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Creative Activism

by Alva Dittrich

Political resistance isn’t all about going on protest marches and demonstrations and piecing together underground pamphlets and preaching to the converted. It furthermore can be an expression of arts and ideas through structures most commonly known as communication guerrilla warfare. Communication guerrilla, a term I don’t enjoy referring to in particular is the general philosophy of calling the public into awareness by confusing them in all day life situations which will leave them so startled it’ll be nothing but thought-provoking and a revelation.

Practicing this form of activism is, although somewhat perilous, quite simple and for those of you who care, rewarding even. You can found a local action group with your friends or even on your own and you don’t need huge organized meetings (well you don’t need to organize them yourselves but invade them, that is) and apart from say a photocopier, printer, sheets of paper and creative ideas no raw materials. The probably most famous example of such activity, one branch of direct action is what happened in the US in the 90´s when a group of activists prepared children’s toys according to their critical focus and interest. The popular dolls of both G.I. Joe and Teen Talk Barbie were slightly altered by exchanging their speaking modules and then put back into the shelves ready for sale. The little boys where stunned when their G.I. Joe demanded “Let’s go shopping” while their little sister’s Barbie doll threatened to kill everyone. The agenda wasn’t hard to understand: Gender roles are old-fashioned and over-rated. They had in turn manipulated manipulating devices of the toy industry and demonstrated to both children and parents that using  one’s brain and eliminating clichés sometimes is essential. But what was more, the media coverage was enormous and their aim was spread wider than to the customers of the dolls itself.

This is one inspiring idea of creative activism, one you might have come up with if they hadn’t? The main principle is involving the public, which admittedly can be seen as offence or even crime so don’t get caught if you’re not sure whether you operated legally or illegally. Masking yourself might be a good idea sometimes and anonymous popularity puts your aim forward as well if the motives behind your actions are easy to understand and you don’t have to make yourself clear in dozens of interviews ever after.

Other famous example are the buy nothing day or car free day, all with a clear message, you can organize bike rallies, too. The most attacked spaces still remain supermarkets. A British group of activists spread flyers apparently printed by a chain of supermarkets declaring at the opening of a new store each customer could fill a shopping cart and get the content for free. The response was enormous, tons of people were present at the opening and it took the shopkeepers ages to inform everyone they wouldn’t actually be getting anything for free. Comparable to this German activists printed a traffic newsletter of Munich traffic systems declaring during the time of the world trade summit in 1992 subways and other means of public transport could be used for free, and even once the officials had demented people without tickets couldn’t be punished.

Another idea originating in Germany was spreading posters and flyers and appeals to not throw batteries into garbage bins but, in love with the environment, let the German postal service take care of it, simply drop used batteries in the nearest mail box. 

Whenever businesses use communication mediums you can interfere and fake them. Other than this from of creative activism which involves unknowing people directly the ways of criticizing and reinventing advertising should not be underestimated. Creative resources can be found at www.adbusters.org, for example. This is supplementary to that obvious leftist propaganda you spread in the alternative parts of town you can have the best advertising space of all if you are clever enough. Ideal would be to create posters which look almost 100% like the original, in the best case exchanging one letter or word of the original poster advertising say coke or McDonalds, or use the graphical design logos or slogans, modify them till you have the desired result and bang wake up the public conscience. Ultimatively your fake ads aren’t even being noticed by the companies in charge for weeks due to their close resemblance to the original.

In those modern times another possibility of using their media as your platform has appeared on the horizon rather recently when the World Wide Web had become so important to the world hegemony. Hacking official sites, if you have the skills to do it, can be used as a form of expression next to having sites collapse by helping them to massive traffic. (This is a different kind of activity that has nothing to do with the topic) Finally the 3rd challenging task of creative activism, attend public discussions, press conferences etc. even though you might only reach a selected group of people it’s probably going to be a lot of fun to play interrogator. This form of activity can generally be approached from two different perspectives, one suggestion would be to pretend your on their side all the way so that people get the wrong (which means the right) idea of what kind of people support the organization in question, the other is reveal your real face in the course of development, an example for the latter:

In  1969 a representative of playboy promoted sexual freethinking in Iowa The manager held a speech in the university when a bunch of women were spotted in the audience holding up signs on which one could read “read playboy – your penis will grow an inch” and “playmeat of the week”, it confused the manager but he kept talking anyway, if yet nervously when after several minutes the women started to undress themselves and proclaim their theories on sexism. However the activists where brought in front of the court for causing and promoting obscenity and not the playboy bloke as they had desired.

This is in a way public drama you can initiate in buses, as critical sketches that are perceived as a spontaneous situation, if there are many of you you can crash public party meetings and involve everyone in your interactive play. Of course paintings, music, literature, movies, etc. remain parts of the creative resistance but involving the public more drastically can multiply your fun, supposedly. Worth giving it a try.  


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