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"Breaking a circle or making a circle": Why divisive arguments drove Steve Espinola to "dream logic" at hearing Wednesday

To many of the people in the room Wednesday near the end of a long public hearing on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan, Prospect Heights resident Steve Espinola's seemingly spacey musings about "making a circle or breaking a circle" and how we all "eat" each other served as comic relief.

But, as shown when he responded to hecklers--"You can take out due process; you can turn a hearing about it into a public mockery”--Espinola was trying to make a point about the enterprise at hand. (Transcript below)

The "irrational energies"

He emailed me an explanation:
"You're either making a circle or breaking a circle" is something a Native American elder told me. (Native Americans generally have a strong experiential understanding of the process and dynamics of land grabs.) I figured it was time to try a little dream logic or illogic to break through the dichotomous arguments. This process has been all about dividing people, destroying existing and potential connection and community. In other words, breaking a circle.

Making us define ourselves as "Pro" or "Against" on the hearing's sign-up sheet is a part of that tactic, even if it is claimed that it is for the sake of programmatic "balance." It seems to be limiting the range and potential creativity of the testimony. It's a mindset I no longer want to play into.

A room full of people had just jeered a woman who was talking about her asthma,
[excerpts below] and I was shocked at the lack of empathy. I was even shocked that I was shocked. Then, Maureen [Shea] from the Green Party had made an excellent, grounded, nondivisive speech which said every rational thing I would have wanted to say, and better than I could have said it.

My first impulse was to say simply "I agree with Maureen," but I decided to talk about respectful cannibalism instead and out-irrationalize the irrational energies in the room, from as calm a place as I could muster. I didn't even want to fight the violence anymore, so I was trying to work with it, and present it as a conscious choice that had choices within it.

It wasn't a prepared speech, but I knew what I wanted to convey. Given that I had a nice, long, sweet conversation with an elderly and concerned member of ACORN afterwards, something good and connecting came out of it.

(Videos shot by Jonathan Barkey; edited by Norman Oder)

Update: the Espinola transcript

Because the audio on the YouTube excerpt is unclear, here's the transcript, as supplied by Espinola.

Steve Espinola: I have no idea what I'm gonna say, I, uh….I keep changing my mind on that, but um….(pause) You're either making a circle or breaking a circle at any moment. That's what I was starting to think, and then I was thinking….You know, we're all just animals here, after all, right, that's all we are, we're all animals, and we all just gotta eat. So I was out there and I had the….

Audience man: You are an animal!

Espinola: …the "For" or "Against" [a column in the signup sheet where speakers had to state their stance as "For the Project" or "Against the Project"] and I was trying to figure that out, and I was just kinda like, "Let's Eat." That's what I wrote down. And, when, back when I was a tiger, you know, I had to eat some other animals. And there's a way to eat animals in a respectful way…

Audience woman: What?

Espinola: …and a way to eat animals in a disrespectful way. So I guess I'm just sayin', you know, if this thing gets built the way it's going forward right now, it's not respecting, the animals….

Audience man: Who the hell you callin' an animal, bro?

Espinola: Me! You. Everyone, everyone here is an animal. So…..if I get eaten I hope it gets done in a respectful way. So I just invite anyone who's gonna eat me….Eat me….to do it, you know, respectfully, you know, have a conversation. That's all, that's all I'm saying. Make a circle, make a circle. We can all be, we can all be eating each other in a good way. It doesn't have to be so ferocious, you know…..[drowned out] ..Not, greedy….

Some audience members: Build it now! Build it now! Build it now!

Espinola: Well, I mean, there's something to be said for _that_. There's something to be said for that. You can just do it, you know, no democracy, you can just dismantle democracy, you can just take all that out. (laughs) You can just take it all out, you can take out due process, you can just turn any kind of hearing about it into a public mockery….

Moderator: Everybody, if he's interrupted he will be getting an additional minute or two.

Espinola: You can pay people, you know, to come and interrupt other people or something like that. [drowned out] So that's all I'm saying. Think about it, making a circle vs. breaking a circle, you know, think about how, _how_ you're eating people, other peop-- other creatures. And is it respectful or disrespectful. Thank you. And eat, eat! Let's eat.