Executed for Sodomy, we see a woman with a transgender identity face an onslaught of prejudice from not just society, but state-sanctioned law as well. In the case of unjust laws, or unfair decisions, many of us feel protest is our only option. But sometimes we can become so familiar with the sights of placards we cease to really see what’s written on them. Here’s a look at the ways individuals and groups have responded when the law fails to represent them, or the voice of hatred and shame threatens to overshadow what’s important.
The John Snow Kiss-In
In April 2011, James Bull and Jonathan Williams were ejected from the John Snow pub on Broadwick Street, Soho, for kissing each other while out on a date. The following Friday, hundreds of same-sex couples gathered outside the pub and held a mass “kiss-in” in support of the couple, drawing lots of attention and forcing the pub to close early. Reports confirmed that the spectacle drew cheers of approval from passers-by, and that the atmosphere was cheerful despite the seriousness of the couple’s complaint. Embodying the mantra “Make love, not war”, these activists certainly knew how to make the most of non-violent protest.
Boston Teamsters Block Westboro Baptist Church
My most recent example of a mass answering-back, this occurred in April this year at the funeral of Boston Marathon bomb victim Krystle Campbell. In the days leading up to the ceremony, Westboro Baptist Church (everyone’s least favourite gatecrashers and logic-defying mentalists) threatened to picket the service. When Boston’s chapter of Local 25 (a US labour union) got wind of this, they made their feelings very public by broadcasting over the internet that if WBC were to attend, it should expect the union also be out in force. On the day of the funeral, Teamsters Local 25 gathered outside Medford St Joseph Church, and formed a human shield to protect Krystle’s friends and family from any distressing behaviour that WBC might display. The hate-mongers never turned up, but the photos of teamsters calmly standing together showing compassion and resilience against hate, became a comforting image for those affected by the bombings, and anyone else capable of basic human compassion.
The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo
During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ (1976-1983), the military government kidnapped, tortured and murdered left-wing militants and anyone else deemed “subversive”, mainly young people and students who criticised authority. Those abducted became known as “The Disappeared”, as the government destroyed any documents and records that would enable their relatives to locate their bodies, or reclaim any grandchildren. On April 30th 1977, a small group of 14 mothers seeking the truth of their children’s whereabouts, held their first protest against the government’s silence in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. As even discussing the location of those missing was a violation of strict censorship laws; the mothers remained silent, walking slowly in a counter clockwise circle in the centre of the public square. By walking they avoided being arrested, as standing still together would be deemed an illegal public meeting. As protest signs would also have been forbidden, the mothers wore white headscarves embroidered with the names of those missing, spreading their message of resistance quietly. An identical march was held every Thursday in front of the Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentine regime based in Plaza de Mayo, and the movement grew until hundreds of people were participating in the weekly demonstration. It’s a brilliant reminder that no matter how brutal a regime is in its censorship, those in the right can still make their voices heard.
Indonesia’s New Men’s Alliance Skirt Up
Earlier this year, five men pitched up at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Jakarta, wearing mini-skirts and holding placards. The signs read slogans like “Real Men Don’t Rape” and “Let’s unite to fight against rape”. The men were members of Indonesia’s New Men’s Alliance (ALLB) which was created to campaign against violence towards women, but also to promote equality between the sexes. Many supporters of the alliance, male and female, have stories of violence and rape visited upon themselves or women they know, but also speak up to the damaging effect patriarchy has on male identity too. The group promotes communication, as many men in Indonesian feel they cannot discuss how they feel openly because society expects them to be tough and independent. The same reluctance to share also helps keep violence against women a secret, as patriarchal society normalises violence against women to the point that good men don’t question their peers’ behaviour. One male supporter of ALLB says he quit the band he was playing in because he discovered another member beat his wife. So the group sees gender and society holistically, working to be inclusive in its campaign for a fairer world for everyone. It’s great to see an organisation uniting the sexes in the fight for equality, and looking gosh darn fabulous while they do it too.
Many of you may know and love the awesomeness that is Amanda Palmer. The former Dresden Doll has made a name for herself as a marvellously alternative lyricist, composer and singer, weaving punk, cabaret and circus elements into her live shows and generally not giving a fuck what the mainstream thinks of her. It seems her (now ex) record label hadn’t paid attention to the artist she’d become, because in 2008 Roadrunner records wanted to remove shots from her video “Leeds United” because they claimed her tummy looked fat. As if anyone gave a shit. Palmer herself put it plainly on her blog “who didn’t send you the memo that I’m not Britney Spears? I’m not TRYING to look hungry. I’m trying to look HOT. There’s a difference.” Fans took to the internets, and created a blog called ReBELLYon, posting photos of their gloriously un-airbrushed tummies daubed with slogans of support. My personal favourite message was “The sandwiches are wicked”. After a long legal battle, Roadrunner finally released Palmer from her contract and she now releases through her own label 8ft Records. Presumably jiggling her “fat” belly as much as she likes, along with the rest of us.
So hopefully I’ve illustrated that protesting doesn’t always mean rioting, and that non-violent gestures can be strong enough to topple regimes, challenge the status quo or simply get a shallow record company see sense. In all things however, the coolest thing you can express is compassion.