Like them or not, sports tend to offer really great metaphors for life. And perhaps because it’s NFL playoff season, I’m thinking a lot about a fictional Super Bowl back in 1999, when Al Pacino was the coach of a football team in absolute disarray and delivered a speech he only hoped could change the course of the game. Maybe you’ve heard it before? Well, here’s the part of Any Given Sunday that I’ve never forgotten: In the locker room trying to inspire the players at a moment when it seems as if there is no path forward, Pacino says: “life is a game of inches... and the inches we need are everywhere around us.”
In the latest episode of Revolutionizing Activism, “Small-ish”, we talk about the inches it takes to win big for social justice.
In Small-ish, filmmaker, writer, and activist Astra Taylor shares her journey from Occupy Wall Street to the Debt Collective and describes her process similarly—moving through toe holds in a mountain, one step at a time. Led by Steve Lambert in conversation with Ricardo Dominguez, Astra Taylor, and Nikola Pisarev, what makes “Small-ish” particularly dynamic is how each activist developed unique approaches to issues such as financial inequality, cross-border migration, and public spending through “small interruptions”. The power of their work is both the unique nature of these playful disruptions and how they continue to make a meaningful impact. This conversation offers a great way to think about the year ahead, the goals we want to achieve, and how we can make them happen inch by inch. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Read on for:
Excerpts of our conversation with Astra Taylor, Ricardo Dominguez, and Nikola Pisarev and a link to the full video
3 ways you can go small in order to go big
And small updates about big opportunities from our Unstoppable Voters team
Creative Activism + The Butterfly Effect
At the core of activism is interrupting the status quo in some way shape or form. And it’s particularly illuminating to hear how activists like Ricardo Dominguez, one of the founders of Critical Art Ensemble, discovered how to cause disturbance in creative and unconventional ways. Dominguez shares that most of the time, these acts of disobedience were extremely small “micro gestures”: “micro gestures in the early eighties were a way to create a disturbance in the social field in which communities would gather with power or the representation of power and try to figure out what was going on.”
Click here to listen to Dominguez tell an amusing story about a micro gesture that involved spending $20 at a mall, and sitting down and playing with these objects in front of the mall’s entrance. [Spoiler alert! This butterfly effect almost led to being arrested!]
Scale is a tactic
For Astra Taylor, it’s about balance. “Scale is a tactic. One side is not virtuous, small is beautiful and, and large is corrupt or vice versa.” Rather for Taylor, this question is: “Are we aiming at something? Are we aiming at the federal level for a strategic reason? Or are we trying to build more intense relationships where we live? I think that ultimately to have the big change, you do need the small stuff. You do need grounded social relationships. That's where solidarity comes from. It's between people.”
Click to hear more about how Taylor learned to go for depth rather than breadth.
Sometimes as activists, we do need baby steps
Nikola Pisarev shares that making the transition from being an artist in the comfort of galleries and museums, to advocacy campaigns, was challenging at first. “When we were starting it was much better to try than not. It's just that sometimes you will miss, but the process for us is interesting.”
3 ways you can go small in order to go big
1. Use creativity to disrupt
One way to think small-ish is to create disruption through creativity. In Skopje, to compel the city to solve heating problems during the winter, Nikola Pisarev and other activists dressed as penguins and walked around the city. The penguins created a distraction and influenced stakeholders to find a solution for the heat supply issue.
2. Be positive
Ricardo Dominguez draws our attention to the power of fiction through the tale of Park Fiction in Hamburg. A park in Hamburg the city was supposed to build, that was instead purchased by developers to build a condominium. So what did the community do? Amongst other strategic tactics of building the park together as a community—they leaned into positivity and flooded the city council with gratitude for saving the park. They even gave flowers to the mayor to thank him. Guess what happened? They canceled the condominium development, and eventually, the neighborhood created its park.
3. Climb toe hold by toe hold
And we’re back to the beginning with Astra Taylor’s powerful insight: Take it one step at a time. You can have very radical globe-shifting goals and still purport a movement that takes it inch by inch. By starting with creativity, and what you feel you can do, you can then achieve that goal, and then develop another goal, and then another goal. These small steps create the possibility for a radical change, by encouraging organic growth.
Interested in other practical ways you can practice creativity in your advocacy work? The Art of Activism: Workbook is available to purchase or download for free on our website. And we’re hosting a special event about what works specifically in US voting activism in February — read on to learn more about that!
Want to watch more conversations and hear from inspiring activists about how creativity and imagination have shaped their advocacy work over the years?
Whales, Witches, and Wonder: What Works in Voting Activism
On February 9 from 1-2pm ET, hear from some of the most creative, impactful voting leaders from around the US about what really works in voting activism — and how you can supercharge your civic engagement work this year and beyond.
We’ll be joined by Jeanine Abrams McLean and Aileen Loy of Fair Count, Abdul Dosunmu of the Young Black Lawyers’ Organizing Coalition (YBLOC), and Andrew Dinwiddie and Becky Bullard of Democrasexy. And we’ll be coming at you live from our exhibit The Utopia Project at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum in Washington, DC: an interactive gallery experience all about creative activism.
Don’t miss this chance for inspiration, innovation, and practical lessons to improve your creative activism.
What else works in voting activism? The Unstoppable Voters Fellowship!
Applications are open for our Unstoppable Voters Fellowship for 2023! This unique program is an incredible professional development and practical support opportunity for leaders in the civic engagement field.
The Fellowship features extensive artistic activism training, one-on-one mentorship and support, and connection to a vibrant community of voting champions.
Support Artistic Activism
Our work would not be possible without the support of our community. As an ever-growing force for social change, we need YOU to join us. Will you consider supporting artistic activism across the country and around the world with a gift today? — Every single contribution is meaningful.