Poetic Protests and the New Media

By: Chris A Riddle

Protesting since at least the 1960’s has become a feature of modern life.  Indeed, hardly a day goes past that we cannot find news of a protest somewhere in the world and they are often right here in Portland.   However with the advent of the Internet, FaceBook, Twitter, Instant Messaging and Texting as well as the still relatively new invention of the cell phone I expect better protests.  What happened to the creative protest?  When Ben Brandzel wrote the article “What Malcolm Gladwell Missed About Online Organizing and Creating Big Change” for The Nation he recounts the story from Mr. Gladwell’s article of four African-American students that went into a Woolworth’s “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960.  This action multiplied and was replicated in many other towns and became a great protest against the racism of the south at that time.

Mr. Brandzel’s assertion is that it was because of the students’ “strong-tie” connections to one another that gave them the bravery to make this protest.  I assert that Mr. Brandzel missed the real strength of the protest, its poetry.  Each year we have hundreds if not thousands of protests across this country and no one cares.  No one cares because they are the same protests as 50 years ago.  A large gathering of people holding up the same cardboard signs, using the same basic chants that their grandparents used half a century ago and complaining that the world doesn’t listen, that nothing is changing.  So the news media reports that X amount of protesters came out, the police made Y number of arrests, and Z amount of property was destroyed.  This is no way to change the world!  We have to have better protests, more creative and interesting protests, protests that get the people’s attention and plant the seeds that may produce change.

Using the New Media, simultaneous actions can occur at many locations around town, many towns around the state or even many states around the country.  These protests do not have to be “high-risk” protests they need to be creative.  Four college students sitting doing their homework at a “whites-only” lunch counter was indeed dangerous, but more importantly it was creative, it got people’s attention, it enflamed the imagination.

A few poets of the protest have appeared around the world.  For instance, if you are a Palestinian protesting Israel’s security wall you can make a creative statement like Banksy saying it is a garden on the other side.

Or you get dressed up as characters from the movie Avatar.

If you are against Japan’s whaling you do something like this:

However if you are protesting against the practice of hooking sharks you can bring your message to light by doing something like this:

And there is a lot of power in a protest such as this one against Human Trafficking, imagine this happening in fifty places at once, what effect would that have?

All of these protests have one thing in common, creativity.  Imagine what other kinds of poetic protests we could have.  What if the state was cutting the funding for universities and the legislators were telling you they could not find the money.  You could get a big group of people together and go down to Salem with your signs and chants…, or you could use FaceBook and Twitter to have people around universities throughout the state take five or ten, maybe even twenty dollars in assorted change, place it in a sock with some holes in it and ride through the town on bikes having coins falling out all over town.  Then you have spokesmen keep bringing up the fact that there is money to be found if they just look hard enough.  People throughout the state are finding money and hearing your statements which may cause them to pressure the state to look harder to find more money for universities.

Or maybe TriMet is planning to raise fares and through new media techniques we have thousands of riders that, instead of paying the higher fare, pay the regular fare and hand the bus driver a beautiful seashell.  You can make sure that the media finds out this is happening and when they interview people they tell them that the seashell is like the beautiful transportation system in Portland and you wanted to remind the TriMet Board of what their excessive fare increases are destroying.

These actions take you out of the realm of just another protest and make you into a news story.  Then our actions can be multiplied by others who want to follow in our steps until real changes can occur.

Civil Rights Protest 1960

Here are just a few other ideas for protest that make people think instead of just turning the channel:

10 Creative Protests

Social Media Protest Against Phone Company

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