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Beautiful Trouble is a crash course in the emerging field of carnivalesque realpolitik, both elegant and incendiary.”

Naomi Klein, author of No Logo & The Shock Doctrine

Flash mob

Contributed by and

Common Uses

To organize a show of dissent on short notice; to quickly replicate a successful tactic in a dispersed yet coordinated way; to create a shared moment of random kindness and senseless beauty.

A flash mob is an unrehearsed, spontaneous, contagious, and dispersed mass action. Flash mobs first emerged in 2003 as a form of participatory performance art, with groups of people using email, blogs, text messages, and Twitter to arrange to meet and perform some kind of playful activity in a public location.[ref]The understanding of “flash mobs” that has filtered into popular culture is generally limited to surprise choreographed dance routines performed in public. But for organizing purposes, those carefully choreographed stunts are better described as “guerrilla” than “flash” see TACTIC: Guerrilla musicals. The distinct characteristics of a flash mob — an unrehearsed, spontaneous, contagious, and dispersed mass action — has its own unique advantages, and requires a different set of organizing principles than a surprise choreographed dance routine requires.[/ref] More recently, activists have begun to harness the political potential of flash mobs for organizing spontaneous mass actions on short notice.

Flash mobs have recently become a powerful tactic for political protest, particularly under repressive conditions. In the midst of a harsh crackdown on protests in Belarus in 2011, for instance, dissidents calling themselves “Revolution through the Social Network” began organizing impromptu demonstrations where protesters would simply gather in public spaces and clap their hands in unison.[ref]“Dozens Arrested in Belarus ‘Clapping’ Protest,” Al Jazeera English, July 3, 2011.[/ref] The result was the bewildering sight of secret police brutally arresting people for the simple act of clapping their hands — a powerful challenge to the legitimacy of an increasingly irrational regime.

The overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt also involved flash-mob-like tactics, with organizers calling for protesters to gather initially in alleys and other protected spaces for safety before moving into the streets in larger and larger numbers. Blogger Patrick Meier explains the thinking behind this approach:

Starting small and away from the main protests is a safe way to pool protesters together. It’s also about creating an iterative approach to a “strength in numbers” dynamic. As more people crowd the smaller streets, this gives a sense of momentum and confidence. Starting in alleyways localizes the initiative. People are likely neighbors and join because they see their friend or sister out in the street.[ref]“Civil Resistance Tactics Used in Egypt’s Revolution,” irevolution, Feb. 7, 2011.[/ref]

Another example of effective use of the flash mob tactic is UK Uncut. In October 2010, one week after the British government announced massive cuts to public services, seventy people occupied a Vodaphone store in London to draw attention to the company’s record of unpaid taxes. The idea quickly went viral: within three days, over thirty Vodaphone stores had been shut down around the country by flash mobs organizing over Twitter using the hashtag #ukuncut.

The revolutionary potential for dispersed, coordinated action using flash mob tactics has only begun to be realized. As Micah White wrote in Adbusters:

Fun, easy to organize, and resistant to both infiltration and preemption because of their friend-to-friend network topology, flash mobs are positioned to be the next popular tactic with revolutionary potential. . . . With flash mobs, activists have the potential to swarm capitalism globally.[ref]Micah White, “To the Barricades,” Adbusters 94 (March/April 2011).[/ref]

Key Principle at work

Simple rules can have grand results

Whether it’s a mass pillow fight (bring a pillow, hit anyone else carrying a pillow), or a bank shut-down (get in line, ask the teller for your entire account balance in pennies, and be disarmingly polite), the invitation to participate in a flash mob is easy to share, but when multiplied by tens or hundreds of people, can lead to complex, dispersed and powerfully effective actions.

Dave Oswald Mitchell is the Editorial Director of the Beautiful Trouble project, including serving as managing editor of both Beautiful Solutions and Beautiful Rising. He edited the Canadian activist publication Briarpatch Magazine from 2005 to 2010, and his writing has been published by a smattering of small, radical magazines and journals with space to fill. His interests include books, beer, brevity, alliteration, free association, lists of things, and going elsewhere.

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

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