Nominated by Rae Abileah and Colleen Kelly:
We in Generation Y (children of the ‘80s and younger) have been known to express a desire to try something new, beyond the looping renditions of “Give Peace a Chance” and marchers carrying the same flowery peace signs at anti-war rallies of past movements. We have been eager and willing to innovate our own style and culture of protest. This is precisely what is happening in the wave of flash mobs that has swept across the West Bank, Israel, the US and around the world this year. We’d like to nominate flash mobs for justice and equality in the Middle East for a 2010 Mondo Award.
Young activists have seized the use of the flashmob (an artistic form of resistance that has taken hold especially in places where governments forbid assembly) because it allows for the use of pop culture and modern technology in creative ways. Regulated protests that march between two points assembling before a stage of speakers have become more and more difficult to organize. The media rarely covers us and few of us have the financial and marketing capacities of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The government and local law enforcement have created “free speech” zones that marginalize us into convenient packages which make us easy for them to control. Planned civil disobedience in congressional offices and elsewhere though it is still an important form of resistance, still yield little media coverage.
Most flash mobs related to the struggle for justice for Palestinians have followed the 2005 Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) by targeting corporations that are complicit in Israel’s occupation and inequality of policies. While it is still important to keep the pressure on Congress, this tactic marks a shift in understanding of power dynamics and leverage points: Congress is increasingly controlled by corporations (especially in the aftermath of Citizens United) and special-interest lobby groups. And while the global community (the UN, the ICJ, and other bodies) is not taking binding steps to hold Israel accountable for war crimes, it is possible to exert pressure on corporations that aid and abet the occupation, similar to what was done during the global “boycott apartheid” movement for equality in South Africa. The fact is that the corporate elite these days have relationships to multiple nation states that make focusing activist efforts solely on a country’s elected officials akin to talking to a manager at a retail store. The manager can give you a new alarm clock but they can’t change the way it’s made, nor can they determine what the store decides to purchase and sell. However, while Congress may have less accountability to constituents now that they can receive enormous financial gifts from corporations, corporations are still largely dependent on consumers: we have the buying power.
While expensive ads and billboards are out of reach for most grassroots activists, we now have the ability to generate our own media through social networks and online tools like youtube, twitter, and facebook – and damage brand credibility with creative activism. The flash mob speaks directly to power, while at the same time invites people from all over the world to gain courage from one another. It also creates a lot of space for individual creativity and personal ownership. In the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee’s flashmob targeting Motorola, for example, the action turned members into organizers, building on skills young folks already knew. Most young women we know, including ourselves, spent many a grade school night making up synchronized dance moves to Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul or The Spice Girls with our girl friends. All of us use online tools to share fun videos and news about our lives and work. And we’ve grown up in a culture obsessed with product choice and consumer decision-making. All contributed to making us ripe for engineering flash mobs.
Of course online video sharing in and of itself won’t break down the separation walls in Israel and Palestine. But this creative form of activism helps us to inspire and engage each other across borders, gain attention in the media, spread the word about what’s really going on in a creative way that is accessible for Generation Next, and contributes to pressure on corporations to stop doing dirty business with Israel.
Here’s a short list of some highlights from flash mobs in 2010 that focused on justice and peace in the Middle East (Drumroll please…):
December 13, 2010—AIPAC: Another Brick in Israel’s Wall —Oakland, US—Activists in the Bay Area created a flashmob song and dance to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” inside the lobby of the Marriott Hotel where AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) held their annual fundraising gala. In a new development for flashmobs of this kind, seven activists were instantly arrested, held for over six hours at the nearest jail, and charged with tresspassing. Organized by activists affiliated with American Friends Service Committee , CODEPINK Women for Peace, and the US Boat to Gaza .
December 4, 2010—Hang Up On Motorola! –St. Louis, US—More than forty members and friends of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (STL-PSC) gathered at Best Buy and AT&T for a flash mob urging holiday shoppers to Boycott Israeli Apartheid and Hang Up on Motorola! One of the participants was arrested as he was attempting to leave the parking lot. Organized by St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (STL-PSC).
December 1-20, 2010—Stolen Beauty Holiday Caroling —Brooklyn, US; Los Angeles, US; San Francisco, US; Boston, US—Activists boycotting Ahava Dead Sea Cosmetics sing holiday carols about Ahava’s products, made in the Occupied Territories, inside and outside stores carrying the product. Activists in Los Angeles are briefly “kidnapped” inside the a store by a belligerent owner. Organized by CODEPINK Women for Peace stolenbeauty.org.
December 4, 2010 – Occupation on Ice – New York City, US –Activists in New York ice skate at Rockefeller Center wearing Palestinian flags, in an attempt to convince the rink to fly the Palestinian flag. Organized by Existence is Resistance.
November 29, 2010 – Cape Town Opera Say NO, AGAIN – Tel Aviv, Israel – For the second time in a month, Israeli advocates of the cultural boycott of Israel gather outside the Cape Town Opera’s Porgy and Bess performance in Tel Aviv to tell South African performers that they should not perform in Israel. Organized by Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within, among others.
November 28, 2010 – Dabka Flashmob – Geneva, Switzerland; Toronto, Canada; Utrecht, Netherlands; Paris, France; Geel, Belgium – Dancers in five cities in Europe and Canada perform dabka (traditional Palestinian dance) in public places to support the BDS movement. Organized by Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, Association Handalah, and others.
November 28, 2010 – Ahava Not For Me – The Netherlands – The “Bathrobes Brigade” dresses in bathrobes and goes to the mall to inspect magazines and see if they have stop carrying Ahava products. Ahava is an Israeli line of beauty products made with Dead Sea products on an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. This action is part of an international campaign targeting Ahava.
November 27, 2010 – Flashmob, Brussels – Brussels, Belgium – A large group of similarly clad activists visits a large grocery store, where they silently freeze and point at Israeli products (pomelos, oranges, etc.). Organized by Coordination Boycott Israel (COBI), with participation of Generation Palestine, Intal, Palestina Solidariteit, and Egalite.
November 16, 2010 – Cape Town Opera Say NO – Tel Aviv, Israel – Israeli advocates of the cultural boycott of Israel gather outside the Cape Town Opera’s Porgy and Bess performance in Tel Aviv to tell South African performers that they should not perform in Israel. Organized by Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within, among others.
November 11, 2010 – Israeli Apartheid Wall – Utrecht, The Netherlands – In this solemn action with narrated video, people dressed as Israeli soldiers, Palestinian mothers, and others enact a checkpoint scene and hold a replica of the wall that Israel is building in the West Bank. The action was part of a week of action against the wall, coordinated in part by Stop the Wall.
October 11, 2010 – Boycott Aroma Café – Toronto, Canada – Activists stage a scene inside Aroma Café, where explaining to customers why they would never support a café that has a branch in an Israeli settlement. Outside, they sing and dance to a parody of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Organized by Independent Jewish Voices, among others.
September 6, 2010 – HP Boycott – Emeryville, US – With footage from Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, the video shows California activists inside an Office Depot protesting HP’s sales of checkpoint technology to Israel. Organized by Don’t Buy Into Apartheid, Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism, and others.
July 11, 2010 – Off-Off-Broadway BDS Musical Tour – New York City, US – Starting with a flash mob scene inside Aroma Café, this musical tour continues on the streets of New York and includes song (again, parody of Lady Gaga), dance, cheers, and chants. Organized by Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel.
March 30, 2010 – Follow Me Flashmob – Utrecht, The Netherlands – Dutch activists dress alike and walk through the streets and inside several stores (Sabon, H&M, and other Israeli and Israel-supporting establishments) in this “follow the leader” action. Each person follows the actions of the person in front of her. March 30 marked Land Day, an annual day of commemoration for Palestinians of the events of that date in 1976.
March 30, 2010 – Global BDS Day of Action Flashmob – Toronto, Canada – Activists mark the global day of action with two flash mobs. First, they dance inside Chapters Indigo, a bookstore that supports Israeli soldiers. Next they visit Mountain Equipment Co-op, where they freeze and stare, looking shocked, as they hold Israeli products in their hands. Organized by Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.
March 30, 2010— Stolen Beauty Flash Mob —Washington DC, US—Activists boycotting Ahava cosmetics sang their rendition of “Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta my Hair” in Lord & Taylor. Organized by CODEPINK Women for Peace (www.stolenbeauty.org).
March 27, 2010 – Flash Mob for Palestine – Seattle, US – Washingtonians are scattered throughout the Northgate Mall, standing still and holding signs reading “Stop Israeli Settlements” and “Boycott Israel,” among others. Organized by the Palestine Solidarity Committee – Seattle.
February 14, 2010—Avatar Protest—Billin, West Bank— Palestinian Activists stage Avatar action in Billin. Protesters painted themselves blue and donned long hair and loincloths to draw a parallel between their struggle and that of the film’s indigenous characters who fight against a foreign occupying force. Photos here .
January 28, 2010 – Flash Mob Boycott Israeli Apartheid – Utrecht, The Netherlands – In a supermarket, one person blows a whistle, the cue for everyone to pick up an Israeli product and freeze. The video ends with a list of products to boycott. Organized by COBI.
Colleen Kelly is a 32-year-old Catholic Worker and lives at Karen House in St. Louis, MO, a house of hospitality for women and children. She is the Outreach Coordinator for the St. Louis Instead of War Coalition and the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee. She can be reached at [email protected]
Rae Abileah is a 28-year-old Jewish-American of Israeli descent and is a national organizer with CODEPINK Women for Peace and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She lives in San Francisco, CA and can be reached at [email protected] Special thanks to Hannah Mermelstein for her research on flashmobs and to Anna Baltzer.