Activists and communities in the Global South are on the front lines of campaigns impacting all of us. People from Indonesia to Venezuela and from the Marshall Islands to Congo are fighting for justice, resisting systems of repression and extraction, and building sustainable economies and politics that support self determination.
The global campaigning community (if the loose network of campaigners that includes MobLab can be understood as a community) often overlooks the stories of these campaigns. In doing so, we’re missing out on lessons that may make us more effective campaigners. We’re seeing our goals but missing the context needed to build winning campaigns and long-lasting movements.
Beautiful Rising intends to break this spell. From 2014 to 2016, Beautiful Rising convened frontline activists and movements in Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mexico, and the Middle East. Participants shared case studies, documented what’s worked and shared latest innovations in creative activism.
The result is the Beautiful Rising toolbox: a multi-platform creative organizing guide that bridges the ‘digital divide’ we see separating organizers by age, income and geography.
The Beautiful Rising website is just the start. Users can access the project through a chatbot accessible through Telegram, Skype, or Facebook messenger. It also exists as a live strategy game that allows participants to apply principles of effective action design and campaign planning to their own scenarios; and as a customizable pdf that organizers can compile, print and circulate locally via our Creative Commons license. Published in English, Spanish and Arabic (soon to come), it provides an integrated, highly accessible, and evolving suite of resources for activists all over the world to learn from one another, share successes, and strategize.
Building Beautiful Rising
Over a hundred organizers from five continents contributed hard-won lessons and analysis, many as participants in week-long face-to-face activist ‘jam sessions’ that we conducted in Yangon, Amman, Harare, Dhaka, Kampala and Oaxaca. The editorial team spans three continents and the Advisory Network spans five. Over twenty organizations including AHEL, 350.org and Tactical Tech have signed on as partners, and are now using, adding to, and helping to disseminate the toolkit. Contributors include dozens of frontline organizers, as well as notable movement strategists Arundhati Roy, Vijay Prasad, George Katsiaficas, and Mark and Paul Engler.
Beautiful Campaigns in Action
When Syrian activists wanted to get their message out during the first months of the uprising, it was too dangerous to get caught distributing the usual printed flyer. Instead, they did clandestine leafletting using ping pong balls released from the top of a hill to bounce through the streets. Activists in Palestine used currency hacking for the same, using the flow of money bills to their advantage, getting their message out.
In Myanmar, women’s underwear were sent through the mail to mock and undermine the authority of the ruling military junta, while courageous activists in Uganda let loose yellow pigs in the parliament to send a powerful message about corruption.
Rich Context and Powerful Learning
All of these tactics bear their own logic of creative direct action. When we pay close attention and analyse the transferable lessons they contain, we see that they offer us a series of powerful principles: a set of mental shortcuts for how to design successful actions and campaigns that can be applied in different ways in vastly different contexts.
When we, too often, only look to the stories we know from our own context, we not only lose sight of the bigger picture, we also deny the interconnectedness of struggles. To get to the juicy analyses of why certain actions worked or didn’t, we need to pay close attention to the context and political terrain from which they were acted — and that’s best done by asking the activists involved to tell the story.
The recipe is clear: movements and campaigns multiply their chances of success when they can draw upon each other’s best strategic insights and creative approaches. Just as values like “taking leadership from the most impacted” should guide our campaigns and movements, so should our actions reflect the complexities, courage and humor that guides social movement innovation at the frontline of global struggles.
We encourage you to explore the toolkit, add your own ideas, and let us know what you think in the comments below (we’ll respond here) or, better yet, over at Beautiful Rising.
Thanks to Beautiful Rising team members Dave Mitchel, Marcel Taminato and Juman Abujbara for their help with this article. Find out more about them and the Beautiful Rising team here.