Creative Political Activities
Visibility - because we're blocked out of the media, and our culture generally doesn't find it natural to be politically involved - especially outside the mainstream mental box.
Legitimacy - because we are portrayed as marginal. So we need to show the widespread acceptance of our ideas internationally and domestically.
Fun and Hope - to get and keep people involved.
Alternatives - To help create the vision thing. To help dispel fear. To help create a new community that people can live in, mentally, emotionally, and through endless committee work. Or at least banner drops.
Here are a few of the frontiers for creative political action:
A man walks into a mall near Albany, New York. With him is his 30 year-old son. They go to the mall's t-shirt making emporium and order up a couple of anti-war shirts. They put them on and proceed to the food court, where they are asked to remove the shirts or leave the mall. What a state of affairs! In this country you can be arrested for not taking your clothes off! The man declines and is arrested. Since he is a lawyer whose job it is to advise judges on the law, he takes an interest in pursuing the case. Eventually the mall apologizes and drops charges.
But others have taken notice. In Baltimore eight people successfully court arrest by leafletting at a mall. In Durham, North Carolina, 50 people saunter around in anti-war t-shirts, vexing security, who try to figure out which rules are being broken. In Syracuse, the Peace Council had permission to table at the mall (!) for two months before the mall thought better of it. Since then, citizens have been evicted for walking with unauthorized t-shirts.
This is all about privatization - the conversion of public space to private property. Such a trend results directly in the separation of shopping from civic participation. It is critical that we take back our public spaces, or democracy will die, whispering "Why didn't you defend me?"
If you make up a bunch of similar shirts and walk around together, it's hard for them to say that it's a demonstration (though they have done that). Let them figure out what rule you're breaking, then modify your approach so they have to find a new rule next week. If you put long explanations of civil liberties and war and stuff on the back of the shirt, people have to follow you around to read it. If they don't, assign someone from your group to do it. Or you could stand still, though that might be illegal. Just tell security there's no law against reading thy neighbor.
Let's go to the mall. Send in your stories of creative envelope-pushing.
For a series of "retail interventions," especially at Starbucks, see the Reverend Billy page.
For case law on civic activity in malls, see The Law of the Mall.
Wal-Mart has become increasingly targeted as it becomes increasingly powerful and oppressive to the world it increasingly owns. Efforts to demonstrate at stores are met with as many difficulties as efforts to unionize or to inspect working conditions in its source factories. Some recent tactics tried:
In Palo Alto folks handed out balloons reading "Sweatshop Labor" to kids who then carried them into the store.
Singer Susan Appe and some friends went into a GAP store 'disguised' as shoppers, then simultaneously burst into harmonious song about sweatshops on cue, shocking shoppers into -- if nothing else -- curiosity.
Here's a truck from the Raleigh area:
This truck goes to demonstrations with a sound system, and has traveled to Washington. It carries political art projects that involve children and families. They paint peace messages on umbrellas and made twin towers of civil liberties and civil disobedience out of refrigerator boxes, three high. For info and more pictures, see http://www.home.earthlink.net/~publicassembly/
Every town needs to have one of these trucks. Or five. We should go into the delivery business, hire the unemployed victims of the war economy, and drive around delivering things and messages all the time. Visibility, art, fun, honking and hope. Keep on truckin'.
Or get one like this.
It rolls all over the country with speakers returned from Iraq and Palestine. Info: www.justicewheels.org
STOP 'N FAX
Vigils, or street outreach, have played a visible and audible role in the anti-war movement as Americans honk for peace - the perfect beginners' peace act (you don't have to leave your car). But will honking really stop war? Scholars differ. In those locations where motorists could stop and park if they wanted to, shouldn't we give them an incentive? Food, music, and other carnival inducements are good. Why not a weekly roadside political carnival? Make a list of the technical and legal obstacles, then solve them. Meanwhile, a modest start would be offering the opportunity to communicate to our misleaders. People love to sign petitions, so here's something better: stop and fax. A laptop computer can be hooked up to a cell phone, enabling the computer's internal fax machine. Fire off a note to the White House, the Senator, the UN. The next week, you've got new activists.
If you don't know how to set it up, ask someone younger. And be sure to alert the press - they love "bleeding edge" protest technology.
Hanging banners over freeways is great fun. The first fun part is making them. Do this in a public place where passersby can see the groups of people gathered in public, not shopping, instead making art and politics together. Use short slogans that can be read from far away. Weigh the bottom down with something that won't fall on cars, something sewn in to keep the banner straight. Attach some ropes and cruise out to the overpass with a few people. That's fun too. Then cruise back and check it periodically, in case it needs adjustment. It may stay up an hour or a week. Like stop 'n fax, it hits the people where they live - in their cars. For lots more on this see freewayblogger.com
PROPER USE OF TV
In Pt. Townsend, Washington, the Juice Bar plays Democracy Now! on TV three times a day. You can do this! Find a joint that wants a bunch of people dropping by to watch and discuss the news from a world-friendly perspective. Their coffee sales will rise. All they have to do is get a satellite connection to Free Speech TV - well, and a satellite. This is a good substitute for getting DN! on your local radio, if that proves impossible, which it often is since community radio is being converted to National Pentagon Radio all over this potentially great nation. You can have a regular time at the joint and call in the Democracy Cafe. Speaking of which,
As I write, the #1 and #3 spots on the national best seller list are Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country? and Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Weird eh? A hundred years ago, fans of Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward formed "Bellamy clubs" around the country to discuss the work. Recently through Oprah and a librarian in Seattle it has become fashionable for everyone to read the same book. Why doesn't our town form a Dude Where's My Country Club? But instead of talking about the book, we could do things that are mentioned in it. Like change things. Or we could form a Lies and Liars - Not - Club. Just a thought. Never mind.
DID I MENTION TV?
Don't forget to videotape interviews with military families about their feelings about war and stuff. Show them on cable access or at your Democracy Cafe.
Walk around in public in twos and threes carrying on a conversation about politics that mimics the content and enthusiasm of a conversation about sports or shopping. This is an example of what radical Brazilian theater worker Augusto Boal calls "invisible theater." As Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping explains,
Public settings that are easily taken for granted, such as stores or sidewalks, are understood to be like theatrical stages. We operate in our daily lives with many of the same dramatic rules that actors follow in a theater or on a movie set. Therefore a political activist can consciously enter such a public space, analyze the motivations, language and plot of the people there, and seek to redirect the presiding drama, becoming an influential actor.
The scenarios used by this group include semi-scripted arguments, which they call
"Spat Theater," and discussions with people not present, called "Cellphone opera." They advise that interactions with workers [and customers] be cheerful, never angry or superior.
Develop and share a script guideline. If someone looks at you with interest or confusion, hand them a flier describing National Talk About Important Things in Public Day (with no date noted). Do this exercise as a flashmob in a mall, and alert the press - see if they can figure out whether it's a Sports, Style, or Local News story. If they don't carry it, send it in as a letter. If they still don't carry it, that constitutes suppression of information, which invalidates the next election.
How about organizing new people?
It's an old idea and we don't do enough of it! One way to get new people is to read the letters column in the newspaper. Collect the names of writers you like, track them down, have your group throw a dinner in their honor -Mighty Pen Awards Night - or show a movie they'd be interested in, or have a speaker about media and politics or...have them each get up and read a favorite paragraph from their letters. Set up a follow-up event, find ways to form lasting relationships with those who aren't wingnuts - unless you are too, in which case it's fine. Make sure everybody has something to do to contribute. Form a community. Do it. Enjoy it.
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