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Composer Philip Glass joins Occupy Lincoln Center protest

Published: 2011-12-04
Philip Glass The curtain rose late Thursday evening on the newest—and perhaps most high-brow—spinoff of the Occupy Wall Street movement: Occupy Lincoln Center.

In a move as theatrical as it was inevitable (the opera that was “occupied": Philip Glass' 1980 work, “Satyagraha," about the early life of Mahatma Gandhi), more than 200 protesters—joined by Glass himself—gathered outside the Metropolitan Opera last night to praise the art form and its creators, but denounce the money it attracts.

The patrons leaving the powerful, final performance of Phelim McDermott's acclaimed production were greeted with signs that read “Gandhi would be pepper sprayed," images of Gandhi donning an “OWS" sash around his dhoti and chants like “Off the stage, into the streets." Police had barricaded the plaza itself, so the group gathered on the Lincoln Center steps.

The title of Glass' opera, “Satyagraha," means “Truth Force" in Sanskrit and is a term Gandhi used to describe his peaceful protest movement that inspired Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. Many of the signs and slogans equated Gandhi's words and tactics with the Occupy Wall Street effort. One protester called out to a group of well-dressed patrons: “What you just watched is happening now."

One of the organizers (her name tag read “Sam") said this was the second attempt to occupy Lincoln Center and another (who declined to give his name, but was passing out Occupy Wall Street newspapers) said this was a much bigger crowd than the last time, adding: “and the police are reacting in exactly the same way." When asked if the giant Statue of Liberty puppet was in response to the imagery in “Satyagraha" production, he said “of course, we're anything but stupid."

The main event—and no doubt the reason for the larger turnout—was the composer himself, who made a cameo appearance at the event after taking a bow at the evening's performance. Thanks to the widespread success of his music in films, operas and concert halls, Glass is likely in the nation's highest tax bracket, but there was a time he drove a taxi cab to support his music career.

So it was not surprising when he posted on his website the other day: “Philip Glass will join 'Occupy Lincoln Center' on Thursday." And join he did. A few minutes after the “Satyagraha" curtain calls, Glass made his way to the center of the group and read (in the almost operatic Occupy Wall Street call-and-response style) the following text:

“When righteousness Withers away And evil Rules the Land We come into being Age after age And take visible shape And Move A man among men For the protection Of good Thrusting back evil And setting virtue On her seat again"

By this time, a good number of opera patrons joined the crowd. Glass called for a mike check and then repeated the text (taken from the “New Castle March" section of the opera) two more times. Upon completion, the protesters—and a good portion of the onlookers—cheered and soon others took the mike to call out statements like: “Tickets are for the 1%," “Revolution for the arts" and “Opera belongs to the people!"


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