Good-time activism
Pete Wagner: He's trying to demonstrate something
City Pages / Alternative Weekly of Minneapolis / Page 3 / June 10, 1982

BY LAST FRIDAY, Pete Wagner al-ready had compiled several nice, neat packages of newspaper clips about the extravaganza he and his Brain Trust 1985 buddies had staged two days earlier. The photographic image of Wagner is no stranger to local newsprint and videotape, and neither are statements attributed to him. In 1975, while he was a cartoonist, for the Minnesota Daily, he painted the word FUCK on his forehead and walked up to evangelist Brother Jed (see adjoining story) to plant a big kiss on his cheek. Wagner lost his job, but gained a reputation as a latter-day Yippie. The big event last Wednesday was the highly publicized All-Purpose (Generic) Demonstration on the University of Minnesota's Northrop Mall. The purpose of the demonstration, as Wagner explained in the days preceding it, was to show people that fun and political activism aren't mutually exclusive terms. People were encouraged to attend and demonstrate any kind of beef they might have, no matter how silly. Laird Brooks Schmidt showed up with a campaign he called Take Over Television. Someone else walked around with a message imploring record buyers not to subsidize dead rock stars. A wild right winger named Joe Head, who tours the country towing a full-scale replica of the Liberty Bell, also was there. A ways away, in front of Coffman Union, Brother Jed and the Destroyers were treating the crowd to high comedy. The value of the demonstration is debatable. Some people thought the whole thing was rather silly. Wagner, of course defends it. "For what it was intended to do, it did what it should have," he said. And what is that? In a manner of speaking, he said, it was a consciousness raiser for people who have never been in a demonstration. It was an effort to show people that political gatherings don't have to be so horribly dull, as they usually are. Demonstrations, - generic - or otherwise, provide the "best potential for expression of alternative ideas for radicals and other people who don't have access to the media," he said. Wagner calls himself a "political artist," and that if organizing the generic demonstration can be considered an art form, he is therefore attempting to articulate the "highest possible consciousness." Such is his definition of art. "I want to create a focal point for the mass culture to use as a means of integrating political ideals into itself. I want to reach the ladies who shop at K-Mart." Previous radicals, ones who were active in the '60s, were too smug, too elite, Wagner believes. They underestimated the intelligence of potential allies and offended them with their snobbery. "If you insist on imposing values of the college subculture on people you're never going to get anywhere"' he said. Wagner now has plans for other generic demonstrations, going national with them. This week, he is talking with former Brain Trusters now living in Chicago and Ithaca, N.Y., about organizing similar demonstrations there.
-Dick Dahl

 
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