Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired
Bree Newsome is an activist and artist who drew national attention in June 2015 when she climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina Capitol building and lowered the Confederate battle flag, which had been there since 1961. The ensuing publicity put pressure on state officials to remove the flag, and it was taken down for good on July 10, 2015. While this act of bravery put Newsome on the national map and gave her a platform to express her viewpoints and display her work, her activism can be observed in all the work she does. For starters, she studied film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, excelling in the classroom and earning a full scholarship. Throughout her career, she has used the skills that she learned at NYU to combine film into her art and activism.
Newsome first attracted national attention in 2012 when she released a music video, Shake It Like an Etch-A-Sketch, which attacked Mitt Romney for only representing the voice of a small group of upper class individuals (“Shake It Like an Etch-A-Sketch!”). Along the way, Newsome has won multiple awards for her work in film and activism, but it has been a bumpy road for the 33 year old. For example, in July 2013, Newsome was arrested at a sit-in at the office of then North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis while protesting North Carolina’s voter ID law, which restricted the critical student votes that won Obama the state in 2008. For Newsome, getting arrested in order to produce change is well worth the risk, as she is “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Dr. Lauranett Lee, a public historian specializing in teaching and advocacy, as well as a professor at the University of Richmond, conducted an outstanding interview, prioritizing open-ended questions that allowed Bree Newsome free range in her answers. The conversation that Lee and Newsome had was easy to follow. As an interviewer, Lee let Newsome have the spotlight, but whenever there was a potential pause in the flow of the interview, Lee would jump in with a comment that would get Newsome started on a new point or topic of interest. For example, there was a specific moment when Newsome had made a comment about monuments and in order to keep everyone engaged, Lee interrupted with a joke, “Oh, we know plenty about monuments,” which got the crowd laughing because Lee was recently appointed to Mayor Stoney’s Monument Avenue Commission. This seemed to spark Newsome, as she now had an even more engaged audience. While this may seem like a relatively unnoticeable remark, the impact that it had on every person in the room was widely felt. Lee continued this strategy throughout the interview, specifically jumping in when Newsome was winding down with what she was saying or if she felt it was appropriate to switch the topic. Lee asked questions relating to Newsome’s childhood, her education, where she could see herself in 18 months, her activism, as well as allowing for the audience to ask questions relating to specific issues on this campus and how we can address them. It was clear that Dr. Lee had done plenty of research on Newsome prior to the interview, as she was prepared with specific details regarding most of the questions she asked.
The framework of the event allowed for a comfortable setting, in which every person in the room was engaged on what Newsome and Lee were saying. Lunches were provided, which let the audience members enjoy a nice meal, relax, and simply listen to someone who has been through so much in such a short period of time. As a result of Newsome’s words, I learned that we need to live in more of a reality, focus less on the past and more on the present, and finally, while we may have a vision for what we don’t want, we need to develop a clear vision of what we do want and where we are going. These simple lessons that Bree Newsome taught me will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I am very appreciative for the people who took the time to organize a learning environment that allowed for students and faculty of all ages to come in and simply listen.
“Shake It Like an Etch-A-Sketch!” Vimeo. February 17, 2019. Accessed February 21, 2019. https://vimeo.com/49088272.