GrendelFish (gfish) wrote,

Improving protests

A problem I've been thinking over for many years is how to improve protests. It seems to me that the standard models are largely broken at this point, in that they don't motivate political change very well. If you read sources from the 60s, protests were scary back then. They were seen as a collapse of hierarchy, of basic social order. But we've developed cultural antibodies since then. We've learned to see the chaos of protests not as a threat, but as a humorous weakness. You've got the old hippies, you've got the same, tired old chants, you've got the people with the giant puppets, you've got hangers-on with signs for completely unrelated issues, you've got the wannabe anarchists breaking windows. All just a big, easily-ignored joke.

I've spent a lot of time trying to think of ways this could be fixed, how to break protests out of old ruts. There is a fine line to be walked: how do you convey power of the kind that politicians pay attention to, without it tipping over into bad kinds of power. The kinds that make you look like violent fascists, for instance. They used all the really obvious options, unfortunately.

The Occupy movement was interesting for this reason -- it was so weird and different, it managed to get a lot of attention at first. But camping doesn't convey power in the long run. It conveys homelessness, which is more or less the complete opposite in our society. So it fizzled. Maybe if they had standardized on some unique, homemade tent structures, like hexayurts? Getting people to make things to even a rough spec beforehand shows dedication and power. And hexayurts look so alien, it would have been very striking. And well insulated!

The pink "pussyhats" at the Women's Marches this weekend surprised me by being so effective. I admit I had dismissed the idea, in part because I didn't think they'd be so common. They provided strong visual cohesion, and they demonstrated many hours of effort beforehand. Being homemade clothing, they tied into some very deep American traditions of protest, providing a particularly nice contrast with mass-produced, foreign-made MAGA hats. They were uniform without being too uniform. They even worked to spread the protest out across the city after the march, as people made their way home. I was seeing them for the rest of the day around Seattle, providing a really interesting temporal echo to the protest.

Less well structured ideas follow:

I have long wondered about choreographed dance routines. Getting that many people to move in unity shows coordination and dedication, without necessarily being as bad-scary as marching in lockstep. It has the advantage of being able to dial in the exact amount of scariness, depending on how goofy the dance number is. But then I realized that this is exactly what the North Korean "Mass Games" are, and those actually trace back to Russian Revolution era practices. So, promising, but maybe not.

Brainstorming with someone (sorry, I forget who), we came up with the idea of radical construction as a protest activity. Imagine a swarm of people coming from every direction, each person carrying a custom, numbered strut. Working together in a way that could only come from practicing many times, they quickly erect a dome or tower. This could be in a park, or it could be in the middle of a busy intersection. Maybe they climb it and chain themselves to it, maybe not. But just the act of creation like that, showing literal coordinated industry, would be really striking in a new way.

Protest signs could use some innovation. How about a night march, protesters dressed in dark clothing, with signs lit up using LED strands and el-wire? 2017 is going hard cyberpunk, after all, so let's protest in style!

Who else has ideas? What is new/weird/different enough to break through cultural apathy, strongly visual, shows coordination and dedication and power, all without being the wrong kind of scary?
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