s value in that … maybe it’s a cliff notes abbreviated version of complex ideas, but comedy can be shared by everyone.
That’s the text.
AC: You were quoted in an interview saying that its not your goal for someone to leave one of your shows having learned something and that you don’t care if they do or not.
HK: That’s not what I meant. It’s not my goal because I can’t control those things, the only thing I can control is what comes out of my mouth. And be active in the pursuit of not causing harm. The things I write and the things I say, I can control. Everything else I can’t control. I can’t control how they feel. I can only say it and see what happens.
I think there is a lot to say about someone doing his or her job well. There is value in someone doing their job well.
But, I don’t think every thing can be everything.
I am already up there on stage… If you add the idea that “I have power”– “look at me change things.” You lose a sense of who you are if you start thinking that way. You [the comedian] have to go to each show with the goal of being funny and saying something that’s honest with your point of view. If you’ve done that and people feel that you’ve helped them and been useful in their pursuit as a human, then it was even better than I hoped.
For more information on shows and appearances visit www.harikondabolu.com.
Position Title: Organizational Ambassador/Program Developer
Peace and Justice Center (PJC)
This position serves to educate the community about racial and economic justice. The member will do this in two ways at the Peace and Justice Center: They will serve as an education ambassador alongside the Assistant Store Manager educating customers about economic justice, the purpose of fair trade, and opportunities to be involved in the Center beyond shopping. The member will also support the Executive Director to develop, market and present new educational workshops on Racial and Economic Justice to the Vermont community. It is important to have experience engaging the public (especially in a retail setting) and facilitating racial justice programs.
Key responsibilities will be to:
- Serve alongside store volunteers to educate customers about fair trade, racial justice, the PJC’s other efforts, and membership opportunities. Maintain coverage of the store in addition to volunteers. Research and design new presentations and workshops for the Racial & Economic Justice program. Market and schedule Racial & Economic Justice programs to schools, employers and other groups. Present and document programs.
This is a Part Time position including a schedule with both weekday and weekend service hours. Exact days are negotiable. Part Time AmeriCorps positions are 900 hours of service from September 2014 thru August 2015. Part time benefits include a $6,519 living allowance and a $2,822 Education Award. We All Belong AmeriCorps* members join a team of 16 other members, each serving in agencies and organizations across the Burlington, VT area.
If you need an accommodation please call 802-865-7144 or for more information on the program see our website:
How to Apply
Send a resume, cover letter and two (2) references to Beth Truzansky, Program Director. Please send as one PDF document with email subject line listing the position title to email@example.com
Interested in better understanding the current form of institutionalized racism in this country and how it relates to and evolved from the previous oppressive laws such as slavery and Jim Crow policies? Be sure to sign up for our “New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” book discussion group! To register fill out the form below and if you have questions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 863-2345 ext. 6.