This is an open letter to the nominal leaders of the Occupy movement. I sent this letter via the web form at October2011.org a few months ago, but since I strongly suspect that must such web forms are shortcuts to the web/mail server’s “trash can,” I’m posting this for a wider audience–also in hopes of attracting the attention of Occupy leaders.
This is particularly pertinent, since there’s a push right now in that organization–and in the Movement–to think of and perform out-of-the-ordinary peaceful demonstrations (for the purpose of garnering better public attention). Since I find the most recent “stunt” (I don’t think there’s a better word for this one) of dropping $5,000 in small bills out of a high window with Occupy-related information on each bill was rather stupid (and excessively expensive), I’m hoping that with the right verbal “nudge,” we can get some better ideas put into action. The letter references a failed flashmob attempt by this same group–which could have gone off spectacularly well if they’d had a better idea of how to go about it. Recent edits are in square brackets: “[ ]”.
Hello. My name is Dane Mutters, and I’ve been following october2011.org
since before the Occupy movement “took off.” I’ve been participating in my local Occupy group (Occupy the Dream, in Chico, CA), and have been contributing mostly ideas for likely-successful courses of action, partly due to my chronic disability (that prevents me from being active in-person), and partly because I happen to be a skilled writer with an interest in global politics and trends.
Today, I’m writing to you in favor of further “flash mob” actions, and with suggestions for how to make such actions undeniably effective. Soon (I hope), I’ll be posting an essay on my blog regarding this (danemutters.wordpress.com
), [no, I haven’t gotten around to this yet] but since timeliness is important, I’m going to give you a “very brief” summary of how I think properly-executed flashmobs could utterly transform this movement from a global wish and curiosity (notwithstanding all the work we put into it), into a truly unstoppable global phenomenon. I hope that my writing herein is sufficiently lucid and correct to be helpful.
Before I continue, I want to show you a particular video of a flash mob performance in Cork City, Ireland. Specifically, I want you to look at the expressions on the faces of the participants and non-participants, as well as note that people attempt to join in, who apparently were not originally a part of the initial flash mob.
Please note the following:
1) The genuinely joyous demeanors of those participating.
2) The increasingly joyous demeanors of those watching.
3) The contagious nature of the event.
4) The aftermath of the event: particularly, the applause and instant sense of community with complete strangers that it created.
I’ve been trying for a couple months, now, to figure out just how such a thing could work for the Occupy movement. After all, it’s both publicity, and (more importantly) better than publicity: it creates community where there was previously isolation. It creates empathy where there was previously animosity–or at least a general sense of annoyance (due to crowds, inconveniences of city life, differences between people, etc.). The one major problem I kept running into with my “thought experiments” is this:
How can you organize and perform a flashmob amongst strongly polarized political activists, in a sea of people who may already fear us, without (1) inadvertently creating a riot as soon as the police learn of it (which they will, given the de facto infiltration you’ve already explained) [see the october2011.org web site for explanations of this phenomenon]; and (2) without creating any kind of fear among those watching. Also, the matter of getting participants who are willing to sing and dance could prove problematic, despite the solidarity of occupiers, in general.
Fortunately, someone else has solved “1” and “2” for me, already. The simplest gesture, it would seem, may well be the best: laughter. Likewise, laughter is well-known to be contagious, so long as it’s not perceived as threatening or otherwise without mirth. (The latter is probably still an issue, given the context.) Unfortunately, the most recent “laugh riot” seems to have gotten very little press–and what I’ve seen of it has been less-than-favorable. (Mostly, it seems to portray the event as lackluster, if not utterly failed or “stupid.”) So, here are my suggestions for “doing it right,” if I may be so bold. I hope you are the right people to contact about this; since the Occupy movement is fairly decentralized (or so it seems), I’ve struggled to find just who might possess a modicum of authority in organizational matters; thus far, you seem like the most likely candidates. 🙂
1) Give more advanced notice, and make sure the word gets out in a more comprehensive manner. Since police and others can hardly predict just who’s going to start randomly laughing–unless we move to a specific location en-masse–non-occupiers finding out before-hand won’t be much of an issue. Also, the utterly non-threatening nature of laughter (except for its PR effects on those being laughed at) is extremely unlikely to produce any kind of armed/violent response; and if it does, such a response will be nearly impossible to justify to the public.
2) “A la Improv Everywhere,” I suggest using cell phone messaging to organize the event as it progresses. This way, one could send a mass SMS to the effect of, “Go to the nearest crowded area and mill about in a normal fashion. Wait for further instructions.” Then, the next set of instructions might be, “Read the next SMS and laugh out-loud.” This next SMS should be a hilarious joke of a generally non-political nature (so as to produce genuine mirth, not sardonic laughter), which has been voted as the funniest joke by a large-but-not-public panel of electorates. Keeping the joke private, at first, will help by making sure that few people have heard it before (for obvious reasons). The joke should be non-offensive, but genuinely hilarious. Also, it should fit into a single, fairly brief SMS message. Alternatively, one could use an audio recording, but that would require a data plan–which may be a problem for some people. (You could also distribute audio files of the joke in advance, with strict instructions to wait until the right moment to listen to them.)
3) Then, you should make sure to have a few, selected participants present to film the sudden outbreak of laughter. Some people will surely pull out camera phones, anyway, but it’s best to plan for such publicity ahead of time–and it’s essential that nearly everyone participating NOT try to record the event, as that would reduce the contagious effect of the laughter. (It’s best for non-participants to not realize, at first, that it’s a flash mob; this seems to have the best effect, judging from the many videos I’ve watched.)
4) Post it all online, in as many places as you can manage, and try to get it to “go viral” (as naturally as possible, of course, so that it doesn’t feel contrived in any way, to the general public).
5) Finally, it’ll be essential to come up with new variations on the “Occupy flash mob,” since laughter, alone, will get old fairly quickly, as is the nature of publicity, in general. It’s important to keep these events highly energized–but utterly non-threatening–as well as “fresh” to the public mind. We want the public looking forward to(!) these events, rather than dreading them or finding them annoying.
Yes, I said “very brief.” 🙂 The issue of forming community around humor and breaks from daily drudgery is a complex topic, but for our purposes, right now, I think that the foregoing should suffice.
Please contact me ([my email address; just reply to this post], or [my phone number, which I’m not posting in public) if you think I might be onto something with this; I’d very much like to participate in a more impactful way than I’ve hitherto been able to do. (Also, I have some experience in marketing, including print layout and a bit of copywriting, which I’d gladly be willing to volunteer to the Movement free-of-charge.)
I wish you all the best in your endeavors. Again, please keep me posted on what you think of the above. Thanks.
I look forward to reading what others think about this.