Their friendship began October, 2015, when Brooke and his college roommate decided to take a cruise to Bermuda. When the cruise company told them that the 3rd and 4th person in the cabin were free they decided to share their good fortune and advertised on Craigslist a free cruise for artists who might not otherwise be able to take such a vacation. They have been friends ever since.
Janusz was born in 1959 in Poland during the Communist era. In the year 1984 some friends and he staged a performance of a play based on Orwell’s book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. At the time reading the book and even attending a performance was punishable by imprisonment.
And yet they got the censors to approve the performance and packed the audience with Party members. How? Even though everyone knew the name of the banned book, nobody knew what it was about because they had never seen it. So, Janusz convinced the censors it was not based on the banned book but was rather a play about contemporary life in Poland in 1984. They called their theater Teatr Zamkniety (“The Closed Theater”) because attendance was closed to all but the “elites.”
On opening night it started to dawn on the attendees in the audience that they were indeed watching a banned work, and they were committing a crime by even being there. It was hard to prosecute Janusz and the others because the censors and party members would have to testify against each other as co-conspirators. The law enforcers had been tricked into breaking their own laws and when the officials closed the “Closed Theater” the total absurdity of it all became overwhelming. The government solved the immediate problem by issuing Janusz a very rare passport good for foreign travel and endorsed for “one crossing of the Polish border.”
And, that is the story of how Janusz made it to the U. S. A. and received political asylum.
Brooke had parents who were very familiar with tyranny. Although his mom was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, she was raised in Florence, Italy. In 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, she and her father (but not her mother) escaped Fascist Italy and returned to the U. S. A. Brooke’s dad was born in Cuba to American citizens. His father was there at the time working for United Press International in their Havana office. As his father grew up they moved around Latin America setting up news bureaus where most countries were run by dictators. During World War II, Brooke’s dad fought the Japanese in the Philippines and Saipan.
In January of 1973, during his Junior year at college, Brooke was drafted for the Vietnam war. His father sat him down at his kitchen table and said “Now it is time to talk about war.”
Brooke’s dad said that during World War II he was not fighting a war of retaliation but rather one of liberation from tyranny and that war would not be won until the Japanese and the Germans were thankful that we won. He said that our founders knew that tyranny comes in many forms: of the one, of the few and of the many. At the time he felt that at that time Richard Nixon was exhibiting tyrannical leanings and that the war was in support of the interests of the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower had warned the nation about.
The draft ended a couple of days before Brooke was due to report for induction so he did not have to go to Vietnam, that conversation affected Brooke’s thinking permanently. You can hear more about this if you wish because in 2017 Brooke was invited to talk about it at a TEDx talk in Krakow, which you can watch here.
Time is running out. By late 2018 both Janusz and Brooke had concluded that our nation was in the midst of a cold civil war and that time is running out if our union is to be saved. On January 7, 2019, they met at the Tick Tock Diner in New York City to discuss what they could do about it. Janusz said, “In Poland it was easy to identify the enemy; it was a monolithic tyrannical state. But, here something is wrong, and I can’t identify the enemy.”
Remembering his dad’s words from 46 years earlier, Brooke said the problem today is a more subtle form tyranny. While Trump’s personal style makes it easy to see he has tyrannical leanings, there is also “tyranny of the few” at work because government often works for the benefit of the wealthy and corporate special interests at the expense of the citizens. These powerful forces are hurting us by dividing us into red and blue camps as if our fellow citizens are the enemy. They aren’t; tyranny is our common enemy. Our founders knew that and we must remind ourselves of that today.
Janusz and Brooke decided what our country needs is a leader who will unite and inspire us rather than divide and rule us. But, how can we help bring that about?
Art can make a difference. Shepherd Fairey did to help get Obama elected with his poster design. Shepherd made a good deal of coin from that and he went after people who copied his design. He was also sued and eventually pleaded guilty to copyright infringement because he ripped off an AP photo when creating his design. Eventually, he turned against Obama. Today, rather than positively promote a candidate, Fairey is trying to make money by being against Trump.
Inspired by Shepherd Fairy, we decided to create art to promote the idea that the job of the electorate is to choose a leader to inspire and unite all of us rather than find a ruler who will favor our special interests. Unlike what Fairey did, we are releasing our designs in the gifting spirit of Creative Commons without constraint as to commercialization, and that means that you can make money manufacturing items with our designs and selling them to anyone you want.
There is a lot more to our story and we’d like to tell about it, particularly if you are a member of the press. Please write to us at Press@LeadersNotRulers.com