by Melissa Tso
On February 10, 2017, the Museum of the Moving Image abandoned “He Will Not Divide Us”. Eight days later, the four-year livestream project of Shia LeBouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö, and Luke Turner was moved outside of the El Rey theater in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Before the surprise launch of “He Will Not Divide Us” (HWNDU) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I approached Luke Turner and Shia LaBeouf as they were working on their art installation at El Rey theater. I inquired about the reason Albuquerque was the chosen location for HWNDU and Luke emphasized location and diversity of population. New Mexico has one of the highest populations of Natives and Latina/os in this country.
After some discussion of Native issues and my work with The Red Nation (TRN), Shia LaBeouf enthusiastically invited me to start the HWNDU mantra at the livestream launch on Saturday, February 18, 2017. I accepted the invitation.
Luke Turner photographed me facing the HWNDU art installation, which would be the featured photograph announcing the Albuquerque launch of HWNDU.
“He Will Not Divide Us”, El Rey Theater, Albuquerque – Photo by Luke Turner
One major task I often undertake during TRN events is photographic documentation of our struggle, usually keeping me out of our pictures. Luke commented that this time I am in the picture, the picture that now represents HWNDU-Albuquerque!
Luke and Shia encouraged me to mobilize TRN supporters alongside HWNDU to unite against Donald Trump on the opening day of their art installation. Joining efforts is crucial in the work we do as community organizers, and so we did not pass up this opportunity. The event was not centered on one organization, one artist, or one struggle, but rather a united front against Trump and the capitalist machine he represents. For this reason, the installation is not about Shia but empowerment.
Leading up to the launch, Luke and Shia shared words of encouragement with me, frequently reminding me the mantra chant should come naturally. Shia would often stop to tell me, “I know you can do this. You got this!” This was not a staged or rehearsed performance. As promised, I initiated the HWNDU chant on opening day, and the crowd joined in on chanting soon after. The original plan was to have me chanting alone for 1-2 hours, but the news leaked and there was already a small crowd present before we went live. Later in the day, TRN led various anti-colonial and anti-capitalist chants alongside Shia who chanted and danced with us. The event drew in crowds of people new to the movement. It was a beautiful day.
Lately, we’ve heard, “America has never been so divided,” and yet Natives have been pushed aside since this nation’s birth. It’s a reality we’ve had to live our whole lives. We continue to be marginalized and outcasted by Western society, a division created by the settler. In the eyes of the settler, we are considered a threat to their capitalist system because we are here to protect our human and non-human relatives that they seek to destroy. Capitalism thrives on competition and division. They create divisions by scapegoating immigrants and the poor when their “free-trade” policies have detrimental impacts on the economy. They create divisions when homeless Natives are demonized and killed in border towns. They create divisions between us and our non-human relatives by promising economic growth from the exploitation of our natural resources. Whether it’s protecting Mni Sose (the Missouri River) on the frontlines at Standing Rock or combating systemic racism on reservation border towns, The Red Nation is defeating these divisive tactics of the state and building solidarity with other oppressed populations. In response to my brainstorming of what we can make of this Albuquerque-based art installation, Shia told me, “Do your thing. Make it yours.” In a state where poverty and violence runs rampant, the art installation gives Natives and oppressed people of New Mexico a voice.
HWNDU mantra can apply to anyone, as most are oppressed in one way or another. Each time I repeated the mantra, I was responding to one of the many attacks by Trump on oppressed populations across the globe. His policies are a threat within and beyond the nation’s borders. For the Native movement, we join other oppressed communities recognizing our liberation is bound to theirs.
We understand chanting in sync with the community is a critical element of unifying the masses. Much like positive affirmations, chanting mantras improves the mental health and overall well-being of individuals, and it’s faith-building. By repeating positive affirmations as a collective self, we rewire defeating, negative, and divisive thought patterns to more positive and unifying ones. Collective positive affirmations should be reinforced with complementary, collective positive action. When we chant in unison, we become more mentally-capable of achieving our goals, and our goal is revolution!