If you've never been to a protest event, you might imagine that they rage with passionate indignation and political righteousness. Or, maybe you have an image of firey protest drawn from top-stories and front-pages full of color, impassioned speeches, and swarms of people as far as the eye can see. It would be understandable then if you've accepted the false assumption that protest is always powerful and inspiring. Well, typically it's not. It's often none of these things. Of course it can be passionate and fun and awesome and empowering! That's when it works. Unfortunately, though, these are a tiny fraction of all protest events. More often, protest is small, low-key, disappointing and dull. I appreciate creative protest. Humor. Fun. This is one thing that many activists - and almost all sociologists who study activism - overlook. Political organizers could and should take a page or two from Hollywood or Madison Ave. (the major political parties certainly have!). It's no secret that social movements must craft public images for themselves just as much as any shoe or auto company. What makes this difficult is that the competition is continually trying to spoil our image (just as we try to spoil theirs). In the spirit of creative protest I want to share a great little piece written by Seattle activist Kirsten Anderberg who publicly airs her creativity at Eat the State, a self-described "forum for anti-authoritarian political opinion, research and humor." I think it's worth quoting at length:
A funny thing happened in Seattle after Bush declared war on Iraq. Martial law was begun in Seattle streets. Even though peaceful protesters had obtained a permit to protest the war at the Federal Building, and these protesters have a good track record for peace, police flanked the crowd with snipers, riot police, machine guns, and billy clubs the size of baseball bats. Riot police followed the protesters' every move downtown, standing in rows, pounding their billy clubs anxiously in their palms, badges and nametags hidden. These Robocops refused to talk or interact with peaceful protesters, and instead enjoyed intimidating them for their political views for days on end, relentlessly...I have started rethinking my peace protest tactics.... Why not come dressed as Santa Claus to protests? Santa Claus has padding and it is bad for police to be seen on the news beating and arresting Santa. Nuns and priests are not easy for police to beat either...What if kids bought those clown props that are endless scarves? So police search them and endless scarves keep coming out of their pockets. Or maybe keep a pair of gigantic underwear or a rubber chicken from Archie McPhee's in your pocket. Or how about something sticky or gooey in your pocket? We must get creative now, and make street theater out of scary police psychodrama for our own sanity.... I challenge the peace community to find creative yet responsive street theater alternatives to put the spotlight on what the police are doing to peaceful protesters. Let's dance around them like clowns. Let's make them arrest Santa. Let's coordinate ourselves into football teams in the streets...Don't give up. Don't give up your free speech that easily. Instead be more creative. Let's make it a good show and fun for all!She's got some great ideas here and I couldn't agree more. Let's make it a good show!