This post was authored by Ljubica Sarafov and is part III of a series entitled: Let’s Replace we the corporations with We The People; Restore the Middle Class, and Have Fun!
Let’s Have Fun!
Recently I did a simple search, “fun in social movements,” Believe it or not, google, for all its searching power, could not provide me with a relevant link.
I think this is sad and a really missed opportunity on the part of organizers. In part 1 of this series of articles I wrote about tea partiers and and showed this video:
But really, if you look at any video, or protest of tea partiers they always look like that. They get dressed up in American flag t-shirts, or better yet, founding fathers garb. They get out there, and have a good time. In the video above it seems clear that many of the people are ill informed about the purpose of the Glenn Beck rally. But all of those bodies showed up. For week after there was debate about the number of people who showed up to “restore Honor to America’. One thing was clear though, it was a whole heck of a lot!
I know that a lot of people in KEY Coalition probably don’t feel that the tea party is the most effective mode of organizing for a number of reasons. Most obviously because of their deep corporate ties, and unconsciousness of those ties. But lets ignore all that stuff, since I don’t really think thats up for debate. Instead I would like to point out one indisputable fact. Those people are having fun. Yes a lot of them appear angry, scared and dumb. The point is those people are having fun, and their movement is successful, at least from an electoral perspective. For such a nascent third party movement the tea party is surprisingly well represented in the halls of congress, and legislative state houses across the country.
That is why I am starting to think that just like you can’t build a homogenous movement and expect it to be popular, you cannot expect to build a movement on seriousness. People join causes primarily because they are concerned about themselves, and secondarily because they are concerned about others or their community. I think that if our movement was built around more fun, then people would be more open to it. More likely to stop by and check it out. The thing is that our movement has all the facts and science on our side. And the reality is the climate change is a scary future. So even without fear mongering, or manipulating facts, we have the high ground. We have a substantive argument that should win, when we appeal to logic. But when it comes to emotion we don’t win. So perhaps that is the aspect we should change most.
I don’t know about you but I have enough seriousness in my life everyday. Whether you’re in school or working, there are lots of things to stress you out. So it is really difficult to add another serious thing on top of that by committing to a serious movement. Now don’t misunderstand me. The work that we do as activists and organizers, especially around the environment and dirty energy, is some of the most important work in the world. However, not everyone wants to commit to it 110%.
Dirty energy activism can get really technical for example. You have to know what effects chlorine has on people when its burned if you’re going to confidently stand against Tire Derived Fuel (TDF), for example. I think too often we alienate people in this movement, with our jargon and abbreviations. But its about more than just the level of discourse. This movement is serious! And because it is serious, it can feel really scary to outsiders. When we talk about fracking fluid that causes people’s water to light up near an open flame, that is scary. That feels like a really big problem too. And too many times individuals feel overwhelmed, and under prepared or motivated to do anything. But if we have a fun movement then people don’t have to get motivated, they will show up just to see whats going on.
Another aspect to consider is how protests are organized (I would recommend clicking on this link, I will be referring to it and Naomi Wolf from here on out). Unlike the Vietnam and Civil Rights protests of our past, today protestors must attain a permit from local law enforcement before demonstrating. That means that if they get the permit, they are not allow to step on the street and only allowed to stay in a designated, predetermined area. In other words they are not allow to disrupt ‘business as usual’. One of the reasons the protests of the 60’s were so successful is that they occurred pre-neutering—to borrow Wolf’s phrase. Those protests stopped traffic. Actually they stopped the world. People looked up and took notice.
Today protests are ‘Disney-fied’ as Wolf puts it. As evidenced by the Restoring Honor Rally. Actually as much as I like ripping on Glenn Beck, I have to say his rally is really just one in a long line. I have been going to protests and rallies for a long time now, and I have yet to go to one where there is a direct action or result following. I have never felt that by showing up there, I changed, or improved anything. However, I think that we should use this to our advantage. I understand Wolf’s point that this stuff is serious and scary. But as I said I think her old school approach is played out, and doesn’t actually appeal to people. Instead we need more rallies like Obama’s during the campaign.
Mass gatherings of people who have hope, change, and fun on the brain. Rallies people want to go to and be a part of. In fact I wonder if we should think of protests more as events. As opportunities not only to show power in numbers but also to network, or even to train people. I think that these events should be more like the consciousness raising groups of the women’s movement (though on a more massive scale).
The other thing is that people want to join people who are having fun. And people are willing to come down to an event at the state house on Saturday versus a protest. They are not just likely to come, they are likely to be more open to listening and discussing with others. I think this re-thinking of how we consider and classify protests could be a game changer for the global warming crowd.
I am not trying to say that there is no need or room for real protests in our society. Obviously the collective bargaining protests across the country, show that that would be a foolish conclusion to draw. All I am saying, is that this is the reality of the situation. And perhaps instead of only looking to assembly models of the past, or trying to fight todays protest laws (which might, ironically, require protests and a movement of its own) it might be most productive to take a new look at the situation. Perhaps this is an area where we can learn from tea partiers. After all there movement is of the 21st century, and not as old as ours.
I threw out a few of my own ideas. However one event really taking this idea of making protests events is Power Shift. Power Shift is an event at which we show our power in numbers. However we also take the time to train people, demonstrate, network, share our stories, and perspectives. It is a really unique opportunity, and it is FUN!