It’s one thing to seek refuge on Twitter if you’re the sort of the sour-toothed administration official who can’t take a joke. It’s another to drag someone through the courts for the offense of laughing at you. And yet, that is exactly what happened to Loudoun County resident Desiree Fairooz after she chortled during Jeff Sessions’ attorney general confirmation hearing. Back then, Sessions couldn’t have imagined that his issue—a history of unreconstructed homophobia and bigotry that brought activists out on January 10—would rapidly pale next to the public flogging by his boss. Strange days!
A longtime Code Pink activist, Fairooz, 61, had been arrested previously—she famously confronted Condeleezza Rice in 2007 with “blood” painted on her hands—but going to trial for involuntary laughter was a first. Last month, a D.C. Superior Court judge overturned Fairooz’s guilty verdict on charges of disorderly and disruptive conduct and ordered a retrial. Laughing does not alone constitute grounds for a conviction, he said.
It takes fortitude to be an activist, let alone a laughing resister—especially in the face of the current administration’s obscenities and its appetite for punishment. But if Fairooz’s example demonstrates anything, it’s that law enforcement and government are irritated, if not downright befuddled, by humor. The president long ago established his inability to take a joke. Perhaps that’s true of his base, too.
In the spirit of pussy hats, it’s fitting to consider the soft arts of counter-protest as August 12 approaches. The KKK, the alt-right and apparently the local and state police forces come to a demonstration expecting to meet anger and recrimination. They are literally armed for it. But what if they encounter instead humor, theater, even song and dance? Talk about disrupting the gears!
Look at, for example, Gays Against Guns. Following the Pulse nightclub massacre, they tackled a deadly serious issue with facts, figures and persistence. And, when necessary, sing-alongs.
In February, I ran into GaG for the first time when a gorgeous assembly of drag queens, majorettes, mothers, brothers, sisters and fathers fell together in Greenwich Village to protest the new administration. Following along in the GaG Reflex Songbook, hundreds of folks sang this to the tune of Frosty, the Snowman:
Donny the con man / Was a nasty, hateful soul / Just an angry man with a spray-on tan / Telling lies about clean coal / Donny the con man / Did a job Election Day / Telling old white men / They’d be great again / If they’d let him have his way.
As far as I know, no one was arrested for singing. But imagine the courtroom absurdities that could unfold if someone had been.
Going a step further, activists can take inspiration from No. 45’s hateful statement last week that transgender Americans are unwelcome in the military. Given the conservative right’s immediate embrace of that position, the next protest is clear: Kiss-in! Yes, Virginia, it’s time to stage a radical, everyone’s invited, bring-your-ChapStick kiss-in. Is Richard Spencer coming to town? Wave and blow him a juicy one! Grab your Nana, your yogi, your National Guardsman, your dog-walker and pucker up! Let’s see boys on boys, girls on girls, queers on straights, Latinos on whites, Muslims on Jews, cats on dogs—you get the picture.
These are dark days, yes, and it’s up to those who care about small-L liberal values of justice, harmony and free expression to keep the lights on. Illuminate the dangers, we certainly must. Let’s find ways to do that without dampening our spirits. Laughing, singing, smooching—it’s a start.
Yes, Virginia is a monthly op-ed column.