Tuesday, February 21, 2017

From Anti-War Activism to Clinical Practice and Back Again A Conversation with Granny’s Peace Brigader Jenny Heinz

There are hero's everywhere. As I reported in the blog yesterday,
I ran into my friend Jenny, who I’ve known since the early days of the anti war movement back in 2003 when we were arrested at the Carlyle Group.

All these years later. She’s still here, pushing everyone.
Her point is that formal democracy feels broken.  So she is asking everyone around her to lift their voices, even when we do something as simple as go to the theater.  There is no separation of life from the art we are consuming. We are all a part of it.

 She told a story about going to Lincoln Center wearing a small sign declaring: "NO! In the name of humanity. I refuse to accept the rise of fascism in America." The security told her she could not carry it.  

But I don’t go anywhere without it, she replied. I’m asking everyone what they are going to do about this mess. 

She said this a public space.  He said take it off and escorted her out, giving her her money back. 
The next day she got on the phone with Norm Siegel, her old lawyer.

It was not her first time around this rodeo.

Jenny Heinz, in between Ann Anarazi and Joan Pleune at Zuccotti Park October 14, 2011
Rebel Friends still in action.

Throughout the early months before the US Invasion of Iraq in 2003, the global justice movement morphed into a global peace and justice movement.  And movement narratives intersected.  From 2003-4, the movement against the US invasion of Iraq built on the momentum and infrastructure of a mobilized movement (Kauffman, 2004).  The results included a defiant, robust pre invasion mobilization (Shepard, 2003A).  October 2002, a group of these activists chained themselves inside the New York office of New York Senator Hillary (who went on to ignore her constituents who overwhelmingly opposed the war and vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq October 11, 2002).  This wave of actions culminated with simultaneous protests in cities around the world on Febuary 15th, 2003, a date recognized as the largest single day of protest in world history (Cartright, 2005; Shepard, 2003).  Despite a pre invasion mass mobilization larger than anything which preceded the Viet Nam War, the new anti war movement struggled with its footing as the invasion began in 2003.  Many openly lamented the lost final chance to stop the war (Shepard, 2003B; 2004).  And hope rescinded from a once abundant movement scene (Solnit, 2005).

   Yet, not in all quarters.  As initial wave of movement momentum waned with the re election of President Bush, a new cohort of actors emerged to take the lead in organizing against the war from an unlikely source.   While many organizers sat it out, a group of grandmothers who took a leadership role few others were willing to accept.  While at first the notion of a group of grandmother activists seems like an unusual source of movement vitality, the notion of women taking the lead in an anti-war movement is not particularly new.  One needs to look no further than the wives in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, who refused to copulate with their husbands during the 410 BC drama.  (Actors around the world read from the play as an intervention on March 3, 2003 before the Iraq invasion.)  More to the point, women often take the lead social movements.  As the previous describes suggests.  

   And lead the Grannies did.  Through the stories of the Grannies Peace Brigade and Grandmothers Against the War, one can witness the stages of an organizing campaign, from formulation of a goal, communication of that goal via email, social networks, and media, continued mobilization, coalition building with veterans against the war and civil libertarians, and direct action. After years of standing for a weekly Vigil outside of Rockefeller Center the Grannies escalated their campaign.  On October 17th, 2005, some eighteen grannies, went to the recruiting station in Times Square to sight up to fight so their grand children would not have to. When the group approached the recruiting station, no one answered the door.  “[I]t looked as if nobody were inside at all,” recalls Joan Wile (2008).  “Just then I saw a young man’s head pop up from behind a desk and then quickly duck down again.”  Seeing this, Marian Runyon, a 90-year-old member of the brigade started to bang on the door to the recruiting station with her cain, screaming, “’Open up, come on, lets get cracking..” Still nothing.    So the grannies sat down on the onramp in front of the recruiting station in “peaceful non-violent protest.” Part of the theatre of the whole episode was the spectacle of the grannies heroic and occasionally funny attempts to put their bodies on the line. And finally, the Grannies were arrested by the NYPD.  “As we were being led away, one of the grannies overheard a bystander remarking, ‘The cops were the only ones with their original hips.” For many the moment was powerfully charged.  

   The inspiration for the action was the Raging Grannies of Tuscon, Arizona, who tried to enlist to fight in the war but were arrested for trespassing.  Their story inspired the Grannies Peace Brigade (ud) and several other peace groups to take action.

After their arrest at the Times Square Recruiting Station, the Grannies could have taken adjournments in contemplation of dismissal, but decided with the help of civil liberties lawyer Norm Siegel, to go to court to defend their right to first amendment protected free speech. Members of the Granny Peace Brigade (n.d) were eventually tried in NYC Criminal Court and acquitted.

The stories of the Grandmothers against the War and the later affinity group the Grannies Peace Brigade is many things – but most of all it is a confirmation of Margaret Mead’s adage that small groups such as the grannies really are the most likely ones to change the world.  Yet, there is more to the group.  Their organzing is the story of women who have lived for most of a bloody century, who chose to use some of their last years and breaths to speak out for the only thing still important to them: a peaceful future for their children and grandchildren.  Here, the movement against the war is not only a struggle for life and love, but an effort to embrace life instead of descend into a long dark night.  In the years since then, the Grannies Peace Brigade have stayed involved, leading by example in Occupy and healthcare movements. 

After the Times Square action, I sat to talk with organizers with the group, social worker Jenny Heinz about her approach to organizing and direct action.  Born in England during the blitz, the memories of the air raids left a lifelong impression.  Heinz’ first memories of activism were with the Civil Rights era sit-inns when African Americans used civil disobedience to desegregate Woolworths.   “At age 15 I had heard that there was going to be a rally around Woolworths, a sympathy strike for, people were sitting in in the South at Woolworths to desegregate the counters. I went there alone, to the consternation of my parents, who were very scared for me. But I went there.”  In between meeting Stokely Carmichael sat in at the counters, taking part in actions around New York City. “And I would just go on my own and sit in at the counters.”  Looking back, Heinz muses: “I have no idea where it came from inside of me, really.  But something moved me. And I don't know really, concretely, what it consciously was.”  Yet, she was inspired by “this tall handsome Stokely Carmichael person, whom I got to hear a lot about as the years passed. And it's this sort of almost associated memory of this piece of activism that I did at the time.” Those gestures from 1959  were the beginning of a lifetime of activism. 

Over the years, Carmichael exorbed a great deal of violence, eventually leaving the civil rights movement in the US.  And this ways on a person, even Heinz.   “Certainly when I'm standing even at the granny vigil now a day, at Rockefeller Center, where you'll get for the most part fairly benign hostile comments. But there are times when I can really feel myself just wanting to scream, in a very rather, on the edge of really hostile, and that singing and chanting is very helpful cause it keeps you grounded and rooted in your own place.”  The singing helps activists keep things light, even in dark moments. 

            By the mid-1960’s, Heinz found herself involved with the the Students for a Democratic Society and Progressive Labor during the Viet Nam War protests.  “My dilemma was that I was searching, you want to talk about play and humor, there was very little of play and humor in SDS and Progressive Labor,” explains Heinz.  “My problem with it was that as soon as I would want to be part of any group at those times, some statement was issued that alienated me. That said that…. At those times it would've been President Gallagher I think was the head of City College at the time, that President Gallagher was responsible for all the evils of the world. And there would be these statements that I couldn't be part of. And so I would say, Oh, I'd just be about to join SDS and I couldn't do it. And then I'd go, Oh, I'll go to Progressive Labor, and I couldn't do it.”  Instead of joining, Heinz would attend the demonstrations and rallies.  Still, it felt like Heinz’ vocice, “wasn't being heard, but that they were simply saying things that I couldn't sign on to. I don't know that the idea that I could be part of determining the voice was necessarily though of mine.” 

It would be over three decades before Heinz found a space and a movement where her voice could be heard.  This all began with organizing for the March 27 (M27) and April 7th (A7) direct actions during the anti- Iraq war mobilization of 2003.  The war just beginning and the US government was telling the US and the UN that Iraq had Weapons of Mass destruction. “The catching thing for me about M27 initially was that it was a group,” noted Heinz.  “And how I got the first email I have no idea. I mean I had been going to marches and rallies and stuff like that, but the email that introduced M27 to me was the email that said, we're a group of people who want to take action. That this is going to be about activism and doing more than just showing up at big demonstrations. And that was so exciting, that people were saying, we’ve got to do more and let's get together and direct action is what we need to be doing.

 “But I think it was probably before the die-in at Rockefeller Center. And I remember I guess on my own entering into this space—a Methodist church—and absolutely being blown away by this thing called consensus. I really didn't know about it. And there was this procedure that was being described that, and I still feel very moved as I think about it.  It sort of feels like I'm talking about history. Like those were the days where certainly I felt much more hopeful. And there were these people, different ages, but the energy was of people certainly younger than myself, who had came from all different activist organizations and dealt with different issues…. Environmental Coalition, Green Party, all of that—that's right, War Resisters. All of these different groups, and it was a focused meeting that was run in such a respectful way that explained how we're going to run this meeting and what do we do to have everyone's voices heard, and how do you indicated when you are in agreement and what do you do if you aren't going to vote.

“And this group, this coalition of groups, and this way of working was saying, If you don't agree, not only is there a place for you to articulate that you disagree, but we want you to articulate it, we want to hear what it is, we will respect that there is a place for this. It's not just, Oh, you've been voted out, so all right, tough shit, you lost. And I was aware that there were these people who had been working with this model for many years. They were all familiar with it. But I had been in the professional world and had been part of bigger organizations, and certainly it wasn't even a model I was aware of or that was used when I did other actions prior to that. [I]twas a hierarchical model. So I was deeply moved. 

A social worker by trade, Heinz acknowledged social workers had not done much to speak out for Civil Liberties or speak out for those being detained without habeus corpus.  “We had our moment. There were moments in Vietnam when certainly some wonderful action, I was involved in planning and being a part of some wonderful actions back then. You know what I remember is that the people who spearheaded the activism in those days were people who came out of the Left. And it was not part of mainstream, certainly wasn't case work orientation. Even in those days group work was separated from case work. And group work would get together and we planned having to bring the war into our agencies that we had to cross the line, that we had to play a part.

Over and over again the social work field had turned away from speaking out on issues of the day.  “Social workers are not speaking out,” noted Heinz. “And when I think of similar, it's very very sad actually. And I think it is dissociating. I have a private practice now, and I think just that the extent to which my colleagues never make the connections between the face of the client in the room at a given moment and what's happening outside the world of the office. Even if you want to talk about September 11, of people who would sit week after week with clients and never even address might what's going on with the person have been affected by what just took place outside of that room. And that unless the client was going to bring it up, I mean I have a number of people who came to see me over a year after September 11th, who had gone to psychiatrists, who had all sorts of stuff, and they would say to me, No one ever asked me where I was that day. And so I'm working with a man who was a block away, saw body parts, and was put on all sorts of medication, but no one even bothered to ask him where he was. From his point of view he had dealt with it by totally dissociating from it, so it hadn't affected him. I mean that's bizarre.

Heinz had one client whose long dormant symptoms came out with a vengeance after the bombings.  “He couldn't understand why he was participating in stuff or engaging in behavior that had stopped for a long time. He was deeply troubled by it. But no one made any connection. I mean the guy was totally traumatized, it totally re-traumatized him from earlier stuff and no one asked about it. And he looked at me and he said, "Oh I know you think it affected me. I mean I was two blocks away. And you know, so yeah I think maybe I saw some body parts, but you know that wasn't really, didn't do anything to me." I mean it's almost a joke. I mean that's on a level of bad practice from my point of view. But it is something about social work and therapy is taking place. And certainly in New York with the analytic community having the power base, where it’s all about internal stuff, then everything has nothing to do with anything in the world.

Much of this conflict dates back to the age of Jane Adams who was professionally  marginalized after she opposed US involvement in the first world war. And social action based social work became marginalized.   Freud filled that vacuum (Reisch & Andrews 2002). “The least supportive group in my personal life right now, just parenthetically, is a peer group that I meet with every week for an hour and a half that I've met with for over the last ten years, every week, for an hour and a half, supervisee peer group that never once, even last week, sent me an email about, the Carlyle arrest forget it, but last week, after being on trial for six days. And within three minutes, Monday, of walking into the group, one of the members of the group entered into an intellectual dysfunction about how dysfunctional he thinks outrage is. And at some point I said, it's remarkable that before I even sat down not one of you had said to me, What was it like being on trial for six days? I mean forget asking me about being in jail. I mean this is something that was in the news that I've gotten memos from strangers about.

The story of the Grannies Peace Brigade made international news. “So it's an interesting statement. And that the discussion that came out of that group had to do with, what does it mean to be outraged and that the topic of shame came up that in some ways I was really being ostracized because they felt shamed by their lack of action. And you need to know that if anything I felt really badly about my failure to bring more of my activism into the room.”

Psychoanalysis is about relieving human suffering so we're supposed to address core issues. “And how can you not talk about this junctures that people present in the room between belief systems and being involved in working in jobs that pay,” wonders Heinz. “I have a client who handled the Wal-Mart account for her organization, her company, her corporation, and it deeply distressed and it needs to be addressed. It's not about, How do you feel about Wal-Mart necessarily, but what's it like for her that she's promoting something that parts of her feel so horrendous about.”

There's lots of social workers that are activists.  And they clearly separate their activism from their social work careers.  This was the case of several social workers involved with the anti- war movement.  Heinz got involved with the March 27, 2003 direct action at Rockefeller Plaza.  “The first action I had decided just to go down and see what was happening at Rockefeller Center,” recalled Heinz.   “I was on the sidewalk really watching people go into the street, die-in, watching the police activity, thrilled at what was taking place--absolutely thrilled and moved. And I happened to be standing by a group of people who had planned to be part of the die-in.”  At a signal, a horn, activists laid down in the street and the sidewalk as if they were dead from the war.  “But it was a thrilling moment. And it was in my backyard. It was taking place. People actually had planned and they had carried it off. And so at that point I started then going to M27 meetings and I guess it's ten days later that we did the Carlyle protest. And at that point I hadn't yet decided clearly that I was going to civil resistance, so I went down to be a supporter on the other side of the street, and supportive of people that I had met at M27 meetings who were going to be sitting in front of the Carlyle building. And as you know, lo and behold, we all got arrested.”

Neither Heinz nor this writer were given warnings to disperse before the arrest during an April 2003 street action in front of the war profiferring Carlyle Group. “There was no warning,” noted Heinz.  “As a matter of fact when it became clear to me that we were being surrounded, I had gone to a policeman and said, Excuse me, I have to go to work—cause I had an 11 o'clock client. And we all know that we couldn't get out of that at that point. And so inadvertently a whole bunch of my clients ended up by getting the fallout from that, because they showed up, I had no way of getting a phone message to anyone about what had happened, and some people saw me on television that day.”

Heinz would end up apologizing profusely to her clients for missing the session. Yet, the disruption of her practice as result the police arrests had a distinct impact. “And some of my clients who found out about it and who saw me were very proud of me,” mused Heinz.  It was also a learning moment for everyone.  In psychoanalysis, the primary lesson often is what happens the five minutes before a session starts, five minutes in, if you're five minutes late, what happens when you rush in, what happens when you leave – each gesture has meaning.  And when the analyst is late, or when the analyst is on time, these are moments to learn from. It was a chance to bring this conversation into the room.  “Look, I think what pre-dates that is September 11,” recalled Heinz. “Here it was more about getting to know something about me that they would not necessarily know. And needing to deal with that. But you know, you sort of say, Let's get real. So it's an opportunity to explore with people, Well, what does it mean? And what does it raise for them? And how do they feel about knowing that about me? And yes it is a very real part of me. You know, interestingly, it doesn't feel that there's any conflict around it. And so even with the granny thing now, which got major press, with my picture all over the place, the bridge very clearly into my practice, which is a heavy duty abuse and trauma practice which is my specialty, sort of has to do with what it means to be terrorized, how it feels to be terrorized, finding one's voice, which is the major part of what I work on with people is finding their voice, and how their voices had to be silenced for their survival as a child, that they have a lot of terror about saying no to anyone.”  Yet, beyond this Heinz did not bring discussions of the war into her practice.   Yet, the question of history is always present. Life and the outside world are never far from clinical practice.  For example, Heinz was forced to cope with her own cancer.  “And it's the kind of cancer that is visible,” she confessed. “So I couldn't hide it the way some colleagues of mine who had breast cancer could really hide it. But because of my, the visibility of it, I really had to deal with it, and the impact of something very personal on the lives of clients. So in some ways I've had no choice. And the outside world and the politics now sort of are just continuations of that.”  For Heinz, this was just part of good clinical practice.  “But again we're back in social work.”  It was hard to separate a conversation about clinical practice from our discussion of activism.

Heinz laid out a trajectory from the Carlyle arrest in which we met each other and were later rewarded with a large settlement from the city into the rest of her anti-war activism.  “Well certainly by the Carlyle arrest and the planning of the Carlyle it was clear to me that I had to be involved with a small group of actions and then affinity groups. And so I became part of an affinity group and kept on going to M27 meetings. It feels like history now as I'm talking about it?.” 

 After the Carlyle group arrests, the A7 group worked with the Center for Constitutional Rights to litigate.  During some of this time, the group of almost a hundred activists and lawyers met, discussed, strategized and many of the elders from the Granny’s Peace Brigade showed leadership, eventually laying out the point that we needed clearn leadership, not necessarily hierarchicacal leadership as we focused on the effort to procure a settlement from the city (Dwyer, 2008B). But there are limits to the consensus model. “No, but there is a place, when what moment does process become so valued that what we're here to process becomes not there at all. And that's as insane as a hierarchical model which just dictates this is what we do. So you lose the, you lose what are we, what are we processing? It becomes process for the sake of processing and masturbatory then.

Since then, Heinz has worked with groups such as Code Pink on disrupting mechanisms of power.  “So what I love to do is, I love banner drops. And I'm very focused at this point about disruption,” explains Heinz.  “At this point for me, and I don't know how else, how other people see it, but it's really along the lines of you cannot do business as usual—that that is simply not OK. Or what I wrote in my statement to the court, democracy is not a spectator sport. You've got to be active, and you've got be on the front lines and when your voices are not being heard in the media, or anywhere else, you've got to disrupt and say, Hey guys, this is what it is.”  For Heinz, the point is challenge those in power, especially when the system seems to be breaking down. “What I'm saying is that when the Congress is no longer functioning, when the judiciary is no longer functioning, when you've done away with balance of powers, when you don't have checks and balances, when your voice is being stifled….” 

Through zaps, banner hangs, and other gestures of direct action, Heinz has moved from lobbying to disrupting mechanisms of everyday life.  ”I'm at this point thinking at least where it resonates for me and I think the sit-in at the recruitment center was very very important thing for us to do.”  Such gestures, “force the media to report on something and that in fact getting noticed and being sure that you've contacted media and all of that is another kind of disruption, because it forces them to cover something that otherwise they might not cover. And so something about grannies certainly, and the fact that Joan started Grandmothers Against the War here, she comes from Broadway, she was a lyricist and a singer-songwriter and she's big into publicity, and so sort of there's that part purist part of me, my background of European scorn for American publicity seeking stuff, that has gotten really caught up, Like, wait a second, what am I talking about, and without enormous publicity the word doesn't get out. So you're doing a civil action, it doesn't mean anything. So once again, in some ways it's that bizarre moment of "thank you NYPD" for doing this insane thing. And thank you Morgenthau for insisting on bringing us to trial. And then here we have six days of a full trial.”

“We were in court three times. It was not dismissed. We refused ACD. And the third time we had decided that we wanted to go to trial, and that that was in fact what we were pushing for and that each one of us who wanted to talk about theater, wanted to take the stand and be able to put the war on trial as much as possible. And every single one of us in the six day trial was able to say, to make statements about first amendment, about the war, illegal, immoral. And actually the prosecutor, the ADA, was making all of these statements also: "And so you ladies really believe that the war is immoral and illegal." It was very interesting that he kept reiterating our positions.

Through such theater, the world witnessed a powerful, joyous humor of these fierce women laughing at the spectacle of their arrests.  Throughout the trial, the their rambunctious rapport only grew.  “Well look, this is a group,” notes Heinz. “These are feisty women. They are very feisty. We're all very very different and what ended up by being so wonderful is that there was no way we could be characterized as anything but this solid group.”  There was very little rhetoric. “These are women who speak normal language,” noted Heinz. “And one woman who never was even part of us until that day, and that's the woman who's gotten more press than anyone, Betty Brassell with her walker, with her little flower in her hair, who just happened to get a flyer about the recruitment action that day, and as a result of that action she's now known all over the place.”

Before any of the trial, this group of elders was arrested and charged, spending six hours in jail.  “Well that was very interesting because we saw the total difference between arresting officers and officers in the second shift who were meeting us in jail,” recalled Heinz. “So that the arresting officers were really very very nice, and very kind and concerned about hurting these old ladies and even brought us water. And the moment that they changed the shift, we were no longer seen as these women who had done this action, we were seen as prisoners. And the second shift was nasty to us. Took away the water, took away things that our arresting officers had allowed us to have. I mean in the tiniest way, you get this teeny teeny glimpse of what it’s like for people who are poor and minority and how they get treated in that system.”  One learns a great deal watching these dynamics.  For activists such as Heinz, “being imprisoned” is an “education” in itself.

Throughout the arrest and trial process, the activists in the group got to know each other.  “We found out there are people, that it goes from people who had no high school to people with doctorates to people who've been barely active before to people, one of the women, Molly, protested at Sacco and Vanzetti. She's 87. We also had this amazing experience because we were asked at different points to name names. Who had sent the emails? Who had decided this? Who had decided that? And so many of us have the backdrop of the McCarthy era, so no matter what you don't name names.”  For many in the group, there was an eerie echo to that era throughout the trial.  “But these grandmothers are feisty,” notes Heinz. “Joan is a songwriter, she likes praise, she loves pizazz, publicity…I have a part of me has this sort of European, You don't have fun! This isn't funny! This is serious business! And constantly in this space of anguish. And so some of the grannies helped, as did Code Pink, helped lighten me a little bit.”  The energy of Code Pink is a very generative energy for the group. Humor, the power of women, passion, love, joy, also but a rambunctious energy.

Over time, Heinz collaborated with anti-war groups from Code to the Reverend Billy and the Church of Earthaluja to defend civil liberties.  “That's just a wonderful spirit there,” she gushed, recalling spontaneous flashmobs of activists who would gather “and recite the First Amendment every Wednesday, as we did, right?”  Heinz described the First Amendment defense. “You take the train, you go there [to ground zero], and you don't acknowledge anyone, and you're on the phone reciting the First Amendment, walking around among tourists, among people, commuters and all of that and you're speaking on the phone reciting the First Amendment and then you get closer. I mean that was a piece of drama, a theater piece. And coming closer and closer and speaking louder and louder until you're all standing there reciting the First Amendment. Very moving, very theatrical.”  These gestures taken shape through the collaboration between peace activists, AIDS groups, and street theater people in a meshing of ideas and street theatrics.  Each action is shaped through a moving production of regular people finding their way out in the streets as  citizens trying to find meaning of their experience. For many, these efforts help them find a space on a stage that's going to help them at least

participate in a drama that doesn't signify nothing.  They don't want to live in a dead end story; they need to live in a story in which they can make sense of their experience somehow. With the M27 action in Rockefeller Center when activists died in the street as the war was beginning, chills ran through my body as I walked by, hearing people chant, No Blood For Oil, with their body on the ground, lying blocking traffic, taking their arrests.

Heinz was immediately connected to the Brecht invisible theater style to the actions. “I think that there's a place there where you're in a sense seduced into an experience that gets darker and darker and darker,” she explains. “It doesn't start that way. But it unfolds, and so you start off where there's this person just saying one thing, and in some ways maybe that's the grandmother thing—you know there's this kooky group of grandmothers who are sitting there singing. But all of a sudden what evolves is a powerful dark statement reflecting on what's taking place in this country and what isn’t taking place.”  Each action intices people into being more than spectators. Break that forth wall down suggest street theater people.  Through such performances each of us has a chance to become an active agent. If people do not have that citizens such as Jenny Heinz do not feel like they are participants in a democracy.

Through Heinz’ story, I am reminded of that part of what inspires me is not to be motivated and act out of guilt but to act out of love. And to act out of loving the people you're working with and loving the cops and my opposition.  Finishing the interview, Heinz recalled that many of the police at her trial were rooting for her. Many wanted Grannies Peace Brigade buttons. “Many of them wanted to know how they could join either Code Pink or the Grannies. And that they were there for this trail in which they got to hear things that otherwise they wouldn't get to hear. And I hope that was perhaps transformative for some of them.”  Such gestures are a core part of retail politics. That's all it is. Two or three people at a time, that's all we can do in some ways. The media stuff tells the story for people that weren't at the trial, but when you reach those people at the micro level, that is the real change.  That is where social activism begins. 


Jenny Heinz at her Upper West Side apartment. CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times

Jenny Heinz, a longtime Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic subscriber, calculates that over the past 60 years, she has been to hundreds of performances at Lincoln Center. But when she showed up this month at David Geffen Hall to see the Budapest Festival Orchestra, she was barred from attending when she refused to remove an 8-by-11-inch sign affixed to the back of her jacket.

It read: “NO! In the name of humanity we refuse to accept a fascist America.”

Ms. Heinz, 72, said she had been wearing the sign since she attended a protest outside Trump Tower in November. Though she had been looking forward to seeing the orchestra, partly because one of its cellists was almost stopped from entering the United States by President Trump’s travel ban, she said that, given a choice between the performance and the sign, she chose the sign.

“At what point does one draw the line?” she said recently by phone. “We’re talking about freedom of expression.”

Officials at Lincoln Center refunded Ms. Heinz’s ticket, but this week they declined to discuss why she had been blocked from the performance. Ms. Heinz, though, said in an interview that during a later meeting she had with center officials — arranged by the civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel — the institution’s vice president for concert halls and operations, Peter Flamm, told her that signs were not allowed inside the performance halls or on the plaza outside.

The dispute seems to illustrate the conflict between those who view cultural institutions as bastions of free thought that should embrace activism and those who think that, to protect the primacy of the performance, political statements should be limited to those made by the artists and the art.

This sign was affixed to the back of Ms. Heinz’s jacket when Lincoln Center blocked her from entering a performance at David Geffen Hall this month. CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times

Timothy Biel, a fellow patron, who met Ms. Heinz outside the concert on the night she was turned away, later sent a letter of complaint to Lincoln Center. “The freedom of expression is the very foundation on which art is built,” he wrote. “Are you going to allow the dialogue between art and democracy to come to an end?”

In its only comment about the incident, the center issued a statement that said: “Lincoln Center’s founding mission is to bring the world’s greatest artists to the broadest possible audience. Every day we strive to provide an environment that cultivates the special and uninterrupted connection between a diverse array of performers and patrons, enabling a multitude of curated experiences for our 6.5 million annual visitors and artists.”

In his remarks about the sign issue, Mr. Flamm appeared to be relying on a 2002 federal court decision that said Lincoln Center could prevent leafleting and demonstrating on the plaza. Mr. Siegel said that a lawyer for Lincoln Center told him during a recent conversation that a message like the one conveyed by Ms. Heinz’s sign would have been allowed if it had been displayed instead on a T-shirt or on a button.

Policies at other institutions vary. Radio City Music Hall has a clear code, outlined on its website, that says signs and banners are not allowed “at any time.” Synneve Carlino, a spokeswoman for Carnegie Hall, said it had no specific policy on signs, but added, “However, if there is activity of any kind in the hall that disrupts the experience for artists or patrons, obstructs the view of concertgoers, or interferes with safety, etc., our policy is to address it immediately on a case-by-case basis.”

“From a policy point of view, what Lincoln Center is saying doesn’t make very much sense,” Mr. Siegel said. After all, he added, Ms. Heinz’s sign would not have been visible within Geffen Hall once she sat down, so it would not have disturbed the performance.

Ms. Heinz said that during her meeting with Mr. Flamm, she had urged the center to embrace debate, pointing to the Metropolitan Opera’s controversial 2014 production of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” about a Jewish American cruise ship passenger killed by hijackers from the Palestine Liberation Front, as an example of that sort of engagement. Those performances produced vocal protests by demonstrators who rallied inside barricades that lined Columbus Avenue outside Lincoln Center but did not reach into the plaza.

“The arts have always been political,” Ms. Heinz said. “Even if it’s disturbing to some people, it gets them to move for a moment into a place where they think about what is happening.”

A version of this article appears in print on February 23, 2017, on Page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Lincoln Center Refuses Patron Over Anti-Trump Sign, Stoking Debate on Activism. 

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