Tactics That Tickle: Laughing All the Way to the Win

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Humor, Audacity, and the 5-95 Split

The sociologists and historians tell us that only rarely does a social movement involve more than 5% of the affected population in *active* participation. Fewer than 7% of the American colonists actively took part in the revolution against the British. In 70 years of struggle, the largest Woman Suffrage protest in the U.S. was 8000 marchers in Washington, DC in 1913. The Selma Voting Rights struggle of 1965 was one of the largest Freedom Movement campaigns of the 1960s. But if you add up all those who marched, picketed, sat-in, went to jail, tried to register to vote, or just attended a mass meeting, it totaled less than 10%
of Dallas County's Black population.

*BUT* these struggles by a small activist cores succeeded because they won mass political support. Going back to the Selma Movement, while less than 10% of Blacks directly and actively participated in the Voting Rights campaign, the overwhelming majority supported those that did take action, and they passively honored the economic boycott that was a significant element in the eventual victory.

The key point is that the 5% who are activists achieve victories by winning political support among the 95% who are not activists (and never will be activists). We don't have to start out with mass popular support, but we DO have to end up that way. Which means that our strategies and tactics must be shaped towards the goal of winning support among the 95% who are NOT activists.

Tactics that alienate, or frighten, the people whose support we need to win are counter-productive. What people fear, they come to hate, what they come to hate, they oppose. Tactics that treat the people we need to educate as if they were enemies turns them into enemies in fact. Which is where audacity, and humor, and puncturing authority with laughter come in. As said by many people in this discussion, hurmor, audacity, laughter, satire, surprise, and creativity appeal to masses of people, and if done well generate thought and openess to new ideas and perspectives.

The great thing about humor and audacity is that that they scale so well to the number of people willing to take action. Social movements can succeed when they propel 5% of the population into action, but 5% is really a huge number. A humorous action or piece of street theater like some of those that people have posted in this discussion can be pulled off by just a handful. So can audacious acts of civil disobediance. When there are more activists, and greater political support, larger actions with greater audacity can be achieved.


excellent point

Yes, and this gives real specific strength to that famous Margaret Mead quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." 

Your point is well taken.  It's OK to devise actions that speak within, or to, a subculture, but it's crucial to reach out to folks who haven't tuned in or gotten involved yet in an effective way, and humor is a big part of that.

I think the Tea Parties, with all their shouting and anger and fear, will ultimately fail to appeal to the majority, for all the attention they've gotten.  Do you agree?  How do people feel about that?

re: excellent point

the Tea Parties are an interesting case.  Probably an analysis for different discussion, but I would say they'll fail if they continue to paint themselves into a corner or right wing extremism. But, if they can further mute their obviously racist and crazy members (most of them) and start to look more like "regular Americans".  

Case studies: share (funny) stories of success

How did you successfully use humor in your campaign?

Include information such as: target, audience, objective and impact.

The "Shop-In," an Example of Audacious Humor

In my experience, even more effective than jokes and satire as tactics of nonviolent resistance have been acts of audacity performed with a sense of humor. For me, humor and audacity go hand-in-hand. Take for example, the "shop-in:"

In the winter of 1963-64, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapters in the San Francisco Bay Area campaigned against racist hiring practices by the Lucky Market chain. When negotiations with Lucky failed to produce an agreement, CORE began leafletting, and then picketing, some of the stores to educate customers about job discrimination in general, and Lucky's policy of hiring only whites for all positions above janitor. Shoppers confronted with a picket line came face-to-face with the issue as activists urged them to boycott Lucky and buy their groceries elsewhere.

When there was no response from the Lucky management, CORE mounted "shop-ins" at a few of the stores — an audacious  tactic that broke the sacred taboos of private property, but without violence against people. After picketing and leafleting the store for long enough to ensure that everyone inside knew and understood the issue, CORE members entered the market, filled shopping carts with groceries of all kinds, and proceeded to the check-out counter where the merchandise was rung up and bagged by the (all white) clerks and bag boys. When presented with the bill, the CORE activists replied, "Wait! Is this store being picketed? Oh, no! We won't spend our money with a company that practices racism." Then they walked out leaving the bagged goods behind. Soon the shelves were practically empty and everything was piled up around the check-out stands. Business was halted for hours while the groceries were laboriously unsorted and the shelves restocked

Consternation ensued. Business had been disrupted, property had been mishandled, ice cream had melted, some cakes had been crushed. The social order of custom and courtesy had been violated. "Innocent shoppers" had been inconvenienced. Pundits and editorials denounced CORE's "coercive" tactics. But supporters of racial justice countered by raising the long-term economic and social devastation of systemic discrimination, and Lucky's role in perpetuating a system that was inherently unjust and socially destructive. Lucky had many stores across the Bay Area, only a few were picketed and fewer still had shop-ins, but word-of-mouth and media coverage spread the issue far and wide. And it was impossible to talk about the shop-in without also talking about Lucky's racist hiring practices. All of which built mass support for the boycott.

Because the well-trained CORE activists performed the shop-in with a sense of humor rather than self-indulgent rage or pompous posturing, no one felt physically threatened and even some of the clerks had to laugh. CORE had a few hundred activists, and only a portion of them participated in the shop-ins, but those actions by a small number resulted in a great deal of media attention, and even more important, enormous word-of-mouth. All of which caused tens of thousands to view Lucky as a racist company they did not want to do business with. Shortly after the shop-ins, Lucky signed an agreement with CORE to integrate its work force. Other grocery chains followed without requiring direct-action.


This is an incredible example, Bruce.  It built bonds between the activists who participate in the action, it spread awareness among staff and other shoppers, it's the kind of action that would get great word of mouth, and *it had a real impact on the racist policy of the company.* 

I think it helps if we think about these actions as sociodramas, that require dramaturgy and clear, thoughtful strategic choices of symbolism, costume, character, staging, and an idea of the arc of the story we want to tell, the social problem we want to dramatize with our action. 

The sit-ins are a classic example of a successful sociodrama.  The opponent's behavior was predicatible, so their anticipated behavior was incorporated into the action.  The resulting confrontation--mild, studious and respectful African-American people being attacked, beated, harrassed by racists for the "crime" of peacefully sitting at a lunch counter--sharpened the perception and understanding of Jim Crow across the country and the world.

You make a great point that it's not just about the media coverage--absolutely.  But, if an action does achieve both great word of mouth and some media coverage, it really helps if the story that is told is the one the social movement wants, and by thinking in terms of sociodrama or social dramaturgy I think we can have better results.

What's funny?

This case raised a number of questions for me, not so much about the efficacy of the tactic or its appropriateness, but about whether it was funny and what the conditions for satisfying humor are in political action.


I'm afraid I found not very much funny here, and I'm skeptical that the typical response to this action was laughter. The spectacle of bedeviling one's adversaries may produce a momentary smirk, but it won't put most people on the ground laughing.And when there is some actual harm involved in the action, then it seems to me even less likely that the butt of the "jokes" or uninvolved bystanders are going to find it humorous at all. Certainly the stores owners, employees, and inconvenienced shoppers may feel at best a sort of "Aha" experience, but no one will be amused.

So, there's a question in my mind whether this action counts as humorous at all or whether it counts as a use of humor. 

The case does suggest, though, that it is very difficult to combine humor with action where there is some harm (here, the harms here invovle loss of revenue, tedious restocking by poorly paid hourly employees, real customers delayed for long periods of time by the shils, etc.). 

A preliminary thought is that humor typically works well when there is no material harm involved. Material harm compromises the entertainment value of the action for bystanders; so, it works against the possibility of making allies.

Secondly, perhaps humor is best used where there is no material harm involved and where the butts of the joke are placed in a double-bind; that is, where the targets can make no response to the humor that isn't itself funny. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that in the Fifties, when HUAC was visiting Chicago, students at the University of Chicago hung banners out their windows that said, "Fuck Communism." The University administration was in a double-bind here for if they forced removal of the banners, they appear to be "soft on Communism," and if they left them up, they were soft on obscenity. No one's material interests were harmed, and the point was made. That's funny.

Not Just Humor, But Also Audacity

professordemeritus wrote:

This case raised a number of questions for me, not so much about the efficacy of the tactic or its appropriateness, but about whether it was funny and what the conditions for satisfying humor are in political action.

I'm afraid I found not very much funny here, and I'm skeptical that the typical response to this action was laughter.[Snip] So, there's a question in my mind whether this action counts as humorous at all or whether it counts as a use of humor.

I agree that the shop-in is not an example of laughter-provoking humor in the way that jokes, satire, ridicule, funny signs, skits, & etc are. But for my participating in this discussion, I unilaterally took it upon myself to expand the topic to humor *AND* audacity. Audacity in the sense of breaking social taboos and customs in a nonviolent way. While the shop-in was not humorous in the laughter-provoking sense, I do consider it an example of audacious nonviolent direct-action. (To the extent that humor was involved in the shop-in, it was expressed not by being "funny," but in our demeanor of friendly good-humored, good cheer as we performed the shop-in.)

It seems to me that laughter-producing activities tend more towards performances by individuals or small groups that others watch or see. Most of my experience has been with direct-action protests, which are rarely laughter producing, but can be audacious and thought provoking. And which are as much about affecting the participants as the observers. In an earlier post, someone cited the 1960 lunch-counter sit-ins in the American South as another example of audacity, which they certainly were, but they were not in any sense humorous. I think it appropriate to include them in this discussions because for me audacity is the direct-action protest partner of humor.

As a former member of the PRAMKBFT&GT (which, as every serious student of revolutionary history knows, stands for "Peoples Revolutionary Army, Marching Kazoo Band, Frisbee Team & Guerilla Theater") I did participate in laughter-generating skits, performances, & humorous ridicule, but for me the most powerful experiences the audacious protests, and that's why I've focused on them in this dialog.


Direct action and audacity

I don't know whether this is to be counted as direct action or performance, but an organization analogous to "Peoples Revolutionary Army, Marching Kazoo Band, Frisbee Team & Guerilla Theater," RABL [Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League, pronounced rabble] stood outside the local newspaper in Minneapolis, chanting, "Liar, liar. Pants on fire." after the newspaper had published a particularly intellectually sclerotic editorial. Everybody laughed at the protest, and word of the protest circulated widely. The newspaper had no counter since RABL had been so effectively and eloquently silly but critical.

Audacity AND humor

Here's a case where there is clearly both audacity and humor. See the mock commercial for "Priest Off," a spray repellant, published by Planet Out at http://www.planetout.com/hot_topics/2010/03/get-rid-of-pesky-catholic-pe...

Audacity can provoke laughter

In my life, I've seen many times a truly audacious act of defiance provoke roaring laughter from fellow activists, regular citizens and passers-by.

I take for example the nonviolent raid, used to conduct a citizens' arrest of Henry Kissinger in Montreal or in the search and seizure operation of government offices with something to hide. Every time I would explain the action (and now when I do in various fora), the mere idea that citizens can dare go and attempt to arrest high-ranking war criminals or search a minister's office usually finds with my listener giggling or irresistibly guffawing.

I think it's exactly that sense of You're gonna do what !!?. The boldness of the action is such a sudden break from conventional frameworks of acceptable behaviour, the brain is left dangling, while the belly starts jiggling.

I'll tell you, it ain't necessarily funny for the opponent, but the sheer audacity of the oppressed throwing off the shackles of their inner mind police, and daring to think unthinkable thoughts is incredible fun! 

That pleasure is called liberation. Witness how all over the world the poor, the marginalized, and those who have been through hell and back share a culture of laughter and fun. It's a matter of survival.

The civil rights movement paid a lot of attention to the spirit and mood of its actions. Done the right way, I have no doubt that many customers thought the shop-in action described by Bruce was funny because of the new light it suddenly shed on their own power as consumers.

But I do agree with you Ron that property damage and "harm" run the risk of ruining the joke, especially for others.

However, not everybody needs to laugh all the time. Sometimes, it's about mobilizing that 5% with fun empowerment, perhaps annoying another 5%, while still winning over with creativity and boldness that remaining 90%...

In the end, everybody wins. And that's the part with the most fun.

Timing is the answer (So be patient, but one step ahead)


  • September 2009: Thirty four radio stations -most of them with dissident political views from the government- are shut down in Venezuela.
  • Opposition students and leaders turn to twitter and make The hashtag #freemediave reach the top 3 trending topics on the site.
  • Chiguirebipoloar videoWe at www.elchiguirebipolar.com (a Venezuelan-satirical-political fake news site) prepare a humorous video in which President Chávez threatens the Twitter Bird. We use old video material where President Chávez tells President Bush “You messed with me little birdie”. We make the video in a couple of days: simple music and editing. The intention of the video was to raise awareness on the politically apathetic youth that use social media sites in Venezuela. But we didn’t feel it was relevant until President Chávez actually talked about Twitter. So we hold the video and decide not to release it until the time was pertinent.
  • February 2010: For the fist time, Hugo Chávez talks about Twitter. He launches a smear campaign against the popular  social media site saying it was a “capitalist weapon” and that “all revolutionaries should be alert”.
  • February 2010: Just hours after President Chávez talked about twitter we release the video “Te Metiste conmigo pajarito” (You messed with me little birdie) on our blog. The video goes viral and reaches about 100.000 views in a couple of weeks. 
  • March 2010: Considering the success of the song, elchiguirebipolar.com launches a remix contest for the song "Te metiste conmigo pajarito" where we urged people to send their own remix of the song. Over 30 young Djs and other well known musicians submitted their remixes.


If you want to know more about El Chiguire Bipolar read this article by the New York Times or visit our site

Divine Activism ...

I myself Juan, put a lot of faith in the concept of "divine timing" ... perhaps you guys subconsciously knew you would need a video in a hurry and need to do the production up front and then subconsciously knew to sit on it till the best time...

oh, I don't know... quantum physics and collective conscience are not what we're discussing... but I have experienced such divine type of activism...

Hmmm... perhaps activists and good psychic witches should work together more often... lol

Juan Ravell wrote:


- September 2009: Thirty four radio stations -most of them with dissident political views from the government- are shut down in Venezuela.

- Opposition students and leaders turn to twitter and make The hashtag #freemediave reach the top 3 trending topics on the site.

- We at www.elchiguirebipolar.com (a Venezuelan-satirical-political fake news site) prepare a humorous video in which President Chávez threatens the Twitter Bird. We use old video material where President Chávez tells President Bush “You messed with me little birdie”. We make the video in a couple of days: simple music and editing.
The intention of the video was to raise awareness on the politically apathetic youth that use social media sites in Venezuela. But we didn’t feel it was relevant until President Chávez actually talked about Twitter. So we hold the video and decide not to release it until the time was pertinent.

- February 2010: For the fist time, Hugo Chávez talks about Twitter. He launches a smear campaign against the popular  social media site saying it was a “capitalist weapon” and that “all revolutionaries should be alert”.

- February 2010: Just hours after President Chávez talked about twitter we release the video “Te Metiste conmigo pajarito” (You messed with me little birdie) on our blog. The video goes viral and reaches about 100.000 views in a couple of weeks.

- March 2010: Considering the success of the song, elchiguirebipolar.com launches a remix contest for the song "Te metiste conmigo pajarito" where we urged people to send their own remix of the song. Over 30 young Djs and other well known musicians submitted their remixes.


If you want to know more about El Chiguire Bipolar read this article by the New York Times or visit our site


GetUp.org.au - very f**king expensive

Australian's love a bit of cheeky humour. And we really love to tease our politicians. Let's be honest. Politics can be boring. It can seem like you're not going anywhere. It can seem defeating. So it's good to have some fun!

I work at GetUp.org.au. We're a progressive campaigning organisation with more members than all the political parties combined (currently, over 340,000). We want to get action on the big issues facing Australia.

GetUp videoIn 2008 we had a new Labor Government which followed from 12 years of conservative government. Hopes were high for change and action. So when the government's first response to solving the petrol crisis was a website, we were like wtf? So we whipped up a TV ad - check it out here.

We pointed out the obvious. The website told us what we already knew petrol is very f**king expensive. We made our point. But we had fun doing it. We sent the TV ad to our list and asked them to donate to put it on air. We raised an incredible $75,000! And because it was fun, and funny, the media loved the Ad as well. So we get a whole run of free press coverage as well. 

Too often we can get caught up in trying to be serious because we care so much. This can make us a turn-off to the people who don't spend their lives campaigning - and we need them on our side if we're going to build a movement big enough to achieve the change we want to see.

Public Option Annie

npearson wrote:

I wanted to also share a video of a media report on the Billions for Wealthcare action - Liberals sing Opera at DC conference of Health Insurance- that I thought provides another good example of how such humor can not only draw a spotlight on a issue in such a way as to draw others into sharing the action more broadly but received surprised and smiling responses from opponents even if they disagreed with the message - they enjoyed the creative delivery of the message.

Thank you for sharing a link to our guerrilla musical "Public Option Annie", Nancy.  It's a great example of how humor can reach across the aisle and endear even those who disagree.  This point was exemplified on site during this very action when our target, conference speaker Bill McInturff (who created the "Harry and Louise" ad that is credited with helping to kill healthcare reform in '93), commented to the crowd after we were hauled out of the room that "well, if you are going to protest, you can at least hire good singers.  And those were some damned good singers."  The comments on our YouTube page echoed these grudging nods of respect many times, as well.

Starting postive to end with a surprise message

Thank you Marco and Lawrence for sharing more about the implementation and process ideas regarding this action. I was particularly struck with your decision to start on that "positive note" to better ensure more time for getting the message across.

I wanted to share an example highlighting that same "positive note" beginning from an anti-immigrant rally that took place in St. Paul, Minnesota in November 2009. The organizers and participants had a surprise speaker going by the name of "Robert Erickson". He began his speech to the anti-immigrant crowd with what sounded like the usual hateful anti-immigrant message. But as he continued, it became clear he was not criticizing Latin American immigrants coming across the Mexican border. Instead he was condemning the European colonizers who came to the United States starting 500 years ago and stole the land from Native Americans while committing genocide against them. At first the anti-immigrant crowd cheered for him until they slowly realized he was not giving their message. Then they fell into silent confusion, as immigrant rights protesters (also present) shouted their approval.

Here's the link to the YouTubeVideo: "Robert Erickson" Tricks Anti-Immigrant Rally Organizers

re: Starting postive to end with a surprise message

This was a great action and perfect example of using positive energy to create the space you need to get your message across.  It also serves as an example of how your message is rarely intended for those in the immediate vicinity of the action.  Robert Erickson wasn't there to change any Tea Party minds, but was creating the video asset meant to expose them for their blatant hypocrisy.

audience #1, audience #2, audience #3...

Exactly, a great action, in which the live audience is actually unwillingly cast as performers for the later, larger audiences of YouTube, word of mouth, and forums such as this.  As they play their anticipated role, almost on cue--at first cheering, then getting uncomfortable--they're an important part of the show for later audiences.

Starting positive - staying on message with a surprise


I was looking at your post on Channeling the Creativity and Passion of your Volunteers and looked at your Sample Questions for Speakers that are so creative and very well outlined in terms of the format of the questions - and where the humor comes into play:

- Start with a "positive affirmation or affiliation" with the person being asked the question - here HUMOR adds a twist

  • "First, I want to commend you on voting to repeal the estate tax. As a multi-millionaire, and one of the very very few Americans who will benefit from it's repeal, I want to thank you personally.

- Ask the question - getting right to the point also takes the person off guard - here again HUMOR adds a twist

  • My question is this: How did you do it? How did you convince the American people that it was in their interest to repeal this tax when it so clearly isn't?

- Summarize the facts about the issue

  • "Basically, repealling the estate tax takes $1 trillion dollars of government revenue over the next 20 years, and gives it to us, the richest 2% of the population. Don't get me wrong, I think it's absolutely fabulous, but it's clearly a tough sell, since very few taxpayers benefit, and it results in so much lost revenue that undoubtedly will result in higher taxes for other Americans."

- Restate the question - putting the person in a position where they need to respond

  • "How did you do it?"


I thought a great way to highlight "how YOU did it" was to share again the link to your DIY kit. Thank you for sharing this creative model and with us!

re: Starting positive - staying on message with a surprise

Our tools were useful because it can be very tricky balancing good satire with a strong message. This becomes especially challenging when talking points and other "in character" messaging is packaged in hard numbers or other information.  The How-To's were vital in helping new members tackle this balance and sped up the learning curve that improved the effective messaging of our group as a whole.  This is important because our DIY model encourages everyone to adopt the Billionaire meme, even without being able to provide in depth, hands on training sessions.  

At events, these tools helped new members arm themselves with strong talking points in case members of the media or spectators closed in for more information.  Those who felt less prepared with an effective talking point or retort were instructed to flag down any number of experienced billionaires if they were part of the action.


re: Public Option Annie

Yeah, we even wrote a song that was abandoned two days before the event because we knew it wasn't 'sticky enough'.  When creating an action like Public Option Annie it is critical that the event have that sort of "sticky", viral element that people will want to pass along.  Part of that formula is creating an event that is at once novel but also familiar.  You are asking the viewer to overcome a number of obstacles, be it political POV, cynicism, assumptions or simply free time.  Asking them to overcome yet another, (Hey you! Listen, learn, enjoy and share our pithy original song!) is often asking too much.  Massive media conglomerates spend billions trying to get it right and they rarely succeed. In the activist's case the song itself is often secondary to the message.  This is why we scrapped ours and decided to co-opt a song both famous and beloved.  It serves as what Andrew Boyd might call "the syringe" of the message, which allows the meme to be injected into the public dialogue and spread quickly from person to person. 



Keep the tune, change the words/use the symbol, shift the meanin

yeah, and it was a pretty good song, too!  But using symbols, songs, etc., that are already universally known is a great shortcut to efficacy.  (That's why I mentioned the Kabouters in another post--Dutch activists who actually managed to co-opt a happy and universally loved folklore character, the gnome (Kabouter) and make it a pleasing symbol of their eco-anarchist social movement). 

I know, there are many examples of this, but for one, look at how the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) took a lot of popular religious songs and other ditties of their day and changed the lyrics to make them radical labor anthems.  Catchy!  They had workers singing them all over the place and there's to this day a Little Red Songbook with those Wobbly tunes.

Keep the words - change the meaning

Corporal Punishment

Marco I've been laughing and smiling at the names that Billionaires for Bush have selected - here's few of my favorites:

  • Meg A. Bucks
  • Alotta Cash
  • D. Forestation
  • Dee Regulation
  • I. M. Loaded
  • Iona Senator
  • Robin U. Blind
  • Warren Proffitt

and Lawrence - this picture of you in uniform with your nametag "Corporal Punishment" is outstanding!

Keep the words - add an image - change the meaning

I wanted to draw attention to James Fehon's post under this thread of conversation about transforming meanings because he shared about Amnesty International's Our own Olympic mascot that used a name - "Nu Wa" (which means outraged, angry young boy) to create a new image with a new meaning - a bit like creating a new superhero. As James writes in his post:


"Nu Wa was created as a parody of the Olympic mascots, the Fuwa (or "Friendlies") – "Their overly happy and cute demeanor defies the worsening human rights situation inside China today. Nu Wa wants to set the record straight by speaking about the human rights abuses suffered by people in China."  The play on words both adding to the cheeky appropriation and reaching out to one of our target audiences in the campaign [to] Chinese speaking Australians..."

Meet Nu Wa 怒娃



haha, thanks...  Also when writing manifestos for CIRCA I would sign off as Colonel Oftruth... 

...my Billionaire name was Ollie Gark...yes, if you earn a groan you're probably on the right track with these...

Love the metaphor

Thanks for the image.

Holding on to that visual concept of creative humour as "the syringe of the message". I just love it!

(from artthreat.net)

Audacity & Humor vs Hypocrisy on a U.S. Marine Base

Ruling elites are almost always hypocrites --- claiming one thing, doing another. Their massive, stunning hypocrisy provides strategic targets for humor and audacity. 

July 4th is America's great patriotic holiday, it commemorates the signing of the Declararation of Independence, a document that declares human rights for all people and states that it is the right --- in fact, the duty --- of citizens to overthrow governments that deny those rights. But the power structures who promote July 4th celebrations focus on flag waving, nationalist bragging, hot dogs, and fireworks, they never refer to what the Declaration actually says.

At the height of the Vietnam War, I and members of the Japanese peace movement were working with anti-war Marines at a major Marine base in Iwakuni Japan. The Marine Corps decided to hold a big July 4 celebration to be addressed by the lord high admiral of the Pacific. In addition to the GIs and their dependants, they invited Japanese officials, American expatriates, local civilians and so on to attend (I, of course, was barred from the base). We printed up copies of the Declaration of Independence, and on the back of the paper we provided a modern-English translation of what the 1700s-English actually meant. Emphasizing, of course, that governments derive their powers from the people and that it is the right of the people to alter their government if they need to.

Six courageous Marines then began passing our copy of the Declaration out to everyone on the base. The commanding officers ordered them arrested. The MPs charged into the crowd and hauled the six off to the brig. The GIs and their dependents couldn't understand why Marines were being arrested for handing out the Declaration of Indepence on the 4th of July. A crowd gathered outside the brig in a spontaneous protest that grew so large local Japanese TV news crews were dispatched to cover the event.

Over the following days we struck back with humorous cartoons and flyers --- "Is the Admiral a secret agent of British imperialism?" "Are the redcoats coming?" "We hold these truths to be self-evident that you don't have the right to read the Declaration of Independence," and so on. We also began preparing for the trial of the six who were arrested, intending to expose the hypocrisy of the entire situation. The Marine Corps gave in. Instead of trying the six, they discharged them from the war --- not with dishonorable discharges that they knew we would challenge, but with good discharges that retained their GI benefits and future employment references. Talk about six happy Marines!!  :)


Universally Familiar Symbols

This is great stuff.  The Kabouters (Gnomes) in the Netherlands scored some great wins as eco-anarchists in the late 60s by playing up the idea that they were "Kabouters", very friendly and beloved figures from Dutch folklore.  the kabouters, or gnomes, talk to animals and help plants grow, live out in the woods, etc, and are basically good creatures.  these eco-anarchists pretended that they were kabouters in very silly ways with street theatre, writings, actions, and it appealed to a lot of people across the board...they ended up winning 5 seats in the amsterdam city council...using santa claus, Patriots, etc., these symbolic figures that people easily recognize, can be really fun and effective.

Bill of Rights Public Response to

I do recall that, but my recollection is that it was a public opinion poll conducted by a polling firm, or maybe it was an academic research project conducted as a poll. They didn't ask people to "sign" the Bill of Rights (BoR), but rather they listed each of the 10 Constitutional amendments that compose the BoR (without associating them with the BoR name) and asked people if they agreed/disagreed. And then they asked for comments. I forget the numeric results, but a surprisingly high number of people disagreed, or strongly disagreed, with many of the clauses. And some of the comments where that the ideas contained in some of the BoR clauses were "Communist."

It's possible, of course, that activists also separately did "signing" actions along the same lines, but I don't have any memory of hearing about that.

Idea + Courage + Oportunity leads to sucess

Sometimes all you need is a little bit of courage and a good idea, together with the oportunity, and you can do a effective humorous action hitting the huge audience. Dan Glass has gotten tones of public exposure including live interviews on world networks like BBC and CNN and sucesfully pushed his enviornmental message trough after inventing humrous tactics which has forced Gordon Brown to stand next to him for as long as superglue on his hand was tying him to environmental activists in front of bunch of journalist on a reception. He has calculated the risk - legal lawsuit, and went to court, which has sentenced him to pay Gordon Brown replacement of prime-minister`s dammaged suit. Probably best invested few hundred punds in modern history of advertizing...:)

July 23, 2008

Article: Green activist superglues himself to Prime Minister Gordon Brown: Dan Glass attempts to superglue his hand to Gordon Brown


A climate-change protester tried to superglue himself to the Prime Minister last night.

Activist glues himself to prime ministerDan Glass covered his hand with glue and placed it on the PM’s sleeve at an awards ceremony at 10 Downing Street. He had smuggled the glue in in five pouches attached to his underwear and poured it over his hand during Mr Brown’s speech.

Mr Glass told the PM: “Do not worry, this is a non-violent protest. I have actually just superglued myself to the buttons of the Prime Minister.

“We cannot shake away climate change like you can just shake away my arm. We can beat climate change, but this is not going to happen by planning the world’s largest international airport at Heathrow.

“Climate change as we know it is the defining issue of our generation and you have got to start standing up to the bullies at BAA and start standing up for the British public.”

The 24-year-old student from Barnet in north London said that he was given a round of applause by the audience and said Mr Brown had repeatedly pulled his hand to detach it.

He said: “I just glued myself to him and after 20 seconds he tore my hand off - it really hurt. He had to give it a couple of tugs before it came away.

“He was just grinning about it. He didn’t seem to take me seriously.”

In an audio recording of the protest, the Prime Minister can be heard laughing as the stunt began.

Mr Glass, from anti-aviation group Plane Stupid, was invited to the event to receive an award for his campaigning activities from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation.

After the incident he was allowed to stay in Downing Street for 40 minutes, he said. When he left the building he tried to glue himself to the gates of Downing Street but had his hand detached by a police officer.

“I didn’t have much glue left by that point,” he added.

The Metropolitan Police said there had been no breach of security and confirmed that Mr Glass was an invited guest.

Whitehall sources said the gluing attempt had been unsuccessful and there had been no threat to the PM.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister laughed off the incident. He said: “As far as we are concerned, nothing really happened.

“There was a light-hearted and not particularly successful demonstration at a reception that was being hosted at Downing Street.”

The PM handled that well for his side

Great example.  And it's not only important what the activist did but how the authority figure responded.  Brown handled this perfectly for the interests of his side--stay good humored and laugh it off.  If he or the police had overreacted or reacted violently, as often happened, it would have enhanced the efficacy of this protest, I think. 

I think that when Simon Hunt/Pauline Pantsdown got to satirizing Pauline Hanson so effectively in Australia, a lot of the efficacy was in his own great performance, music composition and editing skills, but a lot of the high-profile coverage that he/she got was due to the hostile reaction of Hanson and her One Nation Party--a lawsuit, public declarations and responses, etc.

I hope we can get to a bit of a conversation about the authorities responses, countermeasures, etc., to what humorous activists do, and how we can counter those countermeasures...

(Positive) Appearance Can Be Everything

Cheney is Innocent posterI've always found that attitude and appearance dictate 80% of the response from authorities and spectators alike.   I've seen a sharp, clean suit and a smile put even Secret Service at ease when, in 2004, we arrived ahead of a Dick Cheney appearance to celebrate "Cheney is Innocent!" day.  Our gang of Billionaires arrived early and camped out in the parking lot of the event before they began setting up the security perimeter.  That meant we didn't need to show passes or credentials to get close to Cheney’s supporters once they started to arrive. (The many proper protesters who were on hand we penned in across the street and out of site).  

We decided to rally Cheney's supporters who were queued up outside the high school gymnasium at which he was set to speak.  The gentlemen of our troupe were in suits while the ladies wore ball gowns and tiaras. I was in a dark suit with a red, white and blue tie.  As we exited our van, an unseen Secret Service agent patrolling the parking lot intercepted us, gave us each the once over and asked what we were doing. 

"Just going to rally our supporters ahead of the Vice President's arrival!" I said with a smile.  

"I know who you guys are," he said as a broad smile broke across his face, "just don't get into any fist fights."  And with that we were on our way.

We arrived at the queue with a familiar rallying cry - "Four More Years!" As the cheers went up we knew the crowd was ours for at least a few minutes.  I kept up a good chant that morphed from "Four More Years!" to "Four More Wars!" (No kidding and yes, most of them went along) and quickly followed with "Cheney is Innocent!" to which one of his supporters sniped back "Hell no, he isn't!".  All the while our other billionaires were papering the event and smiled as they handed each supporter our flyer titled "Cheney is Innocent!", which of course proceeded to list the litany of his crimes.

This is just one example of many where appearance not only creates an opening or a buffer with security, but also a space to engage with those who may not already agree with your argument.  Though we were soon after quickly discovered, our flyers remained on site and more than a few of Cheney’s supporters read through our list and held on to them for later consumption.

Appearance also circumvents the expectations and biases of spectators either on site or watching / reading at home.  While they may be used to (and thus cynical or unresponsive) to the latest angry voice or event on the nightly news, their reaction is altogether different when the speaker comes off as accessible, friendly, inspired and positive about their means and message.

Using humor to highlight unfair judicial processes

In 1983, a small group of anarchists known as the KMV (Campaign Against Conscription) in Norway transformed a real trial into a humorous satire to point out flaws in the state's judicial process, specifically with trials of conscientious objectors. The trial process for those choosing to conscientiously object to military and alternative service had itself become a joke. Prosecutors often did not even show up to the trial. They knew that the same inevitable sentence would be given--a 16 month "serve their service in an institution under the administration of the prison authorities," also known as prison. This particular phrasing was used instead of "prison" to maintain the idea that Norway had no political prisoners.

As yet another conscientious objector was called to trial, he enlisted the help of a friend who had already been through the same process and seen it for himself. because these trials almost always followed the same routine and sentencing, and knowing that the prosecutors rarely showed up, they decided to have an actor-friend dress-up and play the role of the prosecutor. The actor proceeded to was overly expressive ad made highly exaggerated sentencing demands yet no one questioned him. This entire process was secretly being video taped and was later leaked to the press to show the public the ridiculous trial. Making a mockery of the process, not once did the judge or anyone else present, question the validity of prosecutor's position, nor his outlandish and harsh demands.

This humorous tactic showed the unfair sentencing that conscientious objectors receive and the apathetic approach of the judicial system. Norway took notice of the flaws in their system after this event and have taken steps to correct the laws that allowed this to go on in the first place. Though this happened almost 30 years ago, the use of humor as a tactic is still highly transferrable and I feel this example stands the test of time.

Excellent action

There is so much to this action, thank you for sharing it.

First of all, it was effective!--it actually led to a change, or a partial change, in state policy.

It's incredible that the successful impersonation and exaggeration of an authority figure didn't go challenged--and this was videotaped so that a wider audience could become aware of it.  I know that in Public Option Annie mentioned by Marco, it was important to have people who didn't reveal themselves as participating in the stunt who videotaped on their flipcams...the technology has made this so much easier now than 30 years ago.

This reads like an inspiration and predecesor to The Yes Men and other impersonators of authority today...

Using video & the internet to reach a large audience

Thanks, Sheyda, for sharing this example from Norway and thanks Larry for pointing out the importance of video-taping the stunt.  This made me think of the stunt that the Yes Men pulled off briliantly in Coppenhagen last year during the COP15 Climate Change Summit.  The Yes Men and others video-taped a fake announcement from a fake Canadian representative that declared Canada would be reversing its climate change policy and would set aggressive new carban reduction targets. Watch this fake video here. They even had a fake Wall Street Journal cover the announcement. As you can probably image - it went viral. Some were confused, others excited...and the Canadian government was mortified! This put the Canadian officials in the position to announce to the world (for real this time) that none of it was true - that it was all a hoax and Canada will not be reversing its policy on climate change. (yet another example of showing your audience how the world could be...) Having a video of your prank and being able to push it out to online media (before anyone really knows what's going on...) is a great way to get your message out to a large audience.

Here is an article, How to Pull off an International Prank, and a video on how the Yes Men pulled off this prank.


Pavel Marozau and the Third Way Expatriates' Network

Cartoon by Peter WellemanPresident Alexander Lukashenko,voted into office in 1994, is the head of the dictatorship in Belarus. His policies have intimidated political dissidents, crushed alternative opinions (and political parties), rigged elections (he won the 2006 presidential election with 84.2% of the vote), and eliminated most independent media outlets. He has warned that anyone joining an opposition protest would be treated as a "terrorist", adding: "We will wring their necks, as one might a duck." 

The Third Way Expatriates' Network was founded by Pavel Marozau in 2004, as a means to undermine the Belarusian goverment's oppressive policies through the use of humor and satire. The organization began by creating short political cartoons poking fun at the Lukashenko regime. They also launched a liberal, online television network called ARU TV in the summer of 2009.

But the most interesting project (in my opinion) is one that was created in 2007 as a response to Lukashenko's announcement that he would tighten restrictions on the internet. Belarusian activists from the Third Way launched the Lunet campaign under the guise of a 53rd birthday gift to the dictator. The goal of the campaign was to raise awareness about the threats being posed to online freedom of speech, and what Lukashenko's new policies may look like. Lunet consisted of LuTube (similar to YouTube), LuJournal (similar to LiveJournal), Lundex (a play on a popular Belarusian search engine), and a web portal tut.lu (named after a popular Belarusian we-portal). The websites portrayed humorous and satirical content, displaying information that praised Lukashenko and condemned the opposition.

The tactics used by Pavel Marozau and the Third Way serve as tools to educate the Belarusian public about oppressive government policies, using humor and technology as a way to mobilize citizens. Lunet challenged Lukashenko in such a way that he did not know how to react-- the regime has remained silent on the subject. It seems that the use of humor (and audacity) has confused the government  to the point that they don't know how to respond without looking like complete fools. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote about humor as a tool of protest in Belarus. There are further links on the blog, including several interviews with Pavel Marozau.

Hoaxers target Shell with bogus Nigeria news

Another example of using humor and audicity for human rights has just hit the media: Hoaxers target Shell with bogus Nigeria news.

  • The target: Shell Oil Company
  • The tactic: Put out a hoax press release titled, "Shell halts Nigerian offshore drilling in visionary new remediation plan" explaining that because of pressure from Amnesty International and other human rights groups, Shell will stop drilling in Nigeria and inact a clean up plan.  
  • Who's behind it? YES MEN?
  • Why now? Shell is one of the largest oil and gas producers in Nigeria. It is due to hold its annual shareholders' meeting in the Hague on Tuesday, when it often faces questions from human rights and environmental groups about operations in the country.

Has it made an impact? Will it make an impact?

Share common challenges and identify the risks
  • What are the chalenges you have faced in using humor for resistance?
  • What are the risks that must be identified and assessed before implementing these tactics?
  • How do you weigh the risks (i.e. rogue activists) and benefits (i.e. flexibility) of having de-centralized campaigns/group?
  • Share stories of unintended backfire - from opponent and also from the intended or unintended audience.
  • Counter-measures: what are some of the effective tactics that opponents use?
  • Counter-counter measures: what are the possible counter-counter measures that can be implemented? How can we stay one step ahead of our opponent?
Where is that line?

It is when people are offered something outside of what they expect, or their expectations of whom they really are that the humour either become serious humour or simply stops being humorous and a change is brought about.






Knowledge-------------------------------------(self awareness,humour,progression).

WISDOM---------------------------------------(all of the above).

Humour takes a role in all the above comparisons, and becomes an essential tool to a successful equilibrium.    

Anticipate and Incorporate

Absolutely, Srda.  I try to think of this with the mantra of "anticipate and incorporate."  If you can ANTICIPATE the opponent's reaction, and INCORPORATE it into your own creative action, you can make great and humorous things happen.  The Provos and Kabouters of the Netherlands in the mid-late 1960s often did this very well.  One classic example:

in the 60s in Amsterdam you needed a police permit to give out political leaflets.  The Provos thought this was ridiculous and therefore decided to ridicule it.  So they went to a big public square and started giving out papers.  The police roughly moved in to confiscate them, only to find that the Provos were giving out blank pieces of paper and telling people to "write your own leaflets."  Sort of a poetic gesture, a bit of surprise both for the authorities and everyone else in the space....and calling attention to the repressive law by creating a little sociodrama...

I go into this a bit more in the book Electoral Guerrilla Theatre: Radical RIdicule and Social Movements...

"The action is the reaction" - Saul Alinsky

I wholeheartedly agree.

Action and reaction, police reaction as an "action booster"

Of course, not only that PREDICTING what your oponent may do, but also putting him into "dillema" scenario gives strategists of humouros actions huge boost. When OTPOR was performing some of its most funny and widely covered actions, the advantage was allways being "one step forward". During 2000 many local activities using typical "Serbian rude humor" were tareting specifically members of ruling family (Slobodan Milosevic, and specifically his unpopular wife Mirjana Markovic who has somehow became a symbol of hatred and uncontence due to her influence to president). OTPOR has KNOWN that her big ego wont let her being in peace in being daily ridiculed. Thus, not only that you could bat that your humorous action will be covered by Media, but you could also count on PRESENCE OF THE POLICE on the place you stage your activity, and also ACTION BY THE POLICE. So if the key subject in activity is big metal barrel with Milosevic`s face on it (please see OTPOR campaigns PDF which explains some of those actions) you could count on POLICEMEN actually ARRESTING the barrel and taking it with them in the police station, in front of cameras, becoming an actors in such a funny performances, and even better, those policemen in many cases simply COULDNT HIDE sympathies, and sometimes were laughing themsef in pictures and footage published from actions. All of this tremendously helped not only OTPOR credibility, but also our attempts to break the fear regime was trying to spread around the country.

Humor that deligimizes the opposition

Marco - thank you for sharing this very personal connection to your own family history.

Last summer, one of our wonderful New Tactics volunteers was interested in the use of humor and wrote a blog post: A History of Humor in Human Rights Advocacy that highlighted the use of humor and the methods used in Norway during World War II and the OTPOR! movement in Serbia. But it made me consider that this use of humor goes back to the beginning of our human history and ability to laugh. As power structures try to "box us in", humor at the very least, sheds light on the walls (physical, psychological, social, political, etc) that are trying to confine us.

I'm very glad that Bruce provided the comment of "Humor, Audacity, and the 5-95 Split", explaining the 5% that continue to resist those walls - making it possible for the other 95% to make different choices to live! 


Great Family Story and great example

Thanks for sharing such a great personal family story, Marco.  It's a great example of how resistance, including humorous resistance, takes all kinds of forms.  There's the spectacular satire for the mediated big audiences, like Billionaires for Wealthcare actions, et al, and there's this kind of word-of-mouth, friends-and-family stories of humorous resistance that can keep morale up, provide encouraging personal role models of defiance, nurture a culture of resistance that can one day lead to group action...

That's not the end of the story...

Great story, Marco.

But, and I'm sure I speak for many readers here: What was that joke that was worth a month of detention?

I want it. I want it so bad now. Please don't cheat us from the juiciest part of the story! Was the joke so powerful it can't be told even now, after all these years?


re: Santa, his elves, and climate change

What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing.  Our own Santa and Elf weren't treated as such, but it's good to know St Nick and his peeps are out there on behalf The People everywhere. 

ummm ...

This message is so that you get an email to notify you that I edited the above comment...  so that I didn't have to split the story in two if you happened to have read the first bit and then got to the bottom and thought, I wonder if she'll come back to that...

Lateral thinking ... we apply this to the standard ways that internet commenting systems and message systems work...

As with the above freakishness... if I used this same sort of idea to a topic of awareness that contains creative humour for awareness it becomes a performance... because people have standards in the way the "expect" the internet to be used.

In the same way as using Ebay to auction something important, I guess...


I would just like to thank all the members of the AAU who are participating in this discussion... i snuck them in in my briefcase...

I see ya!

Share resources & tools

Share resources and tools that have helped you to implement humorous tactics. Share article, guides, video, websites, etc.

Video clip resources from Serbia - OTPOR! Campaigns


Srdja Popovic at Canvas asked New Tactics to share these useful resources they have shared wth activists worldwide:

Parody ... new religions of the west Or "Taming the Monster"

Just thought I would throw this in...

It's kind of a bit of western world religious parody, starting with the strict ways of the olden days and the way the church attempts to control "evil" in their community with the notion of paying them penance...

It then moves to the fact that there is a global commercialised problem that is destroying us... so it didn't work :-) I love the song "I'm a dog face soldier with a rifle on my shoulder" an old American army song... The pursuit of cash being the new religion of the masses and public apathy takes hold.

Then philosophy and spirituality take over with new age religion and extraterrestrial speculation...

There is HOPE however, as "Love can win this war"... she being the Earth Mother has unseen and misunderstood powers...

The video ends with doomsayer quote from the Revelation of the Christian bible to illustrate that people believe in these things because they see the "Businessmen of the Earth" being so "immoral" ... which is a play on all Apocolyptic notions etc.

The humour in this piece is the total melodrama of the piece... it is subtle and artistic ... it changes to keep interest and uses various different types of music in the soundtrack to create each atmosphere.



This in one of my originals videos, all the artwork, photography, drawings and music were done over a time period and culminate in this video as a study... enjoy!


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