Conceptual Artist Re-enacts 1971 Speech by Cesar Chavez in L.A.

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For almost two years, an East Coast conceptual artist has re-enacted decades-old speeches by famous figures of the American left. The artist is in Los Angeles this weekend to stage an anti-war speech one of those figures delivered to a crowd of thousands in Exposition Park 37 years ago. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The late labor leader Cesar Chavez was famous for powerful rhetoric delivered in a moderate voice.

Cesar Chavez: Once social change begins it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.

Guzman-Lopez: When artist Mark Tribe began teaching at Brown University three years ago, he was surprised at how little students protested, and how little they knew about activists like Cesar Chavez.

For his art project, Tribe's hired actors to memorize and deliver speeches by famous activists at the same places where they were delivered. He's re-enacted three so far: A 1968 speech by Coretta Scott King at a New York City peace march in Central Park; a 1971 speech in Boston by historian Howard Zinn; and a 1965 Washington D.C. speech by Students for a Democratic Society President Paul Potter.

The fourth is scheduled for L.A.'s Exposition Park. That's where Cesar Chavez spoke in 1971 at a rally to honor U.S. soldiers killed in the Vietnam War. Actor Brian Valparaiso rehearses the speech.

Brian Valparaiso (as Cesar Chavez): There are so many needs in the world. And so many specific ways to work for change. What causes our children to take up guns and fight brothers in lands far away?

Guzman-Lopez: Artist Mark Tribe.

Mark Tribe: What really speaks to me is the way it connects these domestic issues with the international issues and particularly with the war in Vietnam which is so similar in so many ways to the war in Iraq.

Valparaiso (as Chavez): In our case, thousands and thousands of poor black and brown farm workers go off to war and kill other poor farm workers.

Guzman-Lopez: Tribe considers himself a bit of an instigator, hoping to push people into political action. But he recognizes that the mass mobilization three decades ago is history. For now he hopes his art project will become a peaceful assembly that's part history lesson and part performance art.

Note: Mark Tribe's art performance is scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday 7/19) night at 6:00 on the South Lawn of L.A.'s Exposition Park. It's free and open to the public.