Activism for Dummies
Beautiful Rising: Creative Resistance from the Global South. A review
Story time. When I was young(er), I thought I could save the world. Who didn’t ? As 14 year olds, my best friend and I started realising the world stunk. So we decided to do something about it.
Punk band t-shirt? Check! Keffiyeh? Check! I mean, we did have to look the part. Armed with our wits (or at least we thought so), signs and enthusiasm, we hit the streets. It was the time of Bush, the Iraq war, the war on terror… to name but a few. We protested anything and everything we could. Something had to change; not much did. The smell of disappointment loomed in the air when we realised we failed. Unsurprisingly so. We had no foundation, no groundwork, no ”activism for dummies”. We were a beautiful mess.
Today I wish there were a sort of manual, a go-to toolkit activists can use in order to strengthen their cause. Oh wait, there is! Whaaat?
Beautiful Rising, Creative Resistance from the Global South is a printed collection of works from the Beautiful Rising project, for those of us who prefer a more analogue experience. (1)
The project is a follow-up from Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution, a multi-faceted collaboration that aims to make grassroots movements more effective. (2) Its aim is to provide us with creative, artistic and sometimes humorous ways to start a revolution. The full toolbox can be found online . [Click the link, you know you want to!]
Open the book at the introduction and we encounter this:
”The defining challenges of our era- deepening inequality, erosion of civil rights, and compounding disasters linked to climate change and war- cannot be adequately addressed by business-as-usual politics. The neoliberal consensus has nothing to offer the vast majority of the world’s people; only sustained, people-powered social movements can lead us through this catastrophe. Grassroots movements the world over are responding with astounding courage and creativity, even in the face of unspeakable violence. But to actually win, these social movements need ways to share, analyze, and learn from one another. This is exactly what the Beautiful Rising project seeks to offer.” (3)
That sums it up pretty well, don’t you think? My work here is done. [Terribly funny, I know.]
Let’s talk a bit about the structure of the book. It’s organised into five “sections”, each being a tool on its own, and together forming a coherent structural framework. Just follow those steps and you’ll be well on the way to your own DIY uprising.
Stories. Tactics. Principles. Theories. Methodologies.
In Stories we are exposed to the victories and failures of the world’s most important actions and campaigns. Well-intended movements often fail due to oversight of one of the aforementioned tools; Unfortunately, not every campaign is a success story.
In the story called Hacking Apartheid, we are told of the South African hackers and freedom fighters who, under constant surveillance and threat of being exiled or jailed, created a cryptic communication system that enabled the various operatives to correspond without fear of being caught. Regardless of the fact that everything was going great, the action still failed. Why? There was little communication between the hackers and the greater social community. One party alone could not bring about change. An open community organisation would have benefited the cause more than the secretive collective.(4)
Stories gives us an overview of what happened coupled with the four other tools. We get to see what tactics, principles, theories and methodologies were used in the relevant campaign.
Tactics represent the different forms of action one can take. With examples such as flash mobs, civil disobedience and jail solidarity, we are presented with numerous ways of creative rebellion. Wouldn’t this have been useful when you were an angsty teen? Of course, the more perilous tactics come with a warning page. Potential risks read as follow : “potential risk of jail time”, “potential risk of deportation”, “potential risk of abuse”. Well, at least they are being honest. Initiate at your own risk I guess.(5)
What else do we need for a successful revolt? Principles. In the book, principles are seen as guidelines. They are loose sets of rules which every activist should keep in mind. Whether it is finding support networks, contacting the UN or making use of humour to create change, these principles have all been tried and tested. (6)
Every campaign or action should have a stable foundation. Understanding how the world works, and how your action fits into the bigger-picture is crucial. This is where the chapter about Theories comes in. Let’s take a look at the mini-skirt march that was held in Zimbabwe in 2014. What do you think the theory behind that was? That’s right, Feminisim. (7) Understanding the bigger-picture, or what drives the world will help you realise how to change it.
Now comes the practical part. Think of it as homework. Methodologies are exercises which help you plan out your action. They are there to help you asses your situation and your progress. For example, the pillars of
power methodology will help you figure out who’s in power. Which institutions would help you? Which should be weakened or removed?.(8)
Micah White, co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement, tells us about the future of activism in his artcile To The Barricades! A Tactical History Of Activism. (9) From WikiLeaks, to flash mobs, to game activism, the future lies in technology.
Ours is a time of change, of innovation. So although this book is a great go-to guide to start you off, old tactics don’t seem to work anymore.
How many people protest wars, newly imposed laws or bills every day? How many times have you thought that if enough people oppose something, the government will listen?
Contrary to popular belief, the people have no sovereignty over the government. Surprise, surprise…The governments do not care whether we approve or disapprove of their actions; the governments will do what the governments want. The old activist tactics don’t seem to be suited for today’s world.
In Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization, we are confronted with the term subversivity. According to the editors Lieven De Cauter, Ruben De Roo and Karel Vanhaesebrouck, this is a powerful strategy that connects art and politcal commitment. A new type of subversion, subversivity is all about temporarily disrupting the established order of things, not about overthrowing the system. One thing is clear, this has to happen in the streets, in public spaces.(10)
So why is this book relevant today? Do we really need to answer this question?
Today’s global climate is one of fear and insecurity. From the rise of a culture of hate to the destruction of our environment, our futures appear as uncertain as ever which is why tool-kits such as these are of utter importance.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Spoken by Martin Luther Kind Jr., these words resonate true today just as much as they did back in 1968. Idle existence should not be our reality.
All too often we hear people say “Who am I to change anything?”. This fatalistic climate that’s ever so present must be shattered; we are not living in a Greek Tragedy (at least let’s hope not).
To quote Margaret Mead : “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, organized citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
It is works like these that have the power to incite people to stop being couch potatoes and actually do something.
We are far too inclined to resign to slacktivism, thinking we did our best, we did our duty. [No, your like will not solve world hunger.] It is so easy to forget the world’s problems when it doesn’t affect us directly. How did that saying go? If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for everything.
(1) Abujbara, J., Boyd, A., Mitchell, D. O., & Taminato, M. (2017). *Beautiful rising: creative resistance from the global South*. New York: OR Books.
(2) Boyd, A., & Mitchell, D. O. (2012). *Beautiful trouble: a toolbox for revolution*. New York: OR Books.
(3) Abujbara, J., Boyd, A., Mitchell, D. O., & Taminato, M. (2017). Introduction. In *Beautiful rising: creative resistance from the global South* (pp.5). New York: OR Books.
(4) Abujbara, J., Boyd, A., Mitchell, D. O., & Taminato, M. (2017). Hacking Apartheid. In *Beautiful rising: creative resistance from the global South* (pp.38–43). New York: OR Books.
(5) Abujbara, J., Boyd, A., Mitchell, D. O., & Taminato, M. (2017). Tactics. In *Beautiful rising: creative resistance from the global South* (pp.106). New York: OR Books.
(6) Abujbara, J., Boyd, A., Mitchell, D. O., & Taminato, M. (2017). Principles. In *Beautiful rising: creative resistance from the global South* (pp.136). New York: OR Books.
(7) Abujbara, J., Boyd, A., Mitchell, D. O., & Taminato, M. (2017). Miniskirt March. In *Beautiful rising: creative resistance from the global South* (pp.50–53). New York: OR Books.
(8) Abujbara, J., Boyd, A., Mitchell, D. O., & Taminato, M. (2017). Pillars of Power. In *Beautiful rising: creative resistance from the global South* (pp.210–213). New York: OR Books.
(9) White, M. (2014, June 21). To the barricades! A Tactical History of Activism. Retrieved December 06, 2017, from https://www.micahmwhite.com/social-change-theory/to-the-barricades
(10) De Cauter, L., De Roo, R., & Vanhaesebrouck, K. (2011). Art and activism in the age of globalization. Rotterdam: NAI Publ.