Confronting your racist Uncle Jerry is uncomfortable and downright scary. The conversation can go a thousand ways and most of them are terrible. But listening to him sympathize with Nazis is equally unpleasant.
Art duo JEFF&GORDON have a place for you to rage at Jerry as much as you need.
In 2013, Jeff Foye and Gordon Winiemko began “Not at the Dinner Table,” a phone number inviting people to leave an anonymous voicemail for that person: the racist uncle, the homophobic coworker, the Facebook friend inundating your feed with MAGA vitriol. The people to whom you hold your tongue to keep the peace.
If you call 203-491-5230, you can also listen to the voicemails of other callers, creating what Foye and Winiemko call a “participatory artwork” in which people can say what they truly feel without fear of consequences, because that person won’t actually hear you.
Of course, change only happens when we demand it. When asked if we should have these conversations in person, both agree it’s not nearly that simple. “Opinions are emotional,” says Foye.” It’s not necessarily about the facts or specifics.” Winiemko was similarly unsure. “Man, oh man, I don’t know if I have an answer to that question.”
By no means do they mean you should mutely accept that racist uncle, but that sometimes you know you can’t convince your Libertarian cousin that trickle-down economics never work. Or you need a warm-up first. Winiemko refers to it as a “rehearsal,” for the conversation that needs to be had. You can rant into the phone for up to five minutes (a surprisingly long amount of time) and it’s okay, because they won’t hear it.
Each year they set the call number to a different area code, to highlight a divisive issue that people fear discussing with those they love but radically disagree with. Last year, the set it to Volusia County, Florida, the site of the 2000 “hanging chad” debacle. This year, given how grossly frequent mass shootings are, Foye and Winiemko chose area code 203, for Newtown, Connecticut, site of the Sandy Hook shooting. That isn’t for shock value, but to generate civil discourse about serious issues that we somehow can’t talk about.
It’s not just Foye and Winiemko’s liberal network who call the line, though the bulk of the project slants left to varying degrees. After last year’s election, one caller left a loud, concise message: “Trump won. Get over it. Stop your crying and whining.”
Not all calls are straight political, either. Some calls are cathartic laundry lists of grievances from “I won’t do free design work for you anymore” to “your beliefs are stupid; rattlesnakes are not evil.” Others are confessions. One man called to tell himself “stop fucking around at titty bars” and go home to his wife and family.
Most callers have “abiding love and respect” for their person, says Foye. He recalls one woman who called immediately back because she “forgot to say” that she loves that family member. It’s those people we have the hardest time confronting.
Foye and Winiemko have never called the number themselves. They, like all of us, have those people in their lives but Winiemko says, “we’re hosting you; it just doesn’t seem right.” Like those with privilege relinquishing space to those without, they “get out of the way.”
You can call the number between now and January 1. Rage away.