Play to Protest

What is Playful Protest?

Our protests are mired in an unfun seriousness. This, of course, makes sense: the issues we protest, as feminists are, indeed, full of gravity. How do we talk about dark issues of human rights, police brutality, healthcare inequities, and fascism in a way that sparks a playful sense of humanity?

Yet, the most playful protests are the ones that are best remembered. They are the protests that are recalled after the fact and remind us of our humanity. They force us to see the world differently and disrupt the assumptions within that world. Here’s a talk I gave at the Electronic Literature Organization on this very topic.

We need to use play as a tool of radical disruption.

What does that look like? Here are some examples:

  • The Barbie Liberation Organization was an excel­lent example of culture jamming. In 1993, the group replaced voice boxes between Barbie Dolls and G.I. Joe action figures to protest the gendered stereotypes embedded in children’s toys.
  • Ian Madrigal has shown up to congressional hearings dressed as the patriarch from the board game Monopoly (frequently getting themselves into the background of photos) to point out the hypocrisies of late-stage capitalism.
  • Starting in 2003, and using a combination of protest and clowning techniques, the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) developed a method that it referred to as “rebel clowning” in order to disorient and laugh at political enemies.
  • In Columbia in 1995, a group protested corrupt traffic police by replacing them with mimes.
  • The Santa Claus Army was a group of santas who, in 1974, went on parade in Copenhagen and consequently took over the General Motors plant that had recently shut down.
  • Quebecois in 2001 used a teddy bear catapult to protest a trade agreement and summit, using the catapult as a tool of distraction.
  • The Miniskirt March in Zimbabwe in 2014 helped give voice to women against harassment.

How will you use play to protest?

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