St. Patrick's Cathedral, Again

Between noon and 12:45 PM on Sunday 23 July 2000, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performed God's Eyes Here on Earth over and over again in front of one of the surveillance cameras at St. Patrick's Cathedral, which is located in midtown Manhattan, New York City. The SCP returned to St. Patrick's to perform God's Eyes for the second time in eight days because the group had such a great time the first time. Without a doubt, the SCP's second appearance at this New York landmark was even more enjoyable (and hopefully even more effective) than the first one.

Just before the performances began, one of the members of the SCP recognized a famous man standing on the steps of the Cathedral: none other than Chuck Colson, one of the President's men at the center of the Watergate scandal, and someone who became a born-again Christian while in prison. Taking the appearance of this famous criminal as a good omen, the SCP threw themselves into the performance with renewed passion and sense of purpose. Unfortunately, Mr. Colson was already inside the Cathedral when the SCP began to perform.

Because the play can be performed as a solo, and because three members of the SCP were in attendance, the group was able to have one person handing out flyers while the other two performed. (One performer held up the board that proclaimed SURVEILLANCE CAMERA PLAYERS, pointed to the surveillance camera, and prayed to it after the play was done, while the other performer held up the five boards that comprise the play itself, and prayed at the end.) But even if it didn't have someone to hand out flyers and field questions, the group would have talked to a good number of people. Unlike the audience for the 16 July 2000 performance at St. Patrick's, which stopped and watched, but didn't contain any people who came up to the group to ask questions as it performed, the audience for the 23 July performance at the Cathedral contained several people who came right up and asked questions, such as "So what's your problem with the cameras?" On a couple of occasions, the performers engaged in conversation with people and performed the play at the very same time. A good number of people the group talked to were receptive to the idea that, even if the cameras are in fact necessary to "fight crime" (and that's a big "if"), their existence should be announced by a clearly visible sign, especially if they are installed on the grounds of a church. Other people were much less receptive. One man who caught a quick glance of the SCP's boards as he exited the Cathedral dismissed the group by saying sarcastically, "Look: it's a cause," as if anything that is a "cause" is not worth paying any attention to. "Yup," he said after he saw what was written on one of the boards; "I told you it was a cause."

The responses of the New York Police Department to the SCP's performances were quite interesting. The policeman who was assigned to watch the Cathedral that day had no problem at all with the SCP's performances. The cop's manner was so relaxed that one of the members of the SCP went up to him while the performance was in progress and joked with him about how quiet the SCP's protests were. (The SCP always performs in silence.) No lover of cops, the SCPer was seizing on an opportunity to deflate whatever illusions about protesters this particular cop might or might not have: protesters (especially anarchists) are noisy, angry and potentially dangerous; they don't really want to talk to people; they simply want to yell and get attention; you shouldn't give them an inch, because they'll take a mile, etc. etc. Conversely, the SCPer was trying to show the cop that, for his part, the SCP had no illusions about police officers: not all cops are trigger-happy killers; police officers are workers, not the privileged few for whom work is done; the simple presence of a police officer is not sufficient reason to call off or alter the presentation or content of constitutionally protected forms of protest, etc. etc.

And yet, 45 minutes after the group started its performances of God's Eyes, the SCP were ultimately "shut down" by a police officer. Significantly, this officer was not the cop with whom the member of the SCP joked, but a cop who, as he was driving down Fifth Avenue with his partner, saw people holding signs in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral and decided to move in. "Do you have a permit to be demonstrating in front of the Cathedral?" the cop in the driver's seat called out his window. Rather than get into a discussion about permits, the very premise of which favors the police (you either do or do not have a permit, no matter how hard you argue that no permit other than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is needed), the SCP simply said "We're done," stopped performing, and went its separate ways, confident that it had already made its point. (The group had planned to perform for another 15 minutes, to make one hour in total).

For these performances, the SCP consisted of Miranda, Susan and Bill. After Susan's departure, she was replaced by new-comer Deb. No media was in attendance, and no one from the SCP took video or still photographs.

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By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

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