Direct Action and Imagination
Updated: Sep 20, 2021
I'm trying to work on an actions workshop at the moment, and thought i'd try to write a blog to remind myself why I'm doing it. This is that blog!! I've also got a cold and am struggling to find motivation to do serious work, so I thought that blogging might help with my internalised capitalist need to make something of my time even though I'm a bit ill (Seriously though, I do actually want to write this blog, do read on).
So, why write an actions workshop? There are loads? And surely everyone in activism already knows how to make action - that's all activists do, right? Well, whilst it's true that everyone in activism has probably got quite a few actions under their belt, I feel like it's time that we realigned ourselves with what action really means for us as disobedient young people. We need to start bringing our imaginations into our organizing in a big way.
Thinking creatively has historically been a really important tactic for making action exciting. Whether it's communicating a vision, working out how to be as annoying as possible, or embodying a message, giving space for imaginative and chaotic thinking during an actions strategy process widens people's ideas of what is possible, and produces wicked results. Too often, it feels like the activism i've been involved in has fallen into a basic blueprint of strikes, die-ins and occupations - action has become a solemn, predictable exercise for many of us, and we need to break out of this cycle. I really want people to think of the next youth movement as bold, chaotic, and formidable - people will be like "that was wild!! what the fuck are they going to do next??" rather than "oh look it's that gathering on parliament square again".
One of the things that i did actually take from my 3 months at design university was a way to come up with ideas through an iterative process. There was quite a lot of diagrams, and our teacher (big up Andy) had come up with these dice, which had different words like "context" "invert" "refine" which you'd throw and then they'd tell you what to do to your design idea so that you're thinking about it from loads of different angles. When I dropped out, I wanted to take this into the way I design action (so as to not waste that 2500£ uni fee) in order to innovate the way i've been going about stuff.
The first part of the process I've come up with so far goes kind of like this:
1 - Find your problem - what are you trying to say is fucked? What is the target? What institutions/systems best represent this target?
2 - Find your audience - who are you trying to reach/mobilize?
3 - Get emotive - What feelings are you trying to create or convey through the action?
4 - Find your location - Where are you going to do the action? Why does this represent the fuckery? How will it capture people's attention?
I know it sounds really obvious, but it's really important to know your problem / messaging before you even start thinking about what kind of action you want to take. It's actually quite common that a group of people will decide to "do a die-in" before deciding what the die-in is even about - how can we expect people witnessing our action to know what we're trying to say if we're treating our messaging as an afterthought?
5 - Idea generation - take all of this stuff and try to come up with as many action ideas as possible - some will be shit, some will be super unhinged, but trying to get rid of internal inhibition and criticism during this stage is crucial. Integrating key pieces of the messaging, visions of the future, emotions and artistic chaos is the way to go. This bit would be done with lots of post-it notes everywhere. Something we tried out with this during our dissonance to disobedience workshop a few weeks ago was aiding the creative process with prompts - we made a bunch of cards up that had different tactics, resources and locations on for people to pick up and use in their designs (e.g golden syrup, trampoline, oxford circus, guerilla mime artistry).
6 - Refinement, iteration - looking at the best ideas that you've come up with, and refining and reiterating them. Looking at your ideas through different perspectives - what would happen if we reversed this idea completely to make it more exciting? What would happen if we made this action more dramatic? Can we make the messaging stronger? How can we contextualise this? How can we make this more emotive? Daring? Naughty? Chaotic? Youthful? Funny? Disobedient? Why will this capture people's attention? How is this different to what we've done before? How can people interact with this? How could this narriative be conveyed from another perspective?
This process of putting your ideas through different filters lets you see things from loads of different angles, and therefore helps you expand your imaginative thinking. Getting tonnes of ideas down at the start has really helped me to stop being super attached to individual concepts that come into my head (being stubborn isn't mad creative as it turns out) and has empowered me to generate and iterate in a way that is more visionary and imaginative than critical and inhibited.
7. The best ideas would be picked, further refined, referenced against the criteria (targets, messaging, etc) from the start, and taken out into the world!!!
I'm really hoping to be able to run a workshop like this soon. I think it would probably take a whole day at least if we wanted to do it properly, and I'd really like to do it in person - getting a bunch of people together irl to stick post-it notes everywhere and draw all over the walls would be great. I'm also working on coming up with an actions handbook to go with it - this would be full of ideas around disobedience, youthfulness in action, creativity, historical cool stuff, and lots of questions to apply to your creative process.
Thanks for getting this far!! If you've got any questions, or you'd like to come along to this workshop when it's ready, please do let me know!!