Street artists from URA.RU in Yekaterinburg, Russia decorated potholes with the faces of local politicians in order to get them to address severe road quality problems.
The streets in Yekaterinburg had long been plagued with many unfixed pits and potholes. Despite the efforts of URA.RU, a local news website, the problem persisted. Local politicians were more concerned with their public image than with improving the streets, so none took a genuine interest in finding a solution.
URA.RU used the politicians’ fixation on public image to their advantage and painted the faces of the governor, mayor, and vice-mayor around the potholes, so the politicians’ mouths were replaced with cracked pavement, gravel, and bricks. They also placed hidden cameras at the sites of the artwork. When the offended politicians sent public workers to paint over the images rather than addressing the real problem, their actions were captured on video. URA.RU then posted the video to the internet, where it became a Russian social media sensation. Faced, literally, with the demise of their own public image, the Yekaterinburg politicians yielded to the pressure to fix the streets.
There are several noteworthy aspects of this tactic. First, humor is an excellent way to call attention to a problem. The politicians’ concern with their image made them easy targets for ridicule. Caution should be exercised, however, in using humor in a situation where the stakes are high or the targets could react violently. A second aspect is the use of artwork. Visual imagery can be useful to make a complex point. In some cases, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Additionally, while this was not the case in Yekaterinburg, artwork can also be useful to spread information in areas where literacy is low. Finally, this tactic made effective use of the Internet. While it is difficult to predict whether or not a video will go viral, using social media sites can greatly improve the reach of a campaign, increasing the pressure on those in power to fix a problem.
New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.
URA.RU could have used other means to embarass and offend the politicians into action. But instead, they strategically chose a humorous approach. This humorous, light-hearted approach allowed URA.RU to gain the support of citizens who agree that the politicians should do something about the pothole issue. Had they been less funny and more offensive, they may not have gained the same amount of support. The support they gained from this tactic ultimately pressured the politicians to act.