VIRTUAL & AUGMENTED REALITY: PROTESTING COLUMBUS

METROFOCUS WEB EXCLUSIVE

New York activist Glenn Cantave is using groundbreaking methods in his fight to replace the statue of Christopher Columbus. The founder and CEO of Movers & Shakers believes virtual and augmented reality is key to understanding the need to remove what he calls “symbols of hate”.

TRANSCRIPT

I'm William Jones to MetroFocus virtual reality.

Its technology transforming so many industries none more so than our very own.

But what about political activism?

Does this technology have the ability to deliver powerful messages in methods we've never witnessed before?

That's the philosophy of Glenn Cantave, the founder and CEO of Movers & Shakers.

It's an activist coalition focused on using augmented reality to push for the removal of the statue of Christopher Columbus that stands tall in Columbus Circle and has been at the center of a contentious citywide debate over whether controversial monuments should come down.

I'm delighted to welcome Glenn to the program.

Glenn great to have you here.

Glenn: Thanks for having me.

William: Virtual reality, augmented reality how can we take that technology applied to political activism to enhance our debate over what we think of these particular statues and whether they should be placed in New York?

Glenn: Sure.

So one of the phrases that you often hear associated with virtual reality is ultimate empathy machine.

And the reason for that is because when you put on a virtual reality headset you're essentially immersing yourself in a new environment.

And so there are various stimuli all around you.

It's up to the artists, the engineers to pretty much cater that experience and the idea is to feel something a lot more profound than what you would see in a YouTube video.

It's almost as if you were there.

As far as augmented reality is concerned we're working on a book right now.

It's called White Supremacy 101: Columbus the hero.

And so the way that it works is that Movers & Shakers has gotten a talented team of different illustrators, animators, poets, rappers, sound designers, and programmers to create a narrative on the true story of Christopher Columbus and so all of with every- each illustration and animation that you see it's all backed up with poetry that is based on academically verifiable evidence of the truth of Columbus.

William: It's one we've seen a debate emerge over recent months following the violence in Charlottesville over the appropriateness of these statues.

For me watching this debate it's very polarized your people are one side, people on the others - for me not too many in the middle.

Most people have made their mind up.

So I wonder this virtual reality.

Who's it targeted at?

Glenn: Yeah great question.

So the idea of the- of virtual reality.

I'd have to respectfully disagree with you.

Because- William: You think there's people in the middle?

Glenn: Yeah there are definitely people in the middle.

I've met with city council people where I- when I've addressed this issue they said they haven't even thought about Columbus Circle to begin with because we've been doing this work for a while.

And so the reason why I say that is because there- it's Columbus Circle and white supremacy is so ingrained in our society in so many different ways it's almost as if it's invisible.

So what we want to do with the augmented reality is highlight you know narratives in different work that people have done your Howard Zinn's and your Michelle Alexander's of the world who have these deep layered contexts that you know you can read through it but most people don't.

And so with augmented reality we're distilling this information and we're making it easily digestible so that those who have been exposed to this information can get through it in five minutes.

The book talks to you.

William: So your organization has been really focusing on this issue and the statues at the moment.

A commission has been formed here in New York City and they've held public hearings in all five boroughs to discuss with members of the public whether they believe it's appropriate to have these in the city.

Do you think that's a good way in order to outline a clear and thoughtful policy?

Do you think these public hearings are of use?

Glenn: So I think it's a- it's a good start.

It's a good effort.

I like the fact that the city is decided to acknowledge that it is necessary to finally analyze these monuments of hate.

However, I do have certain issues like- I like that- I acknowledge the existence of the committee.

However, there are issues when you have all five of the committee sessions being held at 10am on a work day.

And so that skews the distribution of opinion.

I was at four out of the five- out of the five of them and a lot of the opinions that you saw there.

It was more conservative opinions in terms of what should happen with the statutes.

And the bottom line is in terms of the monuments of hate.

The issue really relates to for the most part for people of color.

And a lot of people of color were not there because of work obligations.

And so if we are the people who are mostly affected by this issue it's really problematic that we don't have that platform for accurate representation because at the end of the day the media covers- covers that.

Anderson has a submission form online.

But the media's talk is the one that conveys the distribution of opinions.

William: So you call for a referendum?

Glenn: Absolutely.

We're- Movers & Shakers is working on- on building up a coalition right now.

We're working with people like James Felton Keith congressional candidate.

We're working with Black Lives- Black Lives Matter greater New York City Hawk Newsome and we're creating a coalition of different groups to push for a referendum for the 2018 ballot and we're saying let the people decide.

William: So you say let the people decide.

Glenn: Yes.

William: Our colleagues at PBS News Hour conducted a poll with NPR.

The question they asked two thousand individuals was: do you think statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy should remain or be removed?

We've broken down the numbers there by people over forty-five and under forty-five.

Interestingly, in both age groups regarding if you are the older population of the younger population 60 percent or more in both categories believe that those statue should remain.

Do those results surprise you?

Glenn: No, I'm not surprised whatsoever.

William: Why?

Glenn: Because as I was saying white supremacy is ingrained in our society in so many different ways.

And so the simple fact is that people see statues as relics- There's there's different representations really there's there's relics that glorify the past.

There are people who see them as just you know it's history or erasing history but it's honestly not that simple.

William: You've held protests here in New York, which are provocative in nature.

Led down in Union Square in shackles and you were publicly whipped we see the video right now.

You mention you want people who view those protests to feel discomfort.

Why?

Glenn: Absolutely.

Here's the thing in terms of pushing an agenda forward discomfort is everything.

In terms of what Columbus represents I'm ready to put my body on the line and I've demonstrated that I'm putting my body on the line and showing that provocative form of activism it's like saying look this hurt.

It really did hurt.

But it's nothing compared to the atrocities and the genocide, the murder and the rape that was committed.

William: Glenn Cantave is the founder and CEO of Movers & Shakers.

Glenn, really appreciate you coming to explain a little about your organization.

Glenn: Thank you.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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