Make Protests Fun

Mark Sommer is sick of protests. Last fall, he took part in a
San Francisco rally against the Bush administration?s Iraq policy.
The vibrant, energetic crowd exhilarated Sommer, a veteran activist
and director of the Mainstream Media Project, a nonprofit
educational organization based in Arcata, California. Not only was
the number of people who gathered impressive, but nearly half of
them were under the age of 25; Sommer, 57, noted the refreshing
energy they brought to a movement that had its last major infusion
of youth in the seventies.

But then the speakers began harsh rants against current policy,
and the feeling of deflation in the crowd was hard to miss. Sommer
realized something that many of those attending large protests in
the Bay Area, Washington, D.C., and other cities would later
comment on: Yelling wasn?t working anymore, and the anger that
seemed necessary to fuel the movement felt misplaced. So he went
home and devised a new strategy: the Global Village Gathering.

?To be driven by fear and anger more than hope and determination
is to catch the very illness we seek to combat,? he writes in an
essay outlining his plans. Sommer?s proposed new form of protest is
an attempt to get back to the very definition of
demonstration with carnival-cum-conference events that
don?t directly protest anything, but actually demonstrate
the kind of world that he, and like-minded collaborators, seek to
create. They would be, in his words, ?part Renaissance fair, part
music festival, part farmer?s market, part networking conference .
. . demonstration projects for a sustainable society.? These
?veritable marketplaces of practical ideas and initiatives? would
take place outdoors, ideally, over the course of one or two full
days, providing ample time for people to get together to see
working versions of alternative technology and culture and to talk,
plan, and bring about change themselves.

Music and dance would play a major role in the gatherings, and
so would mass silence. ?Everyone has a different version of how
they find the deepest part of themselves,? says Sommer. ?Whatever
you call it?praying, meditating?to stop and listen to what can be
heard when thousands of people stand in silence is
transforming.?

Every detail of the gatherings would support and exemplify
sustainability: locally grown food would be offered, and bottles,
scraps, and waste water would be recycled in ingenious ways.
Electricity would be generated from wind or solar energy wherever
possible.

Sommer is not certain if any Gatherings on his model actually
have been tried yet, but he has received positive feedback on his
scheme from the likes of Buddhist author Joanna Macy,
Reconstructionist Jewish leader Arthur Waskow, and William Ury,
director of the Preventing War Project at the Harvard Law School.
He has no desire to promote the Gatherings himself, however. ?I
want to incubate and nurture them until they take on a life of
their own in the hands and imaginations of many others,? he says.
Most of all, the Gatherings are not directed against anyone, not
even the corporations and government officials who scoff at
sustainability. As Sommer writes, ?It?s best not to condemn where
they stand but move to a better place and invite them over.?

Jessica Misslin is an intern in the Utne art and
editorial departments.

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