Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Creative political protest done right, by Allison Killkenny

It’s difficult to grab the public’s attention during a political protest because most such gatherings are uninspired. Oftentimes, participants hoist cardboard signs. There may be a chant or two. Penned inside city-approved cages, citizens rarely slow their gait when passing such a non-spectacle.
Then, there are the times protesters use brilliant displays of creativity and passion– not just to make a point in that moment — but to take a stand for all time and become legends.
I have not seen Avatar, but here’s at least one thing to thank James Cameron for:

Protesters against Israel’s policies in the West Bank have added a colorful twist to demonstrations, painting themselves blue and posing as characters from the movie Avatar.
Pro-Palestinian participants in weekly demonstrators against the route of the separation fence in the village of Bil’in, and the takeover of Arab homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, have also donned long hair and loincloths to resemble the 10-foot blue-skinned Na’vi of Avatar.
The demonstrators compare the Palestinians to the Na’vi – an indigenous people on the moon Pandora who find themselves up against militarily superior foreign invaders who seek to oust them from their homes.
Last year, European dairy farmers who were angry over falling milk prices took to the streets…and squirted police with…you guessed it:

Georges Gobet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Fighting hatred with humor
When the Westboro Baptist Church brought their hate circus to San Francisco, they were greeted by a counter-protest — not of enraged citizens, but with something more powerful: an amused, laughing crowd that didn’t take the monster, Fred Phelps, seriously enough to shout.
Westboro is infamous for carrying inflammatory signs like “God Hates Fags,” so the counter-protesters carried their own:
Getting creative for Mother Earth
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, an environmental campaign aimed at holding atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations below 350 parts-per-million, organized a global day of protest, and the response was overwhelming.
Activists not only took to the streets, they expressed their passion in breathtaking ways that captured the imaginations of the public.
On the shores of the dwindling Dead Sea, Israeli activists will make a giant human “3″ on their beach, Palestinians a huge “5″ on their shore and Jordanians a “0″ on theirs.
In the coup-ridden capital of Honduras, parishioners of the Amor, Fe, y Vida church will host a neighborhood tree-planting while across town activists plan a 5-kilometer march.
Up in Canada’s Yukon Territory, a Whitehorse youth group is planning a group hug – 350 people strong – of the territorial legislature.
With a nod to folk singer Pete Seeger, Brookline, Mass.’ Amandla Chorus has reworked the lyrics to Beethoven’s classic Ode to Joy and will perform their version at the town 350 Day festival.
An energy group is throwing a black-tie gala in Shanghai; in Beijing a few hundred students intend to cycle through downtown; way out in Western China a handful of students plans to hike to a melting glacier.
“Stop the Church”
Sometimes, the creative part of the protest is the selected location.
In 1989, thousands of protestors arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Mass in a demonstration directed toward the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s stand against AIDS education, condom distribution, and opposition to abortion. To visually demonstrate their mantra “Silence=Death,” Act Up members laid down “dead” on the church floor, forcing police to drag them out on stretchers. In total, 111 protesters were arrested.
I should stress that these are only a handful of the most creative modern protests, but I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to THE creative political protest: the original tea party. You know, the activists protesting unfair taxation, and not the ones angry that blacks, Mexicans, feminists, and liberals are taking over the country.

Image via Wikipedia
Disguises. Illegal Trespassing. Destruction of His Majesty’s Property. The participants of the Boston Tea Party would be tried as domestic terrorists these days as I explained in a parody, “Boston Tea Party 2008.”
Sam Adams and John Hancock, the shrill, unreasonable activists sneak toward the ship and are confronted by Captain Roach and the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson.
Hutchinson: Where’s your permit?
Adams: Our what?
Hutchinson: Your permit. You need a permit to protest here.
Hancock: Well, we didn’t have time to apply for one. Drastic times call for drastic measures, you know.
Adams: Anyway, there’s really no permit available for what we want to do…
Hutchinson: Which is what?

: Dump the East Tea Company’s tea.
Roach: Good heavens! That’s positively Revolutionary!
Adams: That’s sort of the idea, yeah…
Hutchinson: You don’t really intend to break the law, do you?
Adams: Indeed.
Roach: Jesus H. Christ! The absolute Gall!
Hutchinson: No go. Sorry.
Hancock: Oh, C’mon!

: Nope. No.
Hancock: C’moooooon!
Hutchinson: Tell you what: You can throw one tea bag into the harbor, but only one of you can go onto the ship. And you can’t make any noise. And take off those silly costumes. And the other one of you has to wait in a little pen I will construct out of wood and some mud. And did I mention you mustn’t raise your voice, or I will fine you a week’s wages?
(Enter stage left): A man appears from the shadows, scribbling furiously on parchment.
Man: Thomas Paine: citizen journalist! Are you repressing their right to freedom of expression?!
Hutchinson: (Tasers Paine)
Roach: That freedom doesn’t exist yet, punk. (Kicks Paine in the kidney)
Paine: (Cries in pain)
Adams: Holy crap!
Hutchinson: So what were you boys saying?
Adams and Hancock: Nothing! Nothing….
Adams and Hancock back away, hands held up in surrender before they turn and run away.

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