The striking thing about the 17 or so American flags rippling over State Street like giant red, white, and blue bedsheets on a clothesline is how filthy they are. I noticed the soot in the stripes last Saturday when I stood atop a planter on the corner of State and Washington. I was trying to get a better view of the “fashion show” going on there. The sidewalk show was sponsored by the “anti-interventionist” Pledge of Resistance in protest of the July 3 fireworks display over Lake Michigan. Field’s picked up the tab for this year’s fireworks and publicized them as a “Salute to the Military.” For those unable to see the promised “exploding yellow ribbons” live, Fox 32 agreed to broadcast the display.
I first became aware of the depth of the store’s patriotism one evening back before the welcome-home parade. I was wandering aimlessly about downtown, a little strange from being a little hungry, when I was startled by the appearance of the big flags at Washington and State, pristine and pure, just off the truck from the flag factory. The flags themselves weren’t so weird; it was the flags in combination with the window mannequins, the music coming from the speakers at Field’s, and the noise from the street preacher at Randolph and State. I stood counting the flags moving in the early evening sun, wondering how long they’d been up there, and I kept losing track, from being a little hungry. As I counted, Ella finished off “Stormy Weather” and began to sing “It’s nice work if you can get it” through the speakers, mannequins with cold plastic poses sported 1940s swimwear, and the preacher was telling passersby, “If you’re a liar, turn away from your lies. If you’re a hypocrite, turn away from your hypocrisy.”
Back on the corner again last Saturday, I still couldn’t get an accurate count of the flags, even though I’d had a Polish with everything on my way downtown. The food in my stomach didn’t seem to clear up the surrealistic appearance of the mannequins in their nostalgic attire, either. Particularly since in front of them stood five human mannequins. They stood very still as protesters circling in a picket line replaced the preacher’s moral pleas with their own, drowning out the piped-out music with irreverent chants: “One, two, three, four,” they shouted. “Marshall Field’s loved the war; five, six, seven, eight, box the whole store in a crate.” And “Prowar fireworks, we say no. It’s amazing what you think we don’t know.”
Kate Schechter, founder along with Susan Seizer of the TWAT Team, which stands for Theater With Alienating Tendencies, was serving as emcee. She introduced Seizer, the first mannequin, as the “Mother of All Patriotism.” Red, white, and blue stripes ran down her face, covering even her eyelashes. Despite the heat, she wore a large American flag around her shoulders like a shawl. She opened it to reveal a diorama at her belly that contained toy soldiers crawling through a rugged terrain. “America is just pregnant with possibilities,” she said; “God bless only America.” She was followed by the “United States of Amokko,” dressed in black, and “Consumer Capitalism”–a woman draped with Coca-Cola cans, McDonald’s packaging, cereal boxes, bleach bottles. They swung from side to side as she sauntered like a fashion model. “What can I say,” she said. “I’m a material girl.” Consumer Capitalism gave way to “Money Itself,” wearing oversized dollars earmarked with Magic Marker for weapons systems and El Salvador. Finally, the field marshal Marshall Field strutted out pointing her cardboard gun and made the following statement: “Any comment at this juncture would be a breach of national security.”
The TWAT team started out doing street performances critiquing the media’s war coverage, or lack thereof, back in the days of the antiwar protests last winter. Now they mocked the deal between Field’s and Fox 32. TWAT Team actors darted around the fashion show, pretending to capture it with cardboard cameras. Schechter imitated a TV anchor, at one point asking the Mother of All Patriotism to explain why she was cutting up her Field’s credit card. “Marshall Field’s is honoring patriotism as the military. They are trying to tell us what patriotism is to us on our day of independence. Killing children of another country isn’t how independence is won.”
Inside Marshall Field’s the balconies overlooking the main floor of the department store were lined with surprised Saturday shoppers. Lawyer and Pledge of Resistance organizer Melinda Power explained that some had gone into the store to “disrupt business as usual.” The acoustics were perfect. “One hundred fifty thousand dead and Marshall Field’s throws a party! One hundred fifty thousand dead and Marshall Field’s throws a party!” rang louder and faster over the countertops and up the elevator shafts as the police pushed through a circle of about 30 activists surrounding about 15 others who had “died” on the floor. The police dragged the limp bodies across the waxy floors one by one, as stunned shoppers read the leaflets drifting down from the balconies. The leaflets accused Field’s of wanting to re-create a night in Baghdad, complete with exploding yellow ribbons and Patriot missiles. (Field’s had denied any plans to include any missiles in the fireworks display.)
One indignant shopper threatened to go to court to defend the cops. “I wonder who supports these kids,” she said of the protesters, many of whom looked to be in their 30s and 40s. “I think they take welfare. I as a stupid taxpayer support them.”
Three women behind the cosmetics counter used the word stupid too. One touched up her makeup in an oval mirror as the last of the protesters was dragged through the door. “I didn’t even know about the military theme,” she said.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.