Local Happenings - Tunnel of Oppressio

I've been quiet for a few days, partly because I've been busy but mostly due to a tough break-up. I'm not going to waste your time writing about the break-up, not because it hasn't affected me deeply- because it has- but because this blog isn't a forum for that type of writing. That said, I experienced exactly what I needed yesterday. The Tunnel of Oppression happened very successfully on November 1st in and around the Hatch Ballroom (for a description of what the Tunnel is, refer to my earlier posting on the subject). From 9:00 am to 7:30 pm I was there as a Tunnel guide and with Amnesty International at the coinciding Social Justice Fair. Those long hours kept me busy- talking and walking- and therefore forced my mind to wander from the sorrow, loneliness, and self-pity that had taken up residence in me. The emptiness in my heart was eased by a community of engaged and caring individuals who are committed to changing the world, slowly but surely.

The Tunnel began with a scene depicting soft racism in the wake of Katrina. Three white middle-class folk sipped martinis and discussed their frustration at seeing poor black people receiving sympathy and government aid after the hurricane. Their language was no doubt incensing, but a bit unbelievable. However, the scene remained effective and provided an emotionally simple way of beginning the tour and easing into the next scene.

Four or five actors dressed in casual military attire and sporting pipes, knives, and cameras viciously attacked another actor dressed in a black robe and hood in the second and most effective scene. There was no question that the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib were unfolding here, and even though this was acting, it was severely disturbing. Audience members were encouraged to take part in the abuse but could only muster blank stares and sometimes tears. The actors recreated the photographs from Abu Ghraib with an eerie accuracy. After the scene, the audience shuffled their feet quietly away, taking with them an intimate understanding for the scope of atrocities committed in the War on Terror.

In the next scene a small group of immigrants struggled to cross the border amongst graves marked ‘unidentified’. Their struggle was amplified by an insensitive television journalist and armed militia men who beat back the immigrants. The depiction of the immigration struggle brought to life an issue that everyone knows of but no one really understands. The tour then meandered into a makeshift bathroom that provided the stage for different sorts of gender related oppression: two girls taunted a “dyke”, one of those girls then threw up in a stall in an effort to lose weight, a boy tried hard to be a man by using steroids, a young couple worried about an unwanted pregnancy, and a rape was attempted. We don’t know whether or not the rape was committed- we just heard her scream from behind a bathroom stall door. With the screams echoing the tour rushed through a brutal episode of Native American assimilation. As the audience exited the Tunnel, they became the victims of fierce anti-gay fury. Demonstrators shook hateful signs in faces and shouted dangerously at each and every member of the audience. Their hateful frenzy, albeit acting, caused one to know the pain of being hated for being homosexual, even if one is not.

The entire experience was tremendously effective. Though I wasn’t present in the post-Tunnel debriefing sessions, I gathered that public response to the tour was positive. Eyes and hearts opened to better understand modern forms of oppression that are often overlooked. It is difficult to deny these oppressions while they are staring you down. Oppression is evident when we hear the facts about its many forms today, but when our heart is involved oppression is not only undeniable, but is an affront to everything human within us. The Tunnel of Oppression very much involves the heart.

(If you wish to learn more about the Tunnel of Oppression, I recommend conducting a simple google search for it. I did so, but could not find a central website for it. It appears that the Tunnel is simply an idea that is interpreted differently by different universities around the nation.)

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