Entering downtown Providence’s Columbus Theater for Friday night’s Earth2Trump Roadshow of Resistance, local community members encountered a wide array of booths and petitions offering everything from the opportunity to sign senate-bound postcards to the chance to pick up free endangered species-themed condoms. Closer to the main stage, speakers blasted popular hits by ’60s and ’70s bands such as Canned Heat and The Mamas and the Papas alluding to a history of protest. A dancer in a polar bear suit grooved to the music, adding a cheerful element to an otherwise politically charged event.
Earth2Trump Roadshow of Resistance, affiliated with the Center for Biological Diversity, showed how performance can function as protest, featuring a series of acts that addressed President Trump’s policies, particularly those that pertain to indigenous peoples’ rights and environmental degradation.
“There (are) so many ways to resist,” said Brytnee Laurette, an activist and speaker touring with the roadshow. “A lot of people think that, you know, to be an activist you have to be on the frontline … I think art is activism. There’s a word for it, too, it’s ‘artivism.’”
Planning for the show began in November, following the election, and the first tour began in January, Laurette said. In addition to speeches by Laurette, the show includes performances by musicians Lyla June and Casey Neill and features speeches from activist and Lakota elder Cheryl Angel. Earth2Trump has already toured the West Coast and the South, and throughout April, it will continue to tour the Northeast.
During Friday’s performance, Laurette took the stage just after 7 p.m., thanking local tribes for allowing the roadshow space on their land. A Narragansett family joined her, offering a local standpoint on global issues by pointing out that the city of Providence is not guiltless in the nation’s affronts to indigenous peoples. The parking lot of the Providence mall covers an ancestral burial ground, noted a speaker.
Cheyenne and Diné artist Lyla June’s performance followed Laurette’s comments. She began with a hip-hop piece focused on the political issues the show hoped to tackle. Afterwards, she sang piercing, hopeful and, at times, sorrowful songs, addressing environmental issues and indigenous rights today. Casey Neill came next, bringing a slightly more positive attitude, suggesting that people “find one issue (they) care about and dig in.” He invited audience members to join the dancer in the polar bear suit and himself on stage for his song “Ice Bear,” which centers around endangered polar bears. “Critters don’t have voices,” Neill crooned.
Angel spoke about the immense challenges she faced protesting at Standing Rock. She described standing on the frontlines wearing goggles on nights she felt sure she would face arrest. Bringing her hands together, she suggested two ways of resisting: prayer and action.
Throughout her speech, Angel offered a message of intergenerational hope and respect. She joined June in a prayer for Syria following Friday’s missile strike. Angel finished the show with another prayer.
“Sometimes it’s hard and you lose hope,” Laurette said. On the tour, she wants to create a space to “share and learn from people just traveling through.”