On the Bodily Pain of Protest by Michelle M. Campbell



Martyrdom is easiest when you know the ending. It’s the waiting, the continuing struggle toward a diminishing goal post, that is one of the hardest parts.

I am part of a group that has been occupying the administration building of Purdue University in protest again the lack of administrative outcry against fascist posters put up around campus in late November. A group of students, and some faculty and staff, have been occupying the atrium of the administration building, just a flight of stairs away from the President’s office, since January 20th. We argued that if the administration did not take a firm stand against fascism and white supremacy on campus, it would continue to rear its ugly head. The fascists are here, we warned. But the administration line was, and has continued to be: we don’t really know what the posters are saying; don’t give them too much attention, that’s all they want.

And then, on March 8th, International Women’s Day, there were more posters, anti-feminist in observance of this special day, of course. This time, they arrived with the mark of another fascist group. The fascists, it seems, are here to stay, emboldened by the current political climate. We radicals are here to stay, too.

We have clear demands. We are defiantly committed. We are unexpectedly well organized. We even have a snack suitcase.

You can read all the radical theory you want, all the books about the Paris Commune, and strikes and marches. What they forget to tell you about is the pain. Not the pain of torture, death, or imprisonment, but the self-imposed pain of protest and struggle.

How can I describe the labor of nothingness on the waiting body?

It’s the pain in your toes that refuse to unfurl, the long muscles of your neck taunt like the reins leading to a horse muzzle, the searing reminder of pulled back muscles, the vice-grip headaches from too many convenient carbs.

It’s the tightening in the small of your back that refuses to be released except by a cocktail of ibuprofen, hydration, and precise stretching that produces a crackling sound reminiscent of hungry teeth extirpating a pork rind.

It’s the daily exhaustion of rushing to sit, to occupy space, to simply be, within the confines of a harsh man-made space that was constructed to be nothing more than a linear space through which to pass.

It’s the bodily commitment to the static, and the physical and mental consequences of such an anti-human, inorganic commitment.

Four weeks in, at a public meeting, our representatives decried the fact that we thought we had been there a long time. It’s ridiculous, we echoed to each other with nods of recognition. Yet, we persisted. At the time of composition of this piece, we’ve more than doubled that four weeks. In fact, it has now been forty days of occupation: A Lenten observation for the radical soul.

When shall we rise off the floor of our discontent and step back into the light of our lives? That is not within my power to say. So, here we remain in our bodies. Working. Waiting. Existing.



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