Brown Daily Herald
By: Ben Hyman
On July 14, 2007, a young man named Matthew Floyd Miller stood at a simple wooden lectern on Boston Common, the golden dome of the state house gleaming in the background. Speaking to a crowd of 40 or 50 people, he decried the "calm, smiling, murderous president in the White House." He called for the impeachment of those in power and for civil disobedience to "disturb those who are in charge of the war." The audience responded with shouts of, "That's right," and bursts of applause.
But the war Miller criticized was taking place not in Iraq, but in Vietnam. The people he wanted to impeach were Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Miller, a professional actor, was reading words that had been spoken at the same site on May 5, 1971, by Howard Zinn, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
This unsettling, perplexing event was part of the Port Huron Project, conceived and directed by Mark Tribe '90, assistant professor of modern culture and media studies. Named after the 1962 Port Huron Statement - the manifesto of the activist movement Students for a Democratic Society - the project is an ongoing "series of reenactments of protest speeches from the New Left movements of the 1960s and 70s," according to PHP's Web site. "Each event takes place at the site of the original speech and is delivered by a performer to an audience of invited guests and passers-by."
So far, Tribe has produced reenactments of a 1968 speech by Coretta Scott King in Central Park and a 1965 speech given by SDS President Paul Potter on the National Mall, as well as the Zinn speech.
Tribe films the reenactments and distributes the footage on DVD and online. Watching these recordings - available at www.nothing.org/porthuronproject - the viewer, already separated from the event itself by what Tribe calls "temporal dislocation," experiences an even greater sense of distance. The reenactments explore the fault lines between art and politics, reality and spectacle and, of course, past and present.
"It does sound like they were written yesterday," Tribe said of the speeches. "You just have to change the nouns and it makes perfect sense. It's uncanny."