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Trans Remembrance Day will be magical: Ric Tennenbaum ’18 and Trans Advocacy Group to replicate famous 1970s anti-police brutality protest

Ric Tennenbaum spoke with the S&B about TAG’s planned levitation demonstration. Photo by Alice Herman.

In lieu of a vigil for Trans Remembrance Day, Trans Advocacy Group (TAG) has planned a “levitation demonstration” in which participants plan to cast spells upon and make levitate the Grinnell Police Department building downtown. The event is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 20 and will begin at 5 p.m. in the Grill. The S&B’s Alice Herman sat down with Ric Tennenbaum ’18 to talk about the history and goals of the protest.

The S&B: What are the origins of this event? Did you come up with the idea?

Ric Tennenbaum: I did not. This is very much a translation and recreation of an action done in 1970. I’m sure that wasn’t the only case of it happening in the past, and certainly the uses of magic go very far back in order to resist oppressive forces. This came from when I was taking A.J. Lewis’s gender studies class two years ago, and he dug through archives and found a flyer from 1970. It was part of this Gay Liberation Front protest. … The poster had names of three people, all I believe, brutalized or murdered by the Los Angeles Police Department. So this flyer was in L.A., and it was calling for people to come and gather outside of the LAPD and bring, specifically, tin cans and sticks to make spooky noises. And the idea was to levitate and make disappear the police department for two hours to temporarily halt the police violence.

Is this the first time TAG has done this kind of demonstration?

This is definitely the first time TAG has done this kind of demonstration. … TAG has always gone for a candlelight vigil, and that’s pretty much the mainstream, prescribed action on [Trans Remembrance Day]. … But there’s a lot of issues with the candlelight vigil. It’s hard work to get pronunciations for everyone and we can’t always tell who it is or how to say their names. So that’s always felt wrong, and especially doing that vigil on Grinnell campus. The vast majority of us at Grinnell are pretty removed from the kinds of violent situations that led to the deaths of the list of the trans people, namely homelessness and sex work. So it’s always felt like this somber act of voyeurism.

Is remembrance incorporated into the action that you’re doing on Monday?

Yes! We will be gathering in the Grill and the first thing we will do is — this is a flexible model — but my envisioning is the first thing we’re going to do is call in any names of people, things too, human or otherwise, dead, undead, living or otherwise — just names of people and forces and things that we want to bring into the space with us, that we want to call in.

Do you want to elaborate on the forces of power that you are going to be bringing in?

[M]agic, “irrationality” — in air quotes — … I really love irrationality because it’s so powerful as a uniting force and also as an actant. For some advocacy groups, it doesn’t matter how well-reasoned an argument is, how compelling it is, doesn’t matter that you speak out and say that, for example, “right now the average life expectancy for a trans woman of color is 35 years old.” None of that even registers for so many people because they don’t even want to listen. That can feel so defeating, so dehumanizing to have factual evidence that even the powers that use factual evidence and statistics don’t care for. So it’s like, “What else do we have?” … and we have so much. And [we are] coming together and spellcasting and feeling bounded by our power to do that.

What’s on the agenda?

We’re going to leave through that fire exit that everyone hates when it gets cold. ‘Cause, you know, we’re a large group, and it’s important. Then we’re going to walk three blocks to the GPD, I’m gonna talk with them to find out exactly where we can stand to not disrupt the order of things. And then, you know, spellcasting. We are inviting people to bring spooky noises. I especially invite people to bring bird calls, I would like at some point to have the entire group caw-ing at the police station, because the power of birds is very important. Birds can do a lot for us, they have the aerial view, they can surveil the police. They can drop their shit on the police, with really no scrutiny. They’re not going to be thrown into the prison-industrial complex for shitting on cops.

Anything else?

This is a trans-led action. But at the same time, our invitation is for “those of us considered disposable under white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Because this not just about trans protesting, it’s also not just about ending violence against trans, because the violence against trans is levied against so many people and we really want to find coalition in whoever is down to do that.

Ric Tennenbaum spoke with the S&B about TAG’s planned levitation demonstration. Alice Herman.
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