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Tyee Books

Ten Ways Activists Can Make 'Beautiful Trouble'

TYEE LIST #26: Tips from a book that helps modern changemakers create serious mischief.

By Robyn Smith 27 Oct 2012 |

Robyn Smith is a senior editor at The Tyee.

Many hard-working activists know that generating the political heat necessary to create change today is increasingly difficult. Couple short attention spans with a flurry of messaging on all channels of communication, and drum circles just don't cut it anymore.

What does win eyeballs? Good ol' fashioned mischief. That's where the new book Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution can help. Assembled by veteran "creative campaigner" Andrew Boyd with the help of co-editor Dave Oswald Mitchell, it's an encyclopedia of activism's best practices: tactics, design principles, case studies, and other frameworks meant to spark creative change in the world today.

No Logo and The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein calls it a "crash course in the emerging field of carnivalesque realpolitik, both elegant and incendiary." Digital publishing expert and The Tyee's guru of all things web Phillip Smith calls it "bathroom reading for activists," a description borrowed from book co-editor Mitchell.

"Creative activism offers no one-size-fits-all solutions, and neither do we," says Smith, who helped with online aspects of the book. "Beautiful Trouble is less a cookbook than a pattern language, seeking not to dictate strict courses of action but instead offer a matrix of flexible, interlinked modules that practitioners can pick and choose among, applying them in unique ways varying with each situation they may face."

With submissions from over 60 contributors from across the globe, Smith says, much of the editing work, including that of New York based print-on-demand publisher OR Books, happened in the cloud. The result is an ongoing project that readers can continue contributing to, and it's all Creative Commons licensed.

Over the past several months, the folks at Beautiful Trouble posted graphics of their activism modules and case studies on their Facebook page. The Tyee collects 10 of them here as a refreshing reminder of what's possible. Click on the links attached to the graphic captions for more detail on how to prank the system.

582px version of Mass Street Action
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

1. Mass street action: Everyone's felt the irresistible people-power of a large march or rally. There is real strength in numbers. Most of us have also been inspired by a great nonviolent direct action. When individuals or small teams decide to creatively throw themselves upon the gears of the machine, it can detonate powerful mind bombs in our psyches.

582px version of Guerilla Projection
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

2. Guerilla projection: Light projection can be a nimble, beautiful and spectacular way to get your message across. The advantages are obvious: with a single high-powered projector, you can turn the side of a building into a huge advertisement for your cause, plastering your message on a spot that would otherwise be out of reach. It's legally kosher, relatively cheap and risk free compared to, say, trespassing onto a building's roof to hang a banner off of it. Most importantly, it's visually powerful: you can literally shine a light on the opposition. For example...

582px version of Bat Signal projection
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

3. 99% bat signal: A coalition of labour unions called for a national day of action on Nov. 17, 2011 to push back against austerity and demand infrastructure improvements and jobs. Actions were planned for 17 bridges in 17 cities. In New York City, a permit was obtained for a large rally in the Wall Street area, with a march over the Brooklyn Bridge to follow. Nov. 17 also happened to be the two-month birthday celebration for #Occupy Wall Street. People wanted something spectacular to happen, something beautiful. Thus, a massive light projection of the 99% symbol just after the eviction of Occupy helped re-energize the movement.

582px version of Ally Spectrum
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

4. Shift the spectrum of allies: Successful movement-building hinges on being able to see a society in terms of specific blocs or networks, some of which are institutions (unions, churches, schools), others of which are less visible or cohesive, like youth subcultures or demographic groupings. Analyzing your spectrum of allies can help you to identify and mobilize the networks around you. A spectrum-of-allies analysis can be used to map out a campaign or to strategize for a whole social movement.

582px version of Kill them with kindness
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

5. Kill them with kindness: It's naïve to think that power will change its ways because of a sweet appeal or a considerate gesture. But at the same time, it's a core element of nonviolent philosophy to recognize the humanity in everyone and seek to connect with it... This is not only good tactics, it's an assertion of your basic humanity against unjust and inhuman structures.

582px version of Banger Hang
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

6. Banner hang: What better way to air the dirty laundry of a rogue corporation than to hang a giant banner over its front door?

582px version of Know your target
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

7. Choose your target wisely: Victories don't come by throwing fists in all directions at once... you've got to strategically target the person or entity with the institutional power to meet your demands.

582px version of Political filibuster
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

8. Public filibuster: When activists face hostile government agencies or hearings that exclude the public, this relatively low-risk tactic injects the public's voice into an otherwise closed-off process. Confrontational but constructive, it has been adapted by a range of citizen groups.

582px version of Drop a debt bomb
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

9. Debt strike: Here's how to take collective bargaining to the next level. The idea is simple: en masse, you stop paying your bills to the banks until they negotiate. Because they can't operate without these payments -- for student loans, mortgages, or consumer credit -- they're under severe pressure to negotiate.

582px version of Media-jacking
Courtesy of Beautiful Trouble.

10. Media-jacking: Subvert your opponent's spectacle for your own purposes. Politicians, corporations and lobbyists have much bigger PR budgets and name-brand draw to attract press to their staged media events. Through well-planned creative interventions, however, you can refocus things and highlight a different side the story.

Learn more about Beautiful Trouble which is available for purchase online in hard copy or eBook, here.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice

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