A TOOLBOX FOR REVOLUTION
Beautiful Trouble is a book, web toolbox and international network of artist-activist trainers whose mission is to make grassroots movements more creative and more effective.
Crowd-written by over 70 authors, the book includes a hundred different tactics, strategies, theories and case studies of creative action, from Blockades to Debt Strikes, and from Action Logic to Floating Signifiers.
The Training Program is custom designed for the needs of the communities we serve, from community-based organizations to non-profits, to unions to social movement groups. They range in topics from Creative Action, to Humor, Pranks and Disruptions, and Creative Disruption.
As the National Training Director, I helped expand and define the curriculum, and produce trainings in Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York City, Boston, Seattle, Canada and more. The program continues to thrive in new hands, and has expanded internationally, while continuing to add new modules and curriculum.
Members of SEIU and striking fast food workers got an earful on creativity last week when they attended an event put on by Beautiful Trouble, a project that educates activists on the art of creative direct action.
The event highlighted the importance of using art to add flare to otherwise stale tactics that too often end up being ignored by the media and public. It is the unexpected, aesthetic embellishments, its proponents argue, that often provide images and messages that stick in the public consciousness.
Andrew Boyd, Beautiful Trouble’s co-editor, said art, along with the hard work of organizing, can make or break a protest or campaign.
“It is the creative piece that often makes for the margin of victory,” he said. “It is when the artist’s toolbox joins with the organizer’s resilience and strategy that you can have a special sauce that can make the difference in winning or losing these fights.”
To highlight Boyd’s point, the event featured members of Beautiful Trouble who used creative tactics in social and economic justice campaigns who gained favorable media attention and community support as a result.
Beautiful Trouble’s director of training, Gan Golan, said progressive ideas are often unpopular because they challenge the status quo. The use of pop culture, however, can make progressive messages more palatable, he said.
A few years ago, Golan turned to comic book superheroes as a source of inspiration to highlight economic injustice. He co-wrote a comic book of his own, called “The Adventures of Unemployed Man.” The comic features characters such as Wonder Mother, who built her invisible jet out of her employer’s indestructible glass ceiling, and Fantasma, a cleaning woman from Oaxaca who is invisible only to her employers.
Golan then took these characters to a protest against Wall Street practices, which happened to coincide with Halloween. The cops thought they were part of a Halloween event and were able to pass police barricades.
“Sometimes it helps not be dressed like a protester,” said Golan.
The superheroes got the attention of the media, one of whom was featured on CNN.
“He was able, because he was in costume, to talk about all the problems in our economic system,” said Golan. “If he were just a protester they wouldn’t have let him on the show.”
Golan also participated in creating a fictional baseball team called the “Tax Dodgers,” where each player was a major corporation. The team also had its own cheerleaders, the “Corporate Loopholes.” The press attention from that event led to a Tax Dodgers uniform being put on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“It shows how using our creativity we were able to force ourselves into the popular culture where people didn’t even think we were protesters, but our message was able to get across and reach thousands of people,” said Golan.