When you think of activists, it is quite probable that a dusty image of “peace and love” hippies marching springs to mind. But times have changed and a new kind of activism is stepping into today’s world.
Creative activists, like their predecessors, actively campaign for a social cause. However, the former ones are inspired to use the Arts and the Media to create and develop general awareness of crucial issues, and engage citizens to be actively involved in fighting for a given cause. Therefore, the modern trend of creative activism is not a replacement but a tool that can be used in order to make campaigns more effective.
In order to fully understand its effect and its importance in today’s scenario, we must first have a look at activism itself.
Could you remember the first time you became politicised? Was it when you handed a flyer? When you marched in the streets perhaps? Mine, for instance, was at the age of 12, participating in the protest against the Spanish intervention in Iraq’s war. Even though memories may differ from one person to the next, they all have in common the fact that “they are vivid and emotional experiences: there was a reason, and the reason was to change the world, which is the basis to politicise everybody” – says Stephen Duncombe, activist and founder of the Center of Artistic Activism.
Activists organise demonstrations, strikes and conferences. They ask you to sing petitions, to read reports, to read their fliers… Activists’ efforts to engage people are manifold with the aim to politicise them through a message of a new and better world.
According to Stephen Duncombe, to convince someone about a cause and related change not only requires facts, but most importantly emotions: it is all about delivering a whole story that will trigger emotional connections. For instance, people respond better when Barack Obama appears with his family because he becomes more personable and people can relate to him on a different emotional level. People need to see, feel, experience and imagine what it is going to be like if they join in.
Is creative activism a new concept?
Creative activism goes a step further than traditional activism, since it reaches people’s hearts. It is all about capturing the whole issue in one picture, attracting people and making them engage in an emotional experience.
Despite its recent popularity, creative activism is not a new concept. Back in the 1950s, we see, for instance, the case of Rosa Parks (on the left picture below). She seems to be an ordinary working-class lady but she is known for being the first black woman who refused to obey bus driver’s order to give up her seat in the coloured section to a white passenger. Rosa Parks was probably not the first person who objected to this racist discrimination actively but, what made her stand out?
The answer is the showcase. Rosa Parks rallied people to her cause through a reporter, a white reporter, who was told in advance where and when the right place and time would be in order for him to capture the moment. This astute staging allowed a complete picture of racism to be spread all over the world, making citizens establish emotional connections and empowering them to take action.
Martin Luther King also used creative activism to achieve a great success in the defence of human rights. He was an educated and experienced activist who, like Rosa Parks, belonged to an organization, and realized that taking action per se was not enough. He knew that their cause had to be spread around and reach everyone to the heart if they were to engage with the cause and actually make a difference. The two photographs below served this very purpose.
Creative activism in today’s world
This movement has changed the traditional activist organization structure. Both trends are working increasingly hand in hand: the former needs new ideas and more creativity, and the latter wants and needs to contribute to a strategy for change, which requires more than one single action.
For instance, this impressive protest supporting animal rights (picture below) is an example of today’s creative activism organized by PETA (People for the Ethic Treatment of Animals) under the slogan of “Meat is a murder”. Beyond the fact that you may or may not like it, I am sure that the image does not leave you indifferent.
They use the bloody tray as the graphic connection with consumers who are used to seeing meat trays in the supermarket. Thanks to its very strong visual message, this type of protests generates, for sure, a higher impact on citizens than just a march, and will make indecisive people not only support animal rights, but also turn vegetarian.
In addition to creativity and emotiveness, the overdose of information that we are exposed to nowadays, also plays a key role in creative activism.
On the one hand, we receive so much information in the shape of advertisements, films, series etc. that we have become very used, even immune, to them. Our minds may capture the information, for instance the image of a woman served, like a piece of meat, in a blood stained tray -, but not react to it in the slightest manner. People are indeed over exposed to such gory scenes in criminal and forensic television series. Consequently, today’s creative activism requires a lot more effort and creativity to actually strike a chord in people and make them take action.
On the other hand, and despite the problem afore mentioned, life media, the vast number of information providers and population’s high connectivity, make the perfect combination to spread messages around and to potentially achieve a high diffusion if reaching the right stakeholders.
In the PETA example, their protests have been covered by many journalists, appearing on TV and in the Press, on a variety of blogs, supportive and unsupportive, and on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. This kaleidoscope of media has obviously reached a much wider range of people than what Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King did in their time.
Campaigns like the previous ones can also put pressure on and even be run against corporations. A new way of enforcing better practice in companies has been arising by from creative activist campaigns, and it seems that it is way more effective than conventional campaigns, articles or propaganda, achieving a quite fast change in corporations’ behaviour.
The role of creative activists is essential in a world where the life-cycle of everything is shortening, alongside with the life-cycle of our planet. Creative activists are needed not only to generate awareness, but also to have an impact on people’s minds and mentalities, to make them stop their frenetic lives and realize the humanity’s suicidal path, to make the connection between the cause and the individual very meaningful, and achieve to move people to action.
CENTER FOR ARTISTIC ACTIVISM [online], Available at http://artisticactivism.org
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The City University of New York (2013), “Martin Luther King Jr. t City College 50 years ago: A historic commencement” [online]. Available at: http://www1.cuny.edu/mu/forum/2013/05/30/martin-luther-king-jr-at-city-college-50-years-ago-a-historic-commencement/ [Accessed Mar 2015]
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