Interview by Bears Fonte
On August 1, 2016 the ‘Campus Carry’ law went into effect, permitting the concealed carry of a handgun at Texas institutes of higher learning. Considering the long history of firearms on the UTcampus (including the infamous 1966 Charles Whitman tower mass shooting), it is not surprising most students did not support the new law. Jessica Jin, a recent violin major graduate, took to social media to point out the absurdity of the law. “I was stuck in Austin traffic one day,” remembers Jin, “I was already in a terrible mood. But this was a week after a slew of school shootings… the people on the radio I was listening to as I was driving were saying, ‘there’s nothing we can do about gun violence. The community should just learn to prepare themselves for the next one. Or just brace for the next one. You should just get better at coping.’ And I was like, what a bunch of dildos!”
A bit of googling turned up the fact that despite the fact you could now take a gun to campus, due to Texas obscenity law, you could not wield a dildo. A post for a ‘Campus Dildo Carry’ Protest, using the hashtag #CocksNotGlocks soon went viral and a movement was born. “It’s like in-person trolling,” explains Jin, “I don’t actually want to be carrying a dick around but on principle, I should be able to and I know it makes you uncomfortable. This is exactly how people should feel about guns. It should get you stares. People should be a little squeamish about them.” The fake protest soon became a real one, planned for the first day of fall semester after the law went into effect. Say the organizer, “I think that discomfort is something we have to stoke in people again because it’s gone dormant in everybody.”
At the time, Ellen Spiro and PJ Raval, two UT professors, were trying to figure out how best to respond to the law themselves. “I knew there was a film somewhere in the gun issue, the guns on campus issue,” explains Spiro, “we were all hoping that students would get fired up. And then — boom — there she was. Jessica Jin with this genius moment that brought it all together and inspired pretty much the whole campus to get out and speak their mind.” Raval agrees, and believes that at times people can feel powerless to change a cultural mindset, and that Jin’s message is so effective because it gets past discussion into action. It’s no longer about awareness. It’s about being reactionary,” he says, “it incites further change. Rather than saying, ‘oh, this is an issue we should look at,’ it’s what can we do about it. You can do something about it. You can work against it.” The movement Jin inspired, and dildo-laden march is chronicled in the short documentary COME AND TAKE IT, which made its world premiere last week at SXSW.
With her post in October, Jin gave herself almost a year to prepare for the protest, although not all that time was spent in `preparation.’ First, she had to get out of town due to some pretty awful death threats. “I just grabbed a National Parks pass and a tent,” she says, “they’re calling me a communist and telling me that I’m not a patriot, or un-American for doing this. I’m going to go have the most American time ever.” Jin also spent the time engaging with people in DC, and meeting gun-violence prevention people and survivors.
Support for the #CocksNotGlocks movement built fast, fueled by fun. “It was smooth sailing with Obama and there was not much to yell about,” remembers Jin, “I was just excited about the fact that we got so many young people engaged in political activity.” She considers herself more politically aware than most but, prior to this, never would have put an opinion on gun-control out there publically. “I cracked a joke, but I didn’t actually intend to take a hard, public stance on gun control,” she admits, “it’s very difficult to do, especially with gun control because as soon as you put an opinion out there, you’re going to have to argue forever because it’s so contentious.”
Of course, for most people, it’s not that contentious. Recent studies show that 97% of America support some form of gun control. “The thing that’s unfortunate about campus carry is there actually was no support from it, in terms of the University itself,” says Raval, “the University didn’t want it. The students didn’t want it. The faculty didn’t want it. The chancellor didn’t want it. But it’s an example of laws put into place for whatever reasons are maybe not serving the actual public.”
Jin’s protest has also received a bit of odd outside support, arriving first as 300 dildos from Shane’s World, a pornographic film company. “Kailey received the first shipment of dicks because I was out West,” Jin says, of one of her other organizers, “she hid them in her room, in her apartment. But she eventually had to evacuate because her parents were coming to visit.” Eventually the march materials took up residence in Spiro’s attic. “I would tell people a professor is storing our dildos,” the organizer says, “everyone thought that was super funny. We were all in cahoots.” One box of backing came from Singapore in the form of mini-vibrators. “We called them the Concealed Carry Toys because you couldn’t tell they were vibrators,” says Jin, “they were these beautiful, silicon, non-descript bullet things, with little petals coming out. They looked like flowers.” Americans would probably be surprised to learn similar items are sold in grocery stores in some of the most conservative South-East Asian countries, in the health section. “It just shows how backwards our views are on sexuality versus violence,” she remarks, “there are some things Republicans will cringe and freak out at and shield their kids from, and then there are things they accept as a normal part of life. I think this whole protest challenged them to rethink what they view as acceptable in society.”
On August 24, 2016, protestors took the campus walkways brandishing 4,300 dildos and sex toys and signs with slogans like ‘If you are packing heat, we are packing meat.’ The Daily Show covered the event. An no one got arrested for being armed with a dildo. So what’s next? In the wake of Parkland, the film seems to be the perfect tool for organizing. ”Once we get our mainstream distribution in order,” promises Spiro, “we’ll do some sort of advocacy tour with any of the girls, or it could be other young people, to show the film and get people activated.” She also promises that Jessica Jin is going to write a manual (this is news to Jessica sitting next to her).
“There are a lot of people writing manuals for more conventional forms of political organizing, so let’s just say you’re writing it -Jessica’s writing the manual for unconventional political organizing against gun violence. In fact, it’s coming out in the fall under Simon and Schuster.’”
For Jin, this is just the latest chapter of ‘shitposting,’ as she calls it. “I made this shitty website called Sad Violin Music,” she clarifies, “ it would be like Uber – live sad violinists if your kid is crying over their chores just order a violinist. …or if you’re breaking up with somebody, or laying someone off.” Jin’s most recent internet stunt is something called “Haunt My Rep”. “I put up these really grizzly pictures of zombies and posted, ‘commit to haunt the shit out of anyone who kills you with their policies.’” Basically if John Cornyn enacts this healthcare law, and you die because of it, tell your senator you plan on “flicking his light switches off, hiding his car keys, texting his exes, pouring out his cereal milk, flipping the table.”
COME AND TAKE IT world premieres at SXSW. Spiro’s films include “Diana’s Hair Ego,” “Greetings From Out Here,” “Roam Sweet Home,” “Atomic Ed & the Black Hole,” “Are the Kids Alright?,” “Troop 1500,” “Fixing the Future” and “Body of War” (Oscar shortlist). Raval’s films include “Trinidad” (Showtime, LOGO) and “Before You Know It” (PBS) and has been named one of Out Magazine’s “Out 100” and FILMMAKER Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.”