It Just Might Work: Conflict reenactments

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by Daniel Wirtheim

Our battles — the friction between two opposing moral entities — can tell us a lot about the people we are. It’s along those lines that every March a group of volunteers dressed in 18th Century battle gear march upon Greensboro’s national military park to reenact the Battle of Guildford Courthouse. It’s a Guilford County origin story, a cultural celebration of sorts for Nathanael Greene, the general whose name inspired a Triad city and later a brewery.

The practice of battle reenactment is a fully immersive art that requires public participation and an understanding of the historical implications for such conflicts. For the most part, the mock battles have been designated to old wars and I haven’t seen anyone take on the little conflicts or small battles that say just as much, if not more, about our cities today.

What about the battle for racial integration, or the battle for more workers’ rights? These sometimes violent and deeply emotional battles tell a story far more relevant to the current state of our cities than an 18th Century war. Sure they’re ugly, which is probably why no one’s done this type of thing before, but hiding from a racist or unjust past is not helping anyone. Reenacting a conflict could helps us better understand ourselves as well as our villainous entities.

Hundreds of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse actors are playing British soldiers, and that means doing extensive research on the colonial force’s mindset. When we literally put on the shoes of an enemy, we might begin to understand that person’s motivation. A cop might have something to learn from playing a protestor and likewise. There’s nothing to be lost in trying to understand one another’s point of view.

It might start as a conceptual art project, just a few friends reenacting a violent protest before moving onto more elaborate scenes like a family’s battle to keep their home in the face of gentrification. The format of battle reenacting can fit the shape of any conflict, big or small. The idea being that reliving a struggle through another’s eyes might be the way to better understand the discord.