Are some protests too “silly” to make a difference? Maddy Dorrian explains from first-hand experience why humorous protests are effective in raising awareness and community involvement.
It was 8:57am and a small group of people with hi-vis vests shuffled about making last minute preparations. The sun had managed to burn through the morning haze and was optimistically glinting off the surrounding tower blocks. I was apprehensive but happy to be there and ready to get involved. An over-eager and restless cameraman was trying to make the most of having arrived well before the other press. The organisers, however, remained unflustered despite their overt attempts to hurry things along. An organiser approached me and asked if I was ready to get kitted out. She clambered into the back of a van, rummaged around and re-emerged proudly holding a suit and tie – this was going to be fun.
“An over-eager and restless cameraman was trying to make the most of having arrived well before the other press.”
Once suited up, I was handed a pair of oversized wellies and told to wait down at the edge of the water where six other suited and booted volunteers were gathered. After a briefing about the plan of action and a quick recap of the aims of the protest, we headed out onto the water. We climbed aboard the raft which was then towed into the middle of the canal by a small boat. By now, the lone cameraman had been joined by a crowd of photographers, journalists and other members of the press who were eagerly lined up along the edge of the bank, ready for the moment the raft turned around. But first – one final, crucial step: the masks. Seven world leaders emerged from a bag ready to be assigned bodies – among them, Boris, Biden and Trudeau. We each received our head. Masked up, we were now ready to face the media frenzy.
“But first – one final, crucial step: the masks. Seven world leaders emerged from a bag ready to be assigned bodies…”
So, what was the point of this rather odd way to spend a Tuesday morning? At first glance it may appear a rather goofy activity, however the reason behind this protest could not be further from a joke. As we sat on this raft in the Forth and Clyde canal, mimicking the meeting of world leaders that had occurred in Glasgow only a few days earlier, there was one problem – we were sinking. Our feet and ankles were submerged under the rising water levels. The world leaders at COP26 may be able to physically avoid the reality of increased global temperature, but for thousands of people in marginalised communities around the world, this is not a privilege they possess.
In fact, the difference between a 1.5 and a 2 degrees Celsius global temperature rise is literally life or death. What we were doing that day was nothing new. Indeed, the foreign minister of Tuvalu – Simon Kofe – had given a speech less than 24 hours before in a suit and tie standing knee-deep in the sea. This was not some “silly” protest, but real life. His Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu is at the frontline of rising sea levels and risks entirely disappearing if global temperature rises are not limited. Due to travel restrictions, many Pacific Island nations were unable to send representatives to COP26, sparking fears that their voices would be overlooked, despite being some of the most affected nations by the climate crisis. Environmental racism happens every day through the ongoing marginalisation of the voices who are suffering the most, while contributing least to the climate crisis.
“The foreign minister of Tuvalu – Simon Kofe – had given a speech less than 24 hours before in a suit and tie standing knee-deep in the sea. This was not some “silly” protest, but real life.”
Forms of “silly” activism like those we have seen in Glasgow over the past couple of weeks like that of the sinking canal raft and the Squid Game reenactment can and do make a difference as they raise awareness for issues not being discussed. But, like all forms of protesting, this is only where the work begins. Sure, the media attention around these more unusual activism stunts undeniably helps to spread the message for what we are protesting for, but what struck me most during the three hours we were suited up at the Maryhill canals was the number of bemused members of the public who happened to pass by on their morning dog walks. They stopped to watch, ask questions and get involved,many saying that they felt disengaged and distant from the happenings within the Scottish Events Centre (SEC), and yet were excited to witness a protest like this. There was no denying there was a real sense of togetherness in that moment, and it was inspiring to see so many people bonding over the same cause.
And so, I firmly believe that whether it is an organised march through Glaswegian streets with over 100,000 people, or a group of 40 members of the public unexpectedly coming together after stumbling across a sinking barge, we should grasp any chance we can to unite and channel our optimism into activism – it’s hard to see how that could be deemed “silly”!