“Beautiful Trouble is essential reading for the socially engaged artist.”Ken Krafchek, Graduate Director, MFA in Community Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art
“Above all, be kind.”Kurt Vonnegut
Kindness, smiles, gifts and unicorns (well, maybe not unicorns) can be potent weapons in the struggle against evil-doers.
There’s a time to be angry see PRINCIPLE: Anger works best when you have the moral high ground. There’s a time to be reverent see PRINCIPLE: Use the power of ritual. There’s a time to be funny see PRINCIPLE: Make it funny. And there’s also a time to be sweet, charming and generous. In fact, that time is often.
A 2011 foreclosure auction in Brooklyn, U.S.A., for instance, was movingly disrupted by protesters breaking into song. The song wasn’t angry, it wasn’t agitated; it was sweet, beautiful, compassionate — even toward the auctioneer. That’s what made it so powerful: the protesters were grounded and determined. They kept singing their sweet song even as the cops led them away.
When you lead with kindness, you’re more likely to be seen as the sympathetic character in the story see PRINCIPLE: Lead with sympathetic characters. You’ve come in good faith. You’re trying to make things better. You come with smiles, gifts and an open heart, and you are met with stony-faced indifference, scorn or abuse. In the eyes of the public and the media, you are the good guys. You are the reasonable ones. This is not only good tactics, it’s an assertion of your basic humanity against unjust and inhuman structures.
Just think of the iconic ’60s moment: the anti-war protester putting a flower in the soldier’s gun-barrel. Or more recently, the “99%ers” from Occupy the Boardroom who set up online “pen pal” relationships with the country’s top bankers. When they were stopped by security from delivering their heartfelt stories in person, they folded up their letters into paper airplanes and sailed them over the heads of the cops toward the bank HQ. For some, cars parked in bike lanes would be reason enough to slash some tires, but not for the Bike Lane Liberation Clowns, who instead will approach drivers and kindly implore them to leave. Those who remain are given fake “this could have been a real ticket” tickets warning them they’re in violation of NYC parking rules.
It’s naïve to think that power will change its ways because of a sweet appeal or a considerate gesture or a paper airplane. But at the same time, it’s a core element of nonviolent philosophy to recognize the humanity in everyone and seek to connect with it. The more we humanize politics, the more likely we are to win. The bureaucrat who secretly agrees with you is more likely to quit, and lend his skills to the revolution. The cop who’s been given cupcakes and coffee by a Granny Against the War is that much closer to refusing an order to pepper spray a group of college students linking arms. The foreclosure auctioneer, touched by song, isn’t going to slam that gavel down quite so hard the next time. And the public, witnessing all of these actions, is more likely to be moved to action themselves. All of these things don’t interrupt the workings of power on their own, but at a human level they matter, and over time they add up, sowing seeds of beautiful trouble, and creating allies in the most unexpected places.