“Should be required reading in every classroom.”

Judith Malina, founder of Living Theater

Advanced leafleting

Contributed by and

Common Uses

To get important information into the right hands.

Leafleting is the bread-and-butter of many campaigns. It’s also annoying and ineffective, for the most part. How many times have you taken a leaflet just because you forgot to pull your hand back in time, only to throw it in the next available trash can? Or you’re actually interested and stick it in your pocket, but then you never get around to reading it because it’s a block of tiny, indecipherable text? Well, if that’s what a committed, world-caring person like you does, just imagine what happens to all the leaflets you give out to harried career-jockeys as they rush to or from work.

In a word, if you’re doing standard leafleting, you’re wasting everybody’s time. What you need is advanced leafleting.

In advanced leafleting, we acknowledge that if you’re going to hand out leaflets like a robot, you might as well have a robot hand them out. Yes, an actual leafleting robot. In 1998, the Institute for Applied Autonomy built “Little Brother,” a small, intentionally cute, 1950s-style metal robot to be a pamphleteer. In their tests, strangers avoided a human pamphleteer, but would go out of their way to take literature from the robot.

Make it fun. Make it unusual. Make it memorable. Don’t just hand out leaflets. Climb up on some guy’s shoulders and hand out leaflets from there, as one of the authors of this piece did as a student organizer. (He also tried the same tactic hitchhiking, with less stellar results.) The shareholder heading into a meeting is more likely to take, read and remember the custom message inside the fortune cookie you just handed her than a rectangle of paper packed with text.

Using theater and costumes to leaflet can also be effective. In the 1980s, activists opposed to U.S. military intervention in Central America dressed up as waiters and carried maps of Central America on serving trays, with little green plastic toy soldiers glued to the map. They would go up to people in the street and say, “Excuse me, sir, did you order this war?” When the “no” response invariably followed, they would present an itemized bill outlining the costs: “Well, you paid for it!” Even if the person they addressed didn’t take the leaflet, they’d get the message.

The point is, leafleting is not a bad tactic. It’s still a good way to tell passersby what you’re marching for, why you’re making so much noise on a street corner or why you’re setting police cars on fire. But people are more likely to take your leaflet, read it, and remember what it’s all about if you deliver it with flair. Or ice cream.

Key Principle at work

Kill them with kindness

’Nuff said. Pissing people off won’t do your cause any favors, so don’t piss people off. Disarm with charm, and maybe your audience will let their guard down long enough to hear what you have to say.


Steve Lambert’s father, a former Franciscan monk, and mother, an ex-Dominican nun, imbued in him the values of dedication, study, poverty, and service to others — qualities which prepared him for life as an artist. He co-founded the Center for Artistic Activism, was a senior fellow at New York’s Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology from 2006-2010, developed workshops for Creative Capital Foundation, and is a faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Steve is a perpetual autodidact with (if it matters) advanced degrees from a reputable art school and well-respected state university. He dropped out of high school in 1993.

A long-time veteran of creative campaigns for social change, Andrew led the decade-long satirical media campaign “Billionaires for Bush” and co-founded the Other 98%. He's the author of a couple books: Daily Afflictions, Life’s Little Deconstruction Book, and the forthcoming I Want a Better Catastrophe: Hope, Hopelessness and Climate Reality. Unable to come up with with his own lifelong ambition, he’s been cribbing from Milan Kundera: “to unite the utmost seriousness of question with the utmost lightness of form.” You can find him at andrewboyd.com.


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