Our stores of the past shape our future. There is a growing movement to use augmented reality technologies to reclaim suppressed histories by creating site-specific AR art installations that challenge institutionally-backed narratives. Glenn Cantave’s Movers and Shakers has created an AR experience that recontextualizes Christopher Columbus’ human rights abuses through creating iconic imagery that associates the traditional American colonial symbols with slavery, violence, and genocide. Cantave is leading a grassroots effort to remove the Christopher Columbus Statue in the middle of Manhattan, and has plans to expand their site-specific AR piece into a city-wide, holographic museum that regains control over the overarching narrative of Black history.
Movers and Shakers will also soon be releasing an augmented reality statue memorializing Colin Kaepernick that can be triggered by the map on a subway car. Micah Miller of Art 404 Contributed the Colin Kaepernick Statue to the cause, & Cantave had the idea for using the subway map as the image target.
This AR app will be a part of their effort to raise money and awareness for a separate ballot initiative that would assign a cultural heritage representative within the New York City government to provide a voice that could advocate for more representation in the histories that are being taught in schools. This ballot initiative would also implement a participatory budgeting process using Stable Coin blockchain currency, which could be a pilot implementation that catalyzes change around the country towards using blockchain technologies for a more participatory democracy.
Indigenous Futurist Jason Edward Lewis told me that the mythology of America is that we think that we can escape our past. Cantave responded to this myth by saying that Black Americans can’t escape the past, and they’re still living with the consequences of the past with all of the various human rights abuses and racial inequality that Black Americans are facing — which catalyzed the #BlackLivesMatter movement as well as NFL protests.
There are unconscious shadow elements to the history that America tells itself, and it’s possible that this inability to honestly reckon with the past is in part of what’s leading to today’s current polarization in the US. Cantave is advocating for speaking the truth, and to use the engagement and contextual immersion of AR to start to challenge mainstream symbols of colonial power. Statues are cultural symbols that represent a collective sentiment, and Cantave feels that it’s time to fully acknowledge the truth of the harm done and injustices committed by making a collective decision to remove the Christopher Columbus statue in Manhattan. I spoke with Cantave at the VRTO conference in Toronto, Canada on Sunday, June 18th, 2018.
Movers and Shakers is looking for funding and help to build these types of racial justice immersive experiences, and so get in touch if you’d like to help out.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So in our world today, we have a lot of polarization, and people are on completely different sides of different issues. And I think to some extent, part of that is because there's these different narratives as to what the past is and what has actually led us up to what is happening in this moment. And I think that there's this current process that I see that's happening right now, which is trying to either reclaim the past or trying to tell a new story and to be able to challenge a lot of the existing narratives that are out there. And so I had a chance to talk to Glenn Gonsalve. He's the activist, social entrepreneur and a performance artist with a group that he founded called Movers and Shakers. And they're doing a number of really different, interesting things. They have an augmented reality application that has some art that is trying to symbolically tell a different story about Christopher Columbus than the official narrative that is coming with both the official holiday as well as the tall statue in New York City that was erected back in 1892. And they also have a ballot initiative in order to bring about change within New York City, trying to have this cultural representative who is looking at how the history is being taught within the education system within New York City, but also to create this really interesting way of redistributing wealth, kind of like this social experiment using blockchain technologies to be able to have an entity that is going to allow for the participatory budgetary process within New York City, that they're advertising also through augmented reality, through an application that they're going to be releasing that is memorializing Colin Kopernik. So I had a chance to sit down with Glenn and to talk about racial justice and trying to reclaim the past with immersive technologies on today's episode, The Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Glenn happened on Sunday, June 17th, 2018 at the VRTO conference in Toronto, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:08.176] Glenn Contave: So my name is Glenn Cantave. I'm 24 years old. I'm an activist, social entrepreneur, and performance artist. And I started a group called Movers and Shakers. We highlight the narratives of the oppressed people through virtual, augmented reality, and the creative arts. And we're currently engaged in a summer campaign that basically uses VR and AR as the triggers for engagement to call out for the necessity for New York City to democratize access to knowledge of the history of marginalized communities on one end. And then the other aspect is pushing for participatory budgeting on the blockchain.
[00:02:45.747] Kent Bye: Great. So we're here at the VRTO and had a number of different AR VR experiences that I had a chance to just experience. So let's start with the Columbus Circle statue and the different AR pieces that you have there. And maybe you could describe a little bit more of the context, the backstory and what you were trying to do there. Absolutely. So.
[00:03:04.606] Glenn Contave: I can't stand looking up at Christopher Columbus in the middle of New York City. And I thought about the idea of disrupting the narrative in general. I think that institutional ownership of narratives is a major issue that contributes to the systemic dehumanization of Black and brown people that has happened since the genesis of this country and even before that, specifically at 1492. And I thought it would be important to at least challenge the narrative in terms of calling out Columbus specifically so we can unravel white supremacy at its core. And so typically when statues are removed, it's under two circumstances. Number one, it's either if a government chooses to do so, or number two, during a regime change when people are pulling it down themselves. So I thought it would be interesting to start a grassroots movement, similar to take them down NOLA in New Orleans, Louisiana, to pretty much do the same thing and kind of spark a national conversation in terms of how we should handle the genesis of our history. Because, you know, recently Trump is literally separating children from their families at the border. So if you look at the unsympathetic immigration policies, if you look at the epidemic of mass incarceration that's in the United States, if you look at police brutality and the general apathy, when it comes to mainstream America and how they react to people of color, unarmed black men specifically getting shot and killed by the police. It all boils down to the systemic process of dehumanization that has occurred both on the education side and the media side. So we need to handle that properly.
[00:04:43.504] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that when I read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, there was a casting of the history of the narrative that was a perspective of those who were not the victors. You know, often history is written by those who end up succeeding and winning in the end, and then there's a part of the history of that narrative that is kind of subjugated to the unconscious shadow sides of our mythology that we have that we're standing upon so the history of colonization as well as the costs that happen there there's a certain amount of traumas that were propagated against entire swaths of people that remains to this day intergenerational trauma for those people and yet the stories and narratives that we tell about that are still propagated through these, what you're saying, these institutionalized ways of either Columbus Day as a national holiday or these statues. And so how are you using these immersive technologies to be able to start to shift this narrative and maybe have these other perspectives start to come in for these other dimensions of this history that may have been, you know, subjugated to the shatter or unconscious dimensions of our mythology?
[00:05:46.778] Glenn Contave: So before getting into how, I think it's important to break down why. So you mentioned Howard Zinn's People History of America and the The issue is that, you know, it's amazing that you read it, but, you know, it's a 600 page plus really thick book. Most people are not going to read that book unless they're getting paid to do so or some sort of teacher is forcing them to read it. So the value of augmented reality and what we're doing in this context is that we're creating something that literally we have an app where the images come to life. And so I like to think of it as something that's visually compelling and we're distilling the work of your Howard Zins and Michelle Alexanders of the world into something that someone can get through in five to ten minutes. And it's our goal to have these type of installations in public spaces so that New Yorkers can download the app for free and get the real story.
[00:06:34.595] Kent Bye: What is the real story of Columbus?
[00:06:37.157] Glenn Contave: The real story of Columbus is one of genocide people don't realize that two years after he was on the island half the iraq population was wiped out it started off with two hundred fifty thousand people was literally wiped out and i understand you know they were different implications in terms of disease that the indigenous people were not resistant to but it doesn't and they're a lot of pushback that i've gotten from Conservative Italian voices was that we're judging Columbus by the standards of 2018, and I don't see that to be the case. What most people do not realize is that if you read Columbus's diary, he explicitly wrote that nine and 10-year-old girls were in high demand. We're talking about sexual slavery of children, pedophilia rampant while he is the governor of Hispaniola, okay? And so I don't care what standards you're from, pedophilia transcends generations, and it's morally wrong. Moving forward, what people also do not realize is that the Spanish crown themselves realized that Columbus was too cruel to the people of Hispaniola. One example was the hawksbill punishment. If you were 14 years old or older, you needed to give one hawksbill full of gold every three months. It was a requirement. And if you did not do so, he would cut off both of your hands. And so the Spanish were thinking about this, and they're like, this man is extremely cruel. They threw him in jail. So someone who perpetuated pedophilia, perpetuated genocide, and was literally too cruel by the standards of the 1500s was placed in jail. But meanwhile, since 1892, has been glorified as a statue in New York City. And then if we look at broader in terms of the national context, there are two individuals who are praised with a holiday. That's Dr. King, and that's Christopher Columbus. One, a human rights activist who gave his life for the cause, and the other, someone who literally facilitated genocide and catalyzed the genocide of 80 to 100 million indigenous people across two continents, as well as the transatlantic slave trade. That's why most black people are here, no?
[00:08:34.962] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as you tell this story, the thing that comes to mind is that there's a narrative that you're saying using language and the challenge of augmented reality is, you know, how do you translate this complex, nuanced history that is a story that's pretty involved to very simple images and some sort of symbolic representation of that? Because we have these statues that are promoting some sort of symbolic image of Columbus and yet you're trying to some way use images and augmented reality to be able to change that. So how do you translate the complexity of this type of story into imagery?
[00:09:07.699] Glenn Contave: So it's not exclusively imagery. The first iteration of our installation is the visual component, but we're also working on a soundtrack and we're working with professors to make sure that we're hitting the main points and everything is academically verifiable. And we're going to translate that into poetry itself. People like listening to catchy songs or schoolhouse rock used to be a thing. It's the next version of schoolhouse rock using this immersive technology.
[00:09:32.472] Kent Bye: Yeah, poetry is interesting because there's a certain amount of translating the language but having the rhythm and something that's using imagery is usually also a part of poetry. So in the video that you showed me, there was a professor that was sort of there commenting on what you're doing. Maybe you could talk a bit about some of these other academic advisors that are involved within this project and what their background is in their academic interest in this topic and then how they're sort of helping you make sure that what the story you're telling is on solid ground from a scholarship perspective.
[00:10:01.783] Glenn Contave: Yeah, absolutely. So in terms of the academic advisors that are on our team, most of them come from either a pure history background or an African American studies background. And the reason why they are on board and are interested in this project is because, you know, there's a difference between having these conversations in ivory towers or, you know, a lot of them are from large institutions where not only do you need a certain threshold of grades, but you need money to get into those institutions. they see the value in terms of the democratization of access that we're pushing forward in terms of pushing out these narratives. And so they understand the value of distilling these contexts and putting them out in general. That's basically it in terms of the why. Yeah, the how is basically like they're working with our team and we're just making sure that we're going through everything with a fine-tooth comb and just getting that into the poetry so it's easier.
[00:10:48.730] Kent Bye: Yeah, and one of the other experiences that you showed me on a video was taking a look at the subway map of New York City and having an augmented reality depiction of Colin Kopernik doing his kneeling protest. And maybe you could tell me a bit more about the background, the context for that project.
[00:11:03.631] Glenn Contave: Yeah, so... Here's the thing. So everything that we're doing is for a ballot initiative. And I can speak in the details of that as well. But at the end of the day, we need money. And so the value of putting it on the subway map is that there are two maps on every car of every train in the largest subway system in the world. And so our app is, it got rejected by the Apple Store at first because the logo was too large, so we resent it. And so hopefully by this week we'll be able to release the app and every New Yorker can engage and it's part of a fundraising process specifically. But also, you know, the idea, once again, in terms of democratization of access to this type of technology and the story in our campaign and what we're doing is the most important part. Most New Yorkers have a smartphone. Most New Yorkers use the subway. So why not just marry both?
[00:11:53.037] Kent Bye: What's the campaign that you're raising money for? Is it this campaign for the Augmented Reality Columbus Circle campaign?
[00:11:59.178] Glenn Contave: No. So the campaign that we're raising money for is a ballot initiative. And so the idea is that we're looking to create two elected offices in New York City. The first is kind of like a cultural heritage and inclusion committee. And the purpose of this committee is to call for the democratization of our stories. In New York City, there are 1.1 million public school students and 950,000 identify as students of color. The issue is that most of these textbooks in our curricula come from a Eurocentric perspective and they're about dead white men. The stories are not about the students. So we're calling for changes in the textbooks and in changes in terms of how our stories are told in monuments, public spaces, museums, whatever the case may be. So that's the first aspect that we're looking to do. The other aspect is we are looking to create a community advocate position. And the idea is that there are 59 different community districts in New York City. And the way this would work is that we're calling the community advocate to be able to call out private corporations for damages across three specific issues. The issues are environmental damages, gun violence, and civil in terms of structural racism and its broader implications. So I'll break down to a model of how this would work. You look at East New York, for example, the community advocate of East New York would be able to allocate a specific amount of funding to call out, let's say, three private prison companies. And the idea is it would be like an IRS style audit where you'd gather the data in terms of whether it's wrongful incarceration or whether it's people being incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. And what we're looking to do is we're still refining the concept, but essentially one model that we're exploring is taking the median income of greater New York City as a whole, and you take the individuals from a 10-year period between 1990 and 2000, let's say. And you put a number to that. And that's the number that you're fighting for in litigation. So let's make the numbers easy. Let's say that East New York goes into litigation with these private prison companies and they win $1 million. That money, we want that to go back into the community. So if you have the zip code in East New York, that money would be equally distributed in the form of a digital token that would go into a digital wallet. This is voting power. So let's say I'm in East New York and let's say I get $200 that is in my digital wallet. At that point, we're using that $200 to fuel our participatory budgeting process. So then what we're looking to do is essentially create a system or an industry where you have different community groups or different companies that go and make presentations to the community. So there could be a presentation for a vertical farm. There could be a presentation for a women in STEM education center. There could be a presentation for a VR, AR center, whatever the case may be. And the community decides with their tokens, which would be a stable coin tethered to the US dollar, exactly where they want that money to go. So let's say that the community of East New York chooses a women in STEM education center. And let's say I live in Bed-Stuy. And I see that the community of East New York has decided to have this women in STEM education center happen. Because it's a stable coin, let's say I think it's interesting, I want my daughter to go to this. I can buy the coin myself. I can apply it to that project and make it better. And since it's on the blockchain, I can see exactly where that money is going. So the broader implications of this is that we're looking to create an ecosystem in terms of community empowerment. that wealth going back into the community and then the transfer in terms of like the blockchain transactions happening across the 59 community boards. And having that happen in the largest city in the United States is a proof of concept of what we can do with blockchain and community empowerment. And, you know, when we put our heads together, I think it could be kind of cool.
[00:15:51.059] Kent Bye: Wow, that sounds amazing, because what you're essentially doing is having some sort of truth and reconciliation process that is perhaps getting rewards or money from these people who may have done harm to either the environment or society, and that if there's a legal process where there's an award of money, that a way to redistribute that money into the community is through this stablecoin, where they're putting into this stablecoin, matched up one-to-one for every dollar, and then it's basically a voting mechanism where they get to vote on how to spend that money. It's less about cryptocurrency having a speculative commodity that is arbitrarily increasing or decreasing in value, but you're corresponding that to actual money that is going to be voted upon about how to be budgeting that money to be able to reinvest into the community. You're basically creating a budgetary process that is democratizing the process of allowing each person to vote with their own stable coin for how to spend the money. Did I get that right?
[00:16:44.286] Glenn Contave: Yeah, that's what we're trying to do. I mean, it's really a matter of if we can get this into the ballot. So citizen ballot initiatives are hard to accomplish in New York City. They've happened twice in history. And our goal is to collect 50,000 pen and paper signatures by September 6, so that we can get onto the ballot. There's a high administrative costs associated with that. We're looking to raise between $150,000 and $200,000 so that we can successfully do that, get onto the ballot and actually make this happen. So that's our largest barrier of entry right now.
[00:17:12.119] Kent Bye: I see. So you have to raise money to then get enough signatures and then you can get on the ballot and then there's another campaign that I imagine come after that. So in the video that you showed me, I saw people with either their phones or tablets taking a picture of the subway map and that there was Colin Kopernik taking a knee protesting. What else is a part of this experience to be able to tell this larger story of this campaign?
[00:17:34.216] Glenn Contave: Yeah, so anyone can download our app, Movers and Shakers AR, and you can see the first iteration is Colin Kaepernick, right? But taking a step back, it's not exclusively about augmented reality for engagement. We are about new immersive technology in different ways. So the next protest that we're looking to do is a hologram protest. And the way that this will work is that we're going to have people eight feet tall as holograms as slaves. And the idea is that these people would be in chains telling stories of traumatic experiences that have actually happened in the past. So for example, a mother who was separated from her son because he was sold off in a slave auction, or someone who tried to run away from slavery and was beaten, whatever the case may be. That's the hologram aspect. And then the real aspect is that I'm looking to get together groups of whether they were victims of police brutality, or previously incarcerated people sharing their story of injustice. And what we're looking to highlight through this juxtaposition of the ancestors and the real life is the fact that these issues still exist today in these different forms. And the solution is two-pronged. And that's the philosophy of our campaign. Number one, getting the history right so that we can elevate the collective consciousness so that black and brown people are seen as humans and we're electing leaders that are not perpetuating these systems that I was mentioning before. And the other aspect is that these companies need to be held accountable, they need to pay for the damages, and we need to empower our own communities.
[00:18:59.304] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just did an interview with Jason Edward Lewis. He's an indigenous person who started this entity called the Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace. And one of the things that he said that when he talks to his elders is that the concept of the past, present, and future from an indigenous perspective is that they're all kind of coalescing at the same moment, like the past is in the present. And one of the things he said was that there's a certain amount of mythology that America was built upon where we like to ignore different dimensions of our past that are inconvenient, like we can escape our history. I think that's the mythology of America, that we can escape our history. And so what it sounds like that you're doing is trying to say, actually, I don't think you can escape the history. Let's reevaluate what the history actually is. And so maybe you could talk about like why this is important from your perspective to recast these narratives of history and the importance of that.
[00:19:51.272] Glenn Contave: So the first thing I want to say is that in terms of people of color, we cannot escape the history because we are living through the residuals of that right now. And it's manifested in many forms. If you look at Rikers Island, the jail complex in New York City, 87% of the people who are in Rikers Island identify as either black or Latinx. 79% are awaiting a trial. And New York City is paying $247,000 of tax money per year per individual. You can get a Harvard education for four years with the same price, right? And this transcends, like I said, across whether it's immigration issues, whether it's housing issues, whether it's food injustice, like all of this is directly rooted from this system of white supremacy that was introduced by Christopher Columbus in 1492. So that's the method to the madness. And it's been handled properly in other cases in other countries. Look at Germany. Do you see any statues of Adolf Hitler in Germany? No. However, what you do see if you walk in Berlin, you can't go more than 100 meters without seeing some sort of brick or plaque commemorating the lives of people affected by the Nazis in terms of Jews who were taken away. Like it's memorialized and the history is embraced, right? And it's handled properly. What many people don't know is that there are Jewish families who received reparations for those damages. Over a six-year period, Jewish families have received about $89 billion of reparations in that regard. And I'm not even calling for 40 acres and a mule. I've already outlined my plan in terms of how I want community justice and how I want it to look. But then if we're translating that in terms of the importance of acknowledging our history in the United States, even here, I think it's amazing that there are Jewish organizations that make sure that every student knows about the atrocities that have occurred during the Holocaust. But most people do not know about the African Holocaust. Most people do not know that 80 to 100 million indigenous people were killed across two continents as a result of a mass genocide. It is this lack of context and nuance that contributes to this collective consciousness that dehumanizes black and brown people. And so it's a lot of these issues that we face today are a result of the institutional ownership of those narratives. So it's time for black and brown people to take those narratives back. And I think the utilization of virtual and augmented reality will inspire people to do so.
[00:22:13.099] Kent Bye: What is your model of this truth and reconciliation process? And how do you see this recasting of the narratives is going to kind of propagate at these different scales? When you deal with issues that span many different generations, there's a certain amount of like, well, this is something my ancestors did. So I'm not culpable, so I don't need to think about it. And I think there's costs to having that type of mindset. But with that, like, how do each of us sort of recognize either the shame that's associated with something that comes from something that someone else did, but also there's the impact on the black and brown people who are living with those consequences. And so there's this dimension of empathy that is required to be able to listen to these stories and integrate it within maybe reevaluating the cognitive dissonance of their own mythology that may be built on this lie that could be that we could escape our history. And so I'm just curious like how you see this truth and reconciliation process kind of playing out like the best-case scenario as to what you would like to see as a result of all this.
[00:23:12.287] Glenn Contave: Jay-Z once said that men lie, women lie, numbers don't. And so there's the logical aspect and there's the emotional aspect. What I mean by that is that you can literally analyze the data in terms of stop and frisk policies and how they have directly impacted black and brown communities. You can see the data in terms of what I said about Rikers Island before. or the fact that 5% of the world population is in the United States, but 25% of our prison population is in the United States. And you can see how black and brown communities are disproportionately affected. You can see how the lack of allocation of wealth and resources into our schools at the fundamental level contributes to systems and behaviors, both on the part of the police and both on the part of the people that dehumanize us, that make us seem as if we are criminals. And so if you're talking about culpability on one end, yes, I understand that there are not white slave masters that own black people on a massive scale today. However, the data can prove that there are certain issues that white people do not have to face, that people of color do have to face. For example, the March for Our Lives in New York, there were 250,000 people that came out against gun violence. I was at the Stephon Clark protest when an unarmed black man who was killed in San Francisco a couple days after, like literally like that Wednesday. less than 1% of that number came out for Stephon Clark. So if you're analyzing these numbers and you're looking in a broader sense in terms of perception of who is important, perception of what is important, and justice that people get or do not get, it's crystal clear. And on the emotional aspect, There is, I mean look at Eric Garner. Eric Garner was choked on camera in 2014 and he still has not gotten justice. Like it's very explicitly clear that like people are getting treated differently on different levels and so that's one thing. Now in terms of my vision for what I would like for myself as an individual and Movers and Shakers as a group to do, there are several. So in terms of our augmented reality content, we want to get a New York City contract to put our augmented reality in Columbus Circle so that any New Yorker can download the app for free and see the truth. So that's the first thing. Number two, in terms of our augmented reality content, these installations can live as a book. We're partnered with a school in the Bronx right now where we're going through an 11th grade curriculum and seeing how we can integrate its curriculum. We want to see how the students engage with the augmented reality and we want to make it better and scale out. It's not just about Columbus. I want everyone to know about Toussaint Louverture. I think it's important for people to know about Simon Bolivar. I think it's important for people to know about Madam C.J. Walker. and other stories that are not traditionally told in the textbooks and the curricula so that there's a broader context and understanding. That can be done through augmented reality because the level of engagement is high and people are interested in it. So I think there's that perspective. The last perspective is that we're looking to do a public museum in augmented reality. Essentially going through different neighborhoods. Imagine like a Pokemon Go but in augmented reality where you have different neighborhoods and you're seeing the stories for yourself. And so that's the other aspect. So in terms of public spaces, in terms of live installations, and in terms of augmented reality tours, and in terms of the books, those are the active ways in which Movers and Shakers is trying to decolonize the narrative and tell our stories.
[00:26:47.149] Kent Bye: Just the other day, I was driving around in Portland, Oregon, and I was listening to NPR, and there was an interview with an author of a book. He was a writer from ESPN. He was writing about Colin Kopernik and the protests that he was doing. One of the things he was saying was that there's been a huge confusion or not listening of the stories of the reasons for why Colin Kopernik and other NFL players were taking a knee and protesting. there's a bit of a media narrative that was being propagated, which was that it was about the flag or the military. And I think every time the actual NFL players are saying, no, that's not what our story is at all. This is what we're actually concerned about. And to some extent, there is different dimensions of the player association, you know, deciding to not stand next to the two players that were taking a knee who now are no longer playing for the NFL. So they're kind of outcast of taking the protest and the NFL has decided from the ownership, which I think of all of the different sports teams, I think this writer said there's only one African-American owner and that's Michael Jordan and that all of the other owners of these sports teams are white and Caucasian. So you have this dynamic that's playing out in this sports world with Colin Kaepernick being this symbol for this larger movement and that there's a certain amount of the depth and the truth of the story that he as a symbol is representing and that you're choosing to use him as a symbol for this campaign. So I'm really curious to hear from your perspective, what does Colin Kaepernick represent to you and what is the deeper story that he and the rest of this protest are trying to tell?
[00:28:19.941] Glenn Contave: Well, the first thing I want to call out is that Colin Kaepernick represents the blatant fact that institutions and media are telling our stories and narratives. The pushback against Colin Kaepernick in terms of disrespect for the flag and military and all of that explicitly highlights that. The reason why I say that is because Colin Kaepernick himself specifically identified that he is doing a peaceful human rights protest. But the narrative all the way up to the White House is saying that he's being disrespectful and that our military is being disrespected. And that's what's being listened to. That's a problem. So that's the first thing. The second thing is I think he's a hero. I learned that in 1967 there was a Gallup poll that said that, keep in mind, after he received the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King had a 67% approval rating. After the year 2000, 95% approval rating. So even if Kaepernick is a controversial figure right now, there will be statues of him. His name will be honored and revered as someone who put himself out there, sacrificed like his entire life's work for the greater good. I think it's incredible what he's doing and that's why we want to memorialize him and have him be a symbol for truth and light in the face of oppression.
[00:29:46.873] Kent Bye: I know that with Ferguson, it sort of spurred the Black Lives Matter movement. And I'm just curious to hear from your perspective, like, what is the deeper narrative of these peaceful protests? Like, what is the thing that he's trying to call out? And what is the narrative in the story that he's trying to say as to what's happening to Black and African American Americans?
[00:30:16.105] Glenn Contave: The whole idea of Black Lives Matter is a reminder to the rest of America that we are being gunned down and we're being intimidated submission in various capacities and no one cares. There's no guarantees that we will get justice. The collective consciousness isn't doing anything about it. Our politicians aren't doing enough about it. Like we literally feel as if our lives do not matter. You can watch a black man die on camera. And nothing is being done. And so what Kaepernick is doing is just utilizing his platform and the platform in the NFL to call out for blatant human rights abuses. There are countries across the board that don't understand how and why this is happening. And it doesn't make any sense to me. why there isn't enough being done about this. It doesn't make any sense to me why more people are not standing up about this. It doesn't make any sense to me why people aren't calling out the NBA. Did you know that for 30 years, more than 30 years, the NBA has had an anti-protesting policy? Do you see anyone taking a knee in the NBA? That's my point. It's bigger than Colin Kaepernick. It is money and power and institutions that are silencing our voices. And Colin Kaepernick is inspiring a way for us to raise our voices. And so I want to do everything in my power to contribute to that energy and movement. Because if our voices continue to be silenced, then what does that mean for our future? Does that mean that we're just going to continue to have restricted economic opportunities? Does that mean that we're going to be restricted to our safety, restricted to the general American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? We are not equal in this society. There are higher probabilities of me getting shot in the street right now, of me getting arrested right now, of me getting a job right now. It speaks to a broader inequality. Police brutality is just the beginning of it. But at the end of the day, we are not equal. We want to say that black lives matter.
[00:32:22.536] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you also have this 360 video where you actually went down to Charlottesville, Virginia, where there was these protests from the alt-right that were trying to preserve these Confederate statues. And so maybe you could talk a bit about the story in the context of what motivated and inspired you to actually be there for that protest and to document it with the 360 video.
[00:32:42.519] Glenn Contave: Yeah, so I'm working on a documentary with a couple friends from college. It's called We the People VR and it's covering activism in the age of Trump. It started when I went down to protest the inauguration of Trump. I put myself in chains and I wore a sign that said property of Trump and his friends in the 1%. And I noticed, you know, whether it's the ACLU gaining five times their annual income in terms of donations in the first weekend of Trump or, you know, the millions of people that came out on the Women's March, this is not an average time. So I thought there would be value into capturing this time that will be studied in the future through the medium of the future. And so through it, you know, we went to Muslim American Solidarity marches, went to a White Lives Matter rally in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, you know, the Women's March and Charlottesville. And Charlottesville itself was unlike any protests I've ever been to. What most people do not realize is that it was worse the night before. The night before I was in a church, it was a multicultural church service, and Klansmen were outside with torches. And I remember asking the ushers, is the church fireproof? There was no answer. Do you have a backup plan? There was no answer. And so we were sitting ducks, and I remember texting my friends that night about what was going on and thinking about how the people in Aleppo, Syria were sending out tweets kind of like as a digital memorial for what was about to go on as the tanks were approaching the city. I felt the same way. I felt like a sitting duck. And in that moment, I really thought I was going to die. And I remember hearing another black woman in the church saying, this is what our ancestors went through. And eventually, in short little spurts, we snuck out, and we made it to safety. We were shaken up, but I remember her saying that this is what our ancestors went through. And that kind of emboldened me the next day, and I didn't feel scared anymore. Because at the end of the day, this was nothing compared to the lynchings, the intimidation in terms of people burning crosses or putting firebombs in houses. If you were born in the wrong area and you happen to have the wrong complexion, this was daily life for some people. And the fact that it's reemerging in 2018 is deplorable. And so the next day, I knew I was going to be walking into a war zone for various reasons. One of the people in the group that I was with left about an hour earlier, came back with staples in his head because he was beat by the white supremacists. As I walked into this war zone, it was clear that they prepared for it. They were arranged with shields and in a Spartan phalanx. And it was clear that they were ready for a fight. I wanted to capture it and see both sides in terms of what people had to say to provide a greater perspective because I think there's an issue with liberal circles and mental masturbation and people reinforcing the same ideas. It's important to see what the other side has to say. But it became very clear to me very quickly that this was not a place to have an interview because there were people beating each other with sticks and hammers and poles and there was tear gas flying. And so at that point, I had chains in my backpack to remind these Nazis and white supremacists about what they were representing. And I put on the chains and I ran to the front of the phalanx and I screamed, this is what you represent. This is what you represent. I remember my body being overcome with emotion. I didn't realize I would be that intensely angry. and emotional but I was and it was so overall it was a really intense day and it speaks to the fact once again that our history has not been handled. These sentiments are boiling inside of many people and it's a result of the truth not being told in our books and these lies being perpetuated through the media. It needs to be handled.
[00:36:37.197] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as I look at dimensions of power and economics, there's the concept of a power law dynamic, meaning that once you have access to power and privilege, then you have an exponentially increasing amount of opportunities for more power and privilege. if the history of America is built on the backs of slavery, then there's a bit of actively pushing an entire class of people down with both the African Americans and the slaves for the benefit of those people who were white to have access to that power and privilege that over generations has accumulated. So we have this disparity of power and privilege And to a certain extent, as we say things about white supremacy and white privilege, I think there's a context of that, of that historical role of slavery and how a lot of that power privilege even came to be. And so as we start to think about this either redistribution of power and privilege or this ability to challenge these existing power structures and to name what white supremacy is and what white privilege is, like, how do you think about that or define that?
[00:37:46.625] Glenn Contave: To paraphrase Dr. King, he basically said that his issue was not the extremists, but rather the white moderate. Because the white moderate is more interested in being comfortable and would rather have things exist as they are instead of push for justice. The reason why this is a unique time is because people of color have been feeling unsafe since the beginning of this American experiment that we have. For the first time, white people are feeling threatened by a manifestation of white supremacy that makes them feel uncomfortable. We're conditioned to, for the most part, to see confederate flags as something evil or a swastika as something evil. But, and I'm not saying evil in this case, but I get scared when I see the NYPD. And it's important to harness this energy and push it forward so that we can hold all of our institutions to a higher standard. This is not an anti-white campaign. This is an anti-white supremacist campaign. We are not looking to become oppressors ourselves. It's not a black supremacy campaign. It's a human rights and equality campaign. And the success of the alt-right is that they mix up these messages saying all lives matter at face value. All lives matter sounds great. But the tone between all lives matter and make America great again is white lives matter and make America white again. What I mean by that is that the people who are screaming all lives matter are the same types who are, a lot of the times, backing up Confederate statues. You know, enemies of the state, such as Robert E. Lee, that are pushing for segregation and, like, secession from the United States. It's not an American thing, all right? And then, in terms of White Lives Matter, the only people I've ever seen scream White Lives Matter were the Nazis and white supremacists in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Everyone already knows that white lives matter. In terms of Make America Great Again, I remember Charlamagne Tha God saying this, Make America Great Again? is so twisted because of the fact that for many people of color, America was never great. So what does it make America great again mean? Who is the audience in that situation? For white people, in certain cases, it may have been great. So who is the audience in that case? Trump said himself when he saw the emerging trend of people going after the Confederate generals in Columbus, he literally said, they're coming after our history. But the veiled message behind that is that they're pushing for equality. We need to step up, right? And while you have this white fragility that is essentially saying that we're coming after their history, it's not a matter of that. We're looking to correct the narrative because our history has already been erased. I don't know my last name. My real last name is a result of Christopher Columbus, and most black people can say the same thing. I think it's absurd that it's not talked about more, that literally most black people in the United States, we don't know our cultural origins, and we don't know our real last name. We're walking around with someone's name. What? And the fact that we're coming out for calling for basic dignity, respect, and equality of opportunity, just like the founding fathers did, and we're doing it in a peaceful way. The founding fathers had guns, and it's an issue? Come on.
[00:41:06.518] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so doing these public museums in New York City, it sounds like what you're able to do is to take perhaps these cultural institutions that have a certain meaning for the culture and you're able to remix that or to make some critique around it and to recontextualize it with the stories that you're talking about here and to find a way to create these spatial holograms that have an embodiment of this vision of a symbol that is either associating Christopher Columbus with slavery, symbolically and through the imagery of that, but also to tell a deeper story. And what is this deeper story that you feel like you're going to be able to tell with this public museum, with all these different locations across New York City?
[00:41:49.630] Glenn Contave: So there are two different layers that I'm attacking. On the surface level, I know that there are some reactionaries that are not going to agree with anything that myself or my group has to say. And that's okay. what i am interested in is that nixonian silent majority the people who walk by columbus circle everyday and don't even see it as an issue. I actually met with city council people that when i address columbus circle as an issue before this whole thing was a large debate they said oh i never really thought about that before and that's what i'm looking for i'm not looking for no no this is terrible you're going against our history i'm looking for huh i've never thought about it that way before And like, if you read the new Jim Crow, which many people will not unless you're in a classroom, it opens up those type of questions. But we're trying to harness the power of augmented reality because people are interested in it. And all you have to do is download a smartphone app for free. And then if we have our messaging right, the outcome is, huh, I've never thought about it that way before. But the deeper goal that we're looking for is to elevate the collective consciousness as a whole so that we understand fundamentally that the country was founded on genocide and slavery and the systems that were created to do so exist in a different way. Once we understand that, we can get people to move and elect representatives that will actually disrupt and change those systems so that therefore not putting down white people and bringing up black people but for the betterment of all. That's the purpose.
[00:43:23.725] Kent Bye: And for you, what type of experiences do you want to have either in AR or VR? In general? Yeah, just what do you want to experience?
[00:43:33.355] Glenn Contave: I'm going to speak in a broad sense here. I think the Decentraland project is mind-blowingly amazing. One of the things that attracts me to VR is that it's not really about right now, right? So, like, the human eye sees in 9.6K. So once you have virtual reality content that's in 9.6K, you have a reality that's indistinguishable from this one that's not tethered to the laws of physics. That's where it gets weird and interesting. I'm down to try anything. I want to fly. I want to swim with sharks. I want to do the impossible. anything and everything. It's not even about just the specifics of harnessing this as a tool for racial justice. I like a world of limitless possibilities. That's what I find so fascinating about this technology.
[00:44:15.098] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and augmented reality and what it might be able to enable?
[00:44:24.786] Glenn Contave: I think the ultimate potential of virtual and augmented reality is that it can open up the door for new worlds and new paradigms, new structures, new institutions that can actually benefit the people. You can go into places where the rules are completely different and you can operate in a different space and you can be you. Whatever you is, there's a place for that. Like right now, the internet, is the first iteration of that. If you look at Reddit, there's interests across the board. So why not amplify that into a physical space and just be you? As long as you're not hurting anyone, that's really what it's about. Everyone has their quirks. Be you.
[00:45:09.514] Kent Bye: Awesome. And then is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:45:15.221] Glenn Contave: So to be completely honest, I mean, we're bootstrapping everything. We need as much help as possible. Whether you have organizing experience, you're artistic, you're technical, you know how to raise money, like every single discipline under the sun would be necessary. So if you're interested in being a part of this movement, you can reach out to us at moversandshakersnyc.com and you can go to the contact page and reach out to us and you can download our app for free, Movers and Shakers AR and check it out. So, yeah, that's pretty much it.
[00:45:44.448] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I just want to thank you for all the work that you're doing in this and trying to really, you know, use this technology to be able to bring out some real change and good into the world. So, yeah, I just wanted to thank you for sitting down with me to tell your story and to give us a little bit more insight as to what Mover and Shaker is doing. So, thank you.
[00:46:00.612] Glenn Contave: Yeah, I appreciate you for having me here. Thank you so much.
[00:46:03.733] Kent Bye: So, that was Glenn Consabe. He's an activist, social entrepreneur, and performance artist and the founder of Movers and Shakers. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all I was just really impressed with Glenn's ability to tell these stories that he's trying to both reclaim the history and the stories of the past but also do it in a way that's using all of these immersive technologies and really interesting ways and so the power of augmented reality is that you're able to be on a site-specific place and to be able to re-contextualize institutionalized narratives that are being supported by the collective to some extent because it's through the government. So to be able to challenge those narratives but also to tell a new story Now I think that this type of story is very complex and nuanced and that to a certain extent he's doing this symbolic reduction of a very complicated story down into some images that really are powerful symbols and portals into wanting to learn more about this story. And the version that I saw didn't have the full narrative that was being told but it sounds like that they're going to be using augmented reality and the engagement that you can get from augmented reality technologies to allow people to create this kind of site-specific type of art. And the thing that I see that is this trend is that augmented reality is allowing people to overlay their stories onto their experience of reality. And what that means is that there's certain collective narratives that are being challenged. And these symbols that in the case of New York City, there's this tallest statue in New York City that was raised in 1892, really celebrating the life of Christopher Columbus. Well, looking at the history, there's a lot of questionable things that have been overlooked in a lot of the historical textbooks. And so as we are in the process of reevaluating the history and in the context of some of these people that we've exalted as these heroes, we're really questioning as to whether or not we should be celebrating Christopher Columbus as a hero, both through the national holiday, but also, you know, symbolically through this statue. And it was really interesting to hear that the only time that statues fall are through a regime change or something that the government is actually deciding to do. And so, to a certain extent, the Colin Kopernik protests that have been happening within NFL to try to call forth what is happening to Black Americans today when it comes to police violence and all these things that are just racial injustices and human rights violations. And that the fact that the inverted pyramid of journalism allows for the President of the United States to be able to say pretty much anything that he wants, and it becomes a narrative that then kind of creates this context that is drowning out what the actual narrative is. And I think that we're seeing this debate that's playing out where one thing is being said, and then it's being really grisly misrepresented and made about something that's completely different that they're not even talking about. And so this is just another example, I think, from listening to Glenn of how the stories and the narratives are being controlled by the people who are not these minorities. It's being released into the media and it's kind of out of their hands for how to dictate what the story actually is. And I think in the process of just talking to Glenn, he did an amazing job of just recounting almost like a truth and reconciliation process, even in this interview where he's just telling the depth of the truth of a story and a history that I guess has been really erased from a lot of our official history that we're telling to both ourselves and to our next generation. And He's really questioning, like, hey, maybe we should take a look at some of these people's histories in the United States, like from Howard Zinn or these histories of the people who were not the victors. And as we move forward, like, what does the process look like by which we're going to reconcile the past and to be able to find a new story that actually reckons with all the costs that have come with colonization? And the fact that they're also working on this social program that is going to use these cutting-edge emerging blockchain technologies to be able to create a public process by which that if there's some different injustices that are happening at the institutional layer by some of these companies, that there's a process by which the government could sue some of those companies and get a reward. And any reward money that comes in will be able to be invested into this participatory budgetary process that is being put into this stablecoin. And then people would be able to have access to this digital wallet and be able to vote on different things to be able to be reinvesting within the community. And I think this is a really interesting way of trying to create almost like this complementary currency, but also this budgetary process that is democratizing the access of what are the ways in which this money is actually going to be spent by decisions that are made by the community for how that money is going to be reinvested into the community. This is a ballot initiative that they're trying to get onto the ballot of New York City, and I think it's a really interesting prototype. And if it actually goes through and it is this piloted way of trying to find these new models of democracy, that would actually be huge in terms of having it spread across the country. It's a really interesting concept and idea of what did that actually mean to be able to put the power into the hands of the people to be able to vote on how this money that is available is going to be reinvested into the community. And that overall, he's trying to decolonize the narrative and to reclaim the stories of the past and work toward these issues of community justice and racial justice. And if there's anything, it's that there's these stories and our narratives, and as these emerging technologies with augmented reality, it's providing new ways for us to be able to tell these stories and to be able to connect it to the context of these symbols that are already embedded throughout the fabric of our society, and to be able to overlay new types of stories on top of those cultural artifacts that are embedded throughout our culture, and that augmented reality technology is allowing this level of engagement to be able to start to tell these much more complicated and nuanced stories about our past, to be able to reckon the past so that we can actually start to have a story of the past that we can all collectively agree upon and I think from that point maybe we could start to have this process of truth and reconciliation of this intergenerational trauma and that looking to what other countries have done but also these other tribal processes of truth and reconciliation. I think their common theme amongst all of them is to allow people to tell the truth of their story and to really listen and empathize with it. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends about this podcast and this episode. In particular, if you think somebody would be interested in hearing it, send it along. I think this is an episode that I think will transcend my normal audience of just a technologist. This is a listener supported podcast and so I do rely upon my listeners donations for patreon in order to Continue to bring you this type of coverage and if you like this and like to see more then please do consider becoming a member of my patreon at patreon.com Slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening