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How to Protest in the New Millennium, and Not Get Arrested
Sarah Kuck, 12 Jun 08


When my friend was three, her dad taught her how to climb a tree. Not for sport, but so that in case she needed to, she could stage a tree sit.

This was a totally foreign concept to me, especially having a parent endorse such an activity. I’m from a small town in the Midwest and think my first time seeing a protest was in a scene from Forest Gump. Protesting, in my mind, involved sit-ins, marches and getting arrested.

In the new millennium, successful direct action campaigns not only keep their participants out of prison, but they also aim to gain their respective causes considerable media attention by getting creative, funny and, in some cases, naked.

In Worldchanging, the book, we give our take on how to run an effective campaign as well as a few of our favorite examples, including the Yes Men's "golden skeleton in the closet" stunt and PETA's "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign.

In Bibi van der Zee’s new book, Rebel, Rebel: The Protestor's Handbook, she expounds further on how to go about staging meaningful civil disobedience without getting arrested. Her book also goes into detail about how to join or start a campaign, raise funds and reach the masses. And according to van der Zee, raising your voice has never been more crucial or effective:

Campaigns against the over-packaging of food have jolted supermarkets into acknowledging the need for change, while campaigns against the growth in aviation have kept airlines and the emissions in the headlines. In Wales and the west of Ireland, new gas pipelines have been the subject of unwanted attention...Direct action is cheap, quick and easy to organize. It can be massively embarrassing for the company involved, or for the government. Shame is one of the most potent weapons a protester has.

Her first bit of advice is to arm yourself with knowledge. Step one, she says, know your rights during demos, marches, civil disobedience and direct action. Step two, know what you could be arrested for. Organizing or partaking in a campaign, van der Zee say, can be kept easy, fun and legal:

You could spend your Saturdays outside the local petrol station dressed as a polar bear; that's direct action and it's certainly not against the law. You could, Women's Institute-style, bring back handfuls of packaging to your local supermarket, or stage a die-in in front of a coffee chain. Neither of these should land you in a police cell.

For the record, my friend has yet to be arrested. She was, however, recently escorted by John McCain’s body guards from the Seattle Westin, dressed as a salmon.

Photo credit: stock.xchange

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I suppose PETA's "Naked" campaign is a good way to get attention, but it doesn't really do a good job of winning people to their cause. If anything, it turns more people against them. Effectively, PETA is exploiting women (and the objectification of women) in the name of preventing the exploitation of animals. Animal rights shouldn't be ignored, but the priorities at work in PETA protests are off-kilter.

Posted by: Chris L on 13 Jun 08

It would seem that my previous post on this topic was deemed unacceptable, presumably in connection with my URL to wikipedia's article on the 'Black Bloc' tactic.

My point in presenting it was that large numbers and masks along with modern communications technologies also provide protection against legal and extra-legal prosecution. (Recently, these tactics were also used in the anti-Scientology protests.)

My motivation in posting it is the frisson between the above and the apparent reality of concealed "free speech zones" and the apparent willingness of law enforcement personnel to disregard the letter of the law whenever they feel like it... as is demonstrated in their treatment of public photography, the right to assemble while on public land, under the pretext of preventing loitering, etc. In a more historical context, there are also events such as the widespread arrests of pacifists in WWI, cointelpro, and other obviously extra-legal measures taken against protectors.

If they really want to, they'll jail you regardless of the law, and the above isn't going to do much good... the lesson they're trying to send is "don't cause trouble," but not causing trouble is, when weighed against the financial and political interests of the powerful, incompatible with your aims here.

I'm hoping my clarified post is deemed acceptable... I understand whose soap box this is, and will go quietly if this one is also canned...

Posted by: B.Dewhirst on 17 Jun 08

Years ago i had wondered at the effectiveness of protest often thinking it was not worth the effort. But i also grew up in the same small town and the definition i had of protest was greatly limited. Then i read the book Fight Club. And though a bit violent and maybe off the mark, the Project Mayhem's activities were inspiring in that they gained the public's attention in an original and sometimmes funny way (setting fire to a skyscraper in the form of a smiley face). It seems that Bibi van der zee's book addresses protest in a similar way: gaining the attention of the public through humor and originality. To me this is both inspiring and extremely smart. If you want to change a person's awareness, you've got to hook their attention. (Though sometimes this can get you kicked out of certain political gatherings!)

Posted by: jarad on 18 Jun 08



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