activism walking tour

On April 10, a guided walking tour led by PUPSA (Princeton University Public Space Authority) left Princeton’s School of Architecture. A poster advertising the tour promised it would “explore public spaces as they existed at Princeton in the 1960s and 1970s and investigate how students and activists tried to manifest, address, improve, and protest urban and other crises both at Princeton and in the broader regional and national communities.” My tour guide was Nico Krell ’18, a student in Aaron Landsman’s Creating Collaborative Theater class. He began the tour by insisting that the PUPSA, an organization that has apparently been a part of the University since just after the Civil War, is not pronounced “puh-psa” but “poo-psa.” It is “an analogue archive” that relies on other peoples’ memories, Krell said. The tour would focus how common spaces have changed — and have changed activism. Krell, reading from a script I would later learn was written by Landsman, led the group to McCosh Courtyard. Krell spoke about a powerful moment in 1970 when the student body stayed out of class to protest the war in Vietnam. Pointing to Dickinson Hall, Krell said that this is where the students demanded that the University divest from the war. Krell offered reflections on the changing nature of gathering and, more specifically, activism. Compare this to Black Lives Matter, which brought 500 people out to protest, Krell said. “But maybe if activism is here,” pointing to his phone, “and a hundred thousand people see the video of those 500, maybe that’s OK,” he said. [caption id="attachment_10952" align="alignright" width="300"] The PUPSA tour group at Firestone Plaza. (Alexandra Markovich ’17) The PUPSA tour group at Firestone Plaza. (Alexandra Markovich ’17)[/caption] When we arrived at Firestone Plaza, Krell told the story of Harlan Joseph, or, at least, what Princeton historian Alison Isenberg knows of his story so far (the details, Krell said, are still “foggy”). Isenberg will later tell me that the accounts of Joseph's death in the local and national press were conflicted and confused by the details of Joseph's exemplary and inspiring life. This will be an important part of the story, she said, and insists that I not leave out the details of his life. McCosh Hall is where Harlan Joseph spent a summer in 1964. “Bear with me. We’re getting there. I guess that’s the thing about time. Once it’s over, it’s hard to tell,” Krell said mysteriously. Joseph was part of a group Princeton had for high school students from Trenton, students they called “Dreamers.” Krell continued: “He spent a summer, what was called, in newspapers, a ‘quiet summer.’ Learning. About things. And also learning about how to learn here, and about the differences between his city, just outside these confines, and the societies that exist within these confines.” Joseph got into and attended Lincoln University. He studied religion and social work, Krell said, and came back to Trenton often. “April 4, 1968, MLK was killed, six days ago, 47 years ago,” Krell told the tour group. I will learn that on April 9, the day of King's funeral, Trentonians took to the streets. Harlan, who was home for spring break, was shot dead, shot in the back by a policeman. A young Princeton couple drove Joseph’s mother to the hospital. “The police said he was one of the looters,” Krell said. Krell continues, now to suggest that technology closes the gap between “police said” and what was. “Day before yesterday someone posted a video they’d filmed on their phone, of Walter Scott being shot in the back by a police officer, and it if hadn’t been captured on that phone, we’d all be hearing about how Scott had been a threat to the cop. The way Harlan Joseph was a looter, end of story. So maybe activism does happen here,” Krell concluded, pointing to his phone again. The tour, which forced the group to consider virtual common spaces and the activism they support, walks back to the School of Architecture, where the tour concludes. Here’s the catch: When the tour finishes, Krell pulls me aside to tell me that PUPSA is not real. Though the content of the rest of the tour was drawn from facts, the organization is fiction. Landsman explained to me that he wrote the script as something of a performance piece and something of a social experiment. Landsman, a Princeton Arts Fellow, is a playwright, exploring site-specific and interactive work. He told me that the tour was meant to raise questions about authority and make us question how we trust history. He also wanted to explore the atmosphere of what led up to 1970, particularly relevant to Landsman now, after seeing the protests in New York City following a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner.