Occupy Sends In the Clowns

Meet the + Brigades, an Occupy effort to bring more innovation to the art of nonviolent protest.
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Over the last few months, the Occupy movement has been holding an internal conversation about whether to employ "a diversity of tactics," a euphemism for actions, such as property destruction, that don't follow nonviolent principles. Those favoring diverse tactics argue they're nothing compared to the institutional violence of foreclosures, police crackdowns, and crushing inequality. Those arguing against them reply that such tactics fly in the face of the early goal of being a movement that embraced its goals—true democracy, nonviolence, equity—in its methods. They also point out that such actions alienate most of America, making it hard to claim the moral authority of being a movement of the 99 percent.

Within the second camp, another perspective is emerging: It's not enough to oppose violent tactics; occupiers should also focus on adding new ideas to the canon of nonviolent protest. An early example of this is called the + Brigades. Gracie Davie, an associate professor of history at Queens College-CUNY and a contributor to Waging Nonviolence, describes a meeting to plan the + Brigades, which debuted on the February 29th day of action:

"There were cross-dressing, rollicking games, buffoonery, strategizing and one thoroughly orange man. Andy Bichelbaum of The Yes Men presented a slide show that had the 40 of us transfixed with images of Civil Rights marchers, Chilean students paint-bombing police and Abbie Hoffman pretending to burn a puppy in a bid to set America’s wartime conscience alight. Occupy organizers cheered as images of themselves appeared among those of others. Afterwards, the brainstorming began about how to drastically expand the movement’s repertoire in the streets."

She offers a definition: "The + Brigades is a new and growing part of Occupy Wall Street intent on supplementing upcoming protest actions with life-affirming energy, color, dance, song and costumes."

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