Dear Activists: Throw a Better Party

Five ways to make your next protest more inviting and impactful.
Activism.jpg

Papier-mache or inflatable puppets get your message seen above the crowd. They can become a mascot for your action and a defining feature in photos afterward.

Illustration by Jennifer Luxton. 

Hey, activists: By building art and play into your work, you bring energy and fun to your movement and encourage stronger bonds among participants. Song, dance, and visual props make your direct actions memorable and inviting.

The Pacific Northwest-based Backbone Campaign trains budding activists on how to do that. Here are lessons from their Localize This! Action Camp:

1. Have a pre-protest planning party

Pre-event coordination invites people who can’t take part in the action to still be a part of the movement. And it lets participants get to know each other without the stress of protest day.

2. Do more than march

Bike, kayak, or rappel into your action. It’s high visibility, and by using different means of transportation, you’re also making a statement against our reliance on cars. Ask local rental shops to borrow equipment at discounted rates—better yet, invite them to get involved, too.

3. Get crafty

Wheat Paste Recipe

1. Combine 1 part flour and 4 parts water in a saucepan.

2. Heat to just below a boil until it’s the consistency you need it.

3. Whisk constantly to prevent clumping.

This has a shelf life of just a few days, so only make as much as you can use right away.

Papier-mache or inflatable puppets get your message seen above the crowd. They can become a mascot for your action and a defining feature in photos afterward. Get creative—but consider the weather.

Become a Monthly Donor

How to Make a Papier-Mache Puppet

1. Use clay, foam, or bunched-up and taped plastic grocery bags to form the shape of your model.

2. Then, cover the form in plastic wrap to prevent your paper from sticking to it and layer strips of paper grocery bags dipped in paste to form the shell.

3. Cut the shell in half to remove it and papier-mache over the seam to fuse it together again. Add structural reinforcements as needed.

4. Use acrylic or water-based house paint and seal it with something waterproof for wear and tear.

5. Take a lesson from theater makeup and use high contrast colors for viewing at a distance.

6. When you’re marching for miles, weight is everything. Go for light materials and keep your puppets hollow.

7. Find an old external frame backpack and cut off everything but the shoulder straps. Mount your puppet to it with PVC pipes and zip ties so you can wear it instead of carrying it.

8. PVC pipes are your best friends for building on a budget. To create curves, use a heat gun and bend them once the pipes are malleable. 

4. Have a post-protest deconstruction party

Municipal trash cans stuffed with protest signs are bad public relations. Recycle them. Invite participants to join you to disassemble props and make them available to allied movements.

5. Small direct actions count, too

If big demonstrations and marching shoulder to shoulder for miles isn’t your scene, get sneaky: Use light to project messages onto the sides of buildings. Get personal: Perform your own song with a portable speaker in a public space.

Make art about your movement and paste prints around town.