In a weekly column, Daily Maverick takes a look at some of the lesser-reported news from South Africa and further afield. This week: the world’s oddest protests.
You’d think by now South Africans would know everything there was to know about protest. Turns out we really don’t. The world’s weirdest protesters lap us by a country mile.
Whether it’s the performance artist who hung herself from the ceiling by fish hooks (I still feel a little ill) or the conservation society that threw large quantities of rancid butter at whalers (apparently it’s quite acidic: now you know) there is more than one way to skin a cat. And we mean the latter quite literally. Three journalism students in Denmark got their Facebook profiles suspended when they ate a feral cat to draw attention to the horrors of factory farming.
Without further ado, we present: the world’s strangest protests.
Nude, where’s my car?
A publicity campaign featuring residents of rural Saskatchewan posing in their altogether – for an annual calendar, no less – was a runaway success, CBC News reported. The calendar’s purpose was to drive the repair of potholes in the nearby highway, and originally featured locals posing in the buff in puddles of various depth. One, with a flair for the dramatic, even hauled out a canoe. “It looks great,” remarked local Gord Stueck, referring, we presume, to the repaired road. “It’s a sign of progress for our whole area. People are actually doing business locally now.”
Brussels has a history of protests by farmers, but matters got a little out of hand when some 2,500 demonstrators – who had already gone through the steps of burning tyres and hay – added a live cow to their arsenal. During a protest on falling milk prices, angry farmers drove hundreds of tractors into the city centre and covered the streets in milk and manure. The pièce de résistance was squirting milk directly from the cow’s udder at riot police, with the anxious cow, unsurprisingly, taking fright at the firecrackers and chasing an office worker down the street.
Stuck on you
Climate change activist Dan Glass superglued himself to former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Describing it as a “non-violent protest” (not sure Brown would agree) Glass said he was attempting to make Brown “stick to his environmental promises” and that tearing his hand off Brown’s jacket had “really hurt”. Downing Street, according to the BBC, confirmed the incident but said there was “no stickiness of any significance”.
A disappointed Glass said afterwards: “He didn’t seem to take me seriously.”
Ever looked at a couple and wondered how they found each other? The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) is like that, but on a far larger scale. They’re all real, trained clowns, with a cause. Well, lots of causes, actually. They describe themselves as “clowns that have run away from the anaemic safety of the circus and escaped the banality of kids parties; fools that have thrown away their sceptres and broken the chains that shackled them to the throne”. Others have described them as “army of professional clowns, a militia of authentic fools, a battalion of true buffoons”. The result: rebel clowning. Not only are they creative, clever, and skilled in the use of humour. It’s also a little trickier for them to get arrested, they reason. Public and media curiosity will always be piqued by a troupe of clowns being bundled into a police van.
And their training? Basics include Finding the Inner Clown; Subversive Play; Civil Disobedience and Direct Action; Buffoon Manoeuvres; and Marching and Drilling.
Superheroes do have their underwear on the outside
The Pink Chaddi campaign took an unusual format, but was surprisingly effective. A 2009 campaign by orthodox Hindu leader Pramod Muthalik, who threatened to force couples dating on Valentine’s Day into marriage, led to a number of brutal attacks on women on 14 February. No actual marriages were conducted, but Muthalik’s call for “loose women” to be punished had devastating consequences and left some victims in critical condition.
In response, a group of women not unlike 2017’s US “nasty women” formed the Pink Chaddi group, describing themselves proudly as “loose and forward”. Their tactic was simple: send pink, frilly underwear to Muthalik in protest. The drive garnered a massive response, with Muthalik eventually so overwhelmed with knicker deliveries that he eventually issued a faint call for “dialogue”.
Bird in the hand
Protesters in London’s Trafalgar Square dressed up as seven-foot-tall pigeons and held up traffic after a pigeon feed seller was told to stop working in the area. The seller had been making a living there for several years and demonstrators believed the series of court rulings removing feed sellers were unfair.
Fighting the Sky People
Palestinian protesters dressed up as Na’vi from Avatar in protest against Israel’s separation barrier in Bil’in. They are not the only people to have used the film as inspiration for protest, however. Time reports a number of causes have adopted the Avatar metaphor: from demonstrations against mining giant Vedanta to demanding protection of orangutans.
Dynamite comes in small packages
Taking non-violent protest to new heights – or is that shorts? – Lego demonstrators are taking over a variety of causes. Tiny Lego terrorists hijacked a miniature power plant in Kent; they also occupied a teensy Wall Street in Lego Land. Lego lovers the world over have taken up the cause to protest Lego’s relationship with Shell. More recently, a number of Lego representations were made of the international Women’s Marches. Less ambitiously, one Scottish protester simply said: “Hey, Donald Trump, I hope you step on a Lego.”
And South Africa? It seems we’re still just confused by multiracial demonstrations. We’re so used to disagreeing, we can’t wrap our heads around opposition parties marching together. The President’s birthday saw the odd butternut used as a tool of protest, which was a little surreal. But if you ask me, there are far stranger things coming. DM
Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.
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