Published: Saturday 1 September 2012
“There’s little drama to a scripted protest against a scripted convention.”

 

The Huffington Post recently tried its best to give a positive frame for protesters of the Republican National Convention, calling them “a diverse coalition of senior citizens, religious leaders, community organizers, and activists in faded Occupy T-shirts.” All 200 of them.

It was a nice spin, but for most people the RNC protests will sail by without even a yawn. There’s little drama to a scripted protest against a scripted convention. Protests against the DNC will likely be just as uninteresting.

Contrast that to news coming out from Togo. There, a group of women are calling for a nationwide sex strike. Yes — for a week, women will keep their legs closed to men in order to force the resignation of President Gnassingbé.

The marches at the RNC pale in comparison to the Togo activists’ planned actions (or, more precisely, their lack of actions). While the contexts are completely different, their difference sheds some light into the choices discerning activists need to make on where we spend our time.

Laughing or gasping

Cultural activists, like the Yes Men, keep challenging us to think more creatively. At a training I led for their Yes Labs program, Yes Men co-founder Andy Bichlbaum told me, “If an action doesn’t make you laugh or gasp, we have to throw it out.”

The RNC protesters took a shot at it by melting huge chunks of ice written as “the middle-class.” But it doesn’t make me laugh or gasp. If inspiring is a goal, ho-hum actions should be stricken from our toolbox.

Too often, however, activists are stuck repeating the tactics they know. They then begrudge the media, or their comrades, or potential allies, for not getting it. At a direct action workshop I co-led with George Lakey in South Korea, we heard young movement activists ...

Published: Wednesday 8 February 2012
“In the African pro-democracy wave, the campaigns in Mali, Togo, Madagascar and Benin all included general strikes, as did Kenya’s—although it’s unclear how widespread Kenya’s strike was.”

As the one-year anniversary of the Arab Spring is being celebrated in the media, some journalists have asked, “What about the rest of Africa?” Lisa Mullins of PRI’s The World put it this way on January 24: “The pro-democracy revolts of last year … got people in sub-Saharan Africa wondering if they’d ever see an African Spring. That hasn’t happened.”

Yet it has happened before, as my research assistant Max Rennebohm recently reminded me, and it could happen again. There was a startling wave of pro-democracy struggles in Africa—seven countries with mass people-power campaigns—around the early 1990s. All seven were sub-Saharan: BeninMadagascarCameroonMaliTogoMalawi and Kenya. As with the Arab countries currently in the headlines, the seven from the early ’90s had varying outcomes. What is ...

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