How do I become a political activist

Greta Taubert

How do I become an activist in seven days?

Author Greta Taubert really wants to be against it: with pithy slogans, irritating street theater and illegal fun guerrillas. What is not yet entirely clear, however. That's why she smuggled herself into a creative protest camp for a week. A subversive self-experiment.

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That went completely wrong. A big mistake, and that right at the beginning. “Hello, I'm Greta and I want to find out here how I can become an activist,” I say into a group of chairs. There are blonde girls with beautiful lips who work for NGOs, a serious-looking Kurdish theater maker, a man with the T-shirt print “Never conform”, girls with brightly colored striped dresses, a knowingly smiling woman with long gray hair and also a shirt wearer. The strangely mixed group is silent. Then the smiling woman says: “You can only become an activist!” Inwardly, I hit my forehead and think: Right, from now on you have to change everything up to the salt shaker in a politically correct way. ’On the outside I feel the blush of shame and say:“ I still have a lot to learn. ”

In my whole life I have never taken part in a demonstration, never instigated public unrest or provoked state power even with sticking out my tongue. Perhaps it was the role as a journalistically uninvolved observer that has kept me from doing so so far. Or maybe it was just ignorance. But that should change now. If people's anger rages over a train station even in bourgeois Stuttgart, then we are facing turbulent times in Germany. And I want to be prepared for that.

That's why I signed up for a protest camp. Such camps are an important part of the activist scene in order to professionally prepare political resistance. Before the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, thousands of demonstrators pitched their tents in the camps in the surrounding area and prepared for their resistance in blockade training, drum workshops or discussions. Greenpeace also organizes climate camps wherever environmental damage is greatest, such as on the rapidly melting Gorner Glacier in Switzerland.

The “Laboratory for Creative Protest” I signed up for is different. It is not based on a specific content, but wants to give novice activists like me an insight into artistic forms of protest such as street theater, flash mobs, and performances. It is the first time that there is something like this in Germany. It is organized by the Center for Political Beauty, a pool of Berlin diffuse creatives, students and actors who bring art and protest together with poetic actions. I would also like to be a politically handsome Radikalinski. But how do I get there?

Point 1: Be tough

It is a cool September morning in the Mecklenburg wasteland. On the pale brown fields, the farmers bring the last of the seeds into the ground with heavy vehicles. Nothing but nature to the horizon. The 800 year old manor “Schloss Bröllin” lies between the fields. In the barely renovated cattle sheds there are bedrooms, where the autumn wind pushes through the windows that have been repaired with cardboard boxes. It's a refreshing walk across the courtyard to the next shower. “Everything is calculated”, I think, “Activists are not born in a hotel bed.”

Point 2: love legumes

Everything in the camp is political. The kitchen too. In the large pots, it is exclusively vegan, organic and regional. At lunchtime there is a stew with peas, in the evening a dish with tofu or broad beans. A small team from a Berlin “people's kitchen” takes over the culinary command of us young Protestants. The so-called VoKüs still come from the squatter scene of the eighties and are non-commercial soup kitchens like those in many politically left-wing institutions. Anyone who wants to be politically active in this spectrum will hardly be able to avoid one thing and must make peace with it in good time: legumes. Otherwise there is only stink.

Point 3: Bring seat meat

Standing up against the injustice of the world begins while sitting. The activist class gathers for a plenary session in the seminar room. Before we can come up with a choreography for a street play, we should first know what it might be against. “Protesters are concerned with concrete content,” says Heinrich Geiselberger's book “Politics, Protest and Propaganda”. They want to name the culprits, justify action, and change things for the better. But will we actually find something that we can all object to? The spectrum of participants is wide: while one is picking flowers, the other is hanging up a “Castor gravel” poster. One does not eat meat for climate reasons, the other demands lavish luxury for everyone. The fight begins.

In scientific lectures we try to understand what the Millennium Development Goals are, because they are currently being negotiated in parallel at a UN summit. A speaker has put together entire readers that we have to work through and discuss in small groups. Words like “empowerment of civil societies”, “context analysis” and “good governance” are used. Later we switch to human rights and watch videos about the genocide in Sudan and the war in the Congo. Hours and hours passed by pictures of severed hands, violated women and burned villages. The thoughts of fun protests are swallowed up by the shock. Then the discussion marathon begins.
Point 4: Be a flower

I am exhausted, worn down, chattered empty. In our position search, we always take one step forward and two backward. Like the UN in fighting hunger. What's all this about here? Can we make the world a better place if we are not better?
The question could have gotten deep into me if something hadn't happened: Art intervenes.

The sun is finally shining over the fields of Bröllin. The group gathers in a meadow still dampened by the morning dew and makes strange movements. We play a catching game with slapping on the buttocks, moving with closed eyes in an imaginary bubble and lying on the grass with our hands touched and simulating the opening and closing of a flower. The exercises are part of a warm-up program for theater people. And because we as street theater protesters are part of it temporarily, we make use of artistic group awareness. As strange as it may sound: once you are a petal of a community flower, you will not become a thorn later. And that is the most important thing for an activist group: unity.

Point 5: do what you want

The blackboard continues to grow in the seminar room. On flipchart sheets glued together, there are political forms of action of all kinds. There is “adbusting” there. That means changing advertising messages, especially in the street art scene. Containers, guerrilla gardening or radical cheerleading are all on the slips of paper. We get to know “rebel clowns”, a humorous de-escalation group at demonstrations and why you can win more people with “action samba” than with aggressive chants. The list could go on and on, the creative street protest is so diverse and incessant. As early as the nineties, fun guerrillas who were bored by “Latsch-Demos” were looking for new forms of expression of resistance. Today most protest gatherings are marked “by a colorful mixture of forms of action”, as it is called in the book “Go.Stop.Act” by Marc Amman. Not infrequently they were reminiscent of huge street festivals and the carnival of another world.

But how do you get the carnival on the Mecklenburg fields? The group is divided into individual sections. Some practice walking on stilts and stalk across the yard in blue garbage bags with the letters U and N on them. Others dare to climb the rope and steel themselves for the vertical element of a theater performance. I sit in the group “Fool's Freedom” and learn from a founder of the Hedonist International that one can very well derive political participation from one's own need for fun. As docile students, we stretch out in the sunny grass and think about a haunting symbol for our political action. It is supposed to somehow symbolize the inactivity of the western world on the world poverty summit. We twiddle our thumbs. And turn and think and turn. That's it!

Point 6: Always with a bang

What follows is a tedious piece of fun. The group sets off on endless walks across the fields in order to finally develop a meaningful idea from the thumb-twiddling motif. She plays through situations in which one could block supermarket checkouts by twiddling one's thumbs or staging invisible theater. Nothing really ignites - until someone puts on Ottawan's trashy 80s pop number “Hands up”. We immediately start dancing, polonaise around the manor, improvise a twiddling thumb ballet. The motto of the Russian-American anarchist and thought leader of the fun protest Emma Goldmann had completely captured us: “If I can't dance, it's not my revolution”.

Point 7: be ready

When we reach Berlin everything is suddenly different. For our big protest we have with us colorful signs, painted cardboard boxes, and vague costumes. In front of the Marienkirche on Alexanderplatz we want to show our street theater number about the injustice of the world, but only a few steps further the deaf and mute have pulled up a huge turquoise double-decker bus and lure the masses with thumping basses. As if the protest competition wasn't annoying enough, it starts to rain in long, cold threads. We crouch under the branches of a linden tree and look at the sky. But it was not for nothing that we slept seven nights at what felt like sub-zero temperatures, switched the organism to vegan, survived debates that were intense, brought up activist tools and done flower exercises, so that we can now go home with a shrug of shoulders. The show begins. The twiddling thumb ballet endures the rain with a stoic bureaucratic expression, the climbers try symbolically to get to the level of the West, capitalism laughs at you. When we bowed to the umbrella audience, the endorphin shoots into the bloodstream. Stimulated by this, we set out for new actions. Without registration. Without camp supervision.
At the end, an old woman with a headscarf and a strong Russian accent comes up to me and asks what we actually want. “A better world” I say. And she: "Why?" "Well, because we are activists." She is silent. "And activists, of course." Then she nods slowly and I have the feeling that I have learned something.