Vulnerability and Joy as Flexible Resistance.
When I think of the activism I have been involved with in the past, I see a lot of rigidity. I see a removal of pleasure in the face of problems that cannot be held in a single body. When we resist injustice, and catalyse our anger for resistance, we let these feelings remain static so we can continue to burn them as fuel for our fight.
Mass arrest works at putting vast issues into the direct view of the public and in the way of the daily, status quo running of the government and systems of power. It does make change. When I was involved in Extinction Rebellion, the rhetoric was ‘get these bodies arrested and then bring in more and get them arrested too’. This is an exhausting and dangerous dynamic. It places marginalised bodies directly in the line of fire when people’s bodies are used as a mass tool like this. If this isn’t mitigated for, it puts the most burden on those most at risk. Those with the most state-inflicted pain in the position of burning this pain to the most severe degree. Perpetuating the same marginalisation and aggression as the state.
At what point do we totally stop recognising ourselves as beings that can experience pleasure when we are involved in activism? If we remove pleasure as a driving force in our lives, and only use anger and pain as fuel, how do we also do the work of healing the hurt that is at the core of this anger and pain? How do we allow ourselves to feel the joy in successes that we do have?
I am a clown, and I’ve researched and performed clowning for three years. I explore a style of clowning that focuses on cultivating an intimate connection with the audience. It is often an unscripted and vulnerable style of performance. In late 2019, I was clowning publicly in Trafalgar square and it was filmed by the right-wing comedian Dapper Laughs. The video went viral and got over a million views. It was a painful moment to have something that has been so liberating for me be picked apart so viciously by the alt-right internet. But, I think it speaks to a greater conversation of vulnerability and joy as flexible resistance.
It wasn’t only these people online that hated on what we were doing. Amidst the cries of “take away their benefits” and “they are a disgrace to humanity” and the rest, there were comments from fellow activists. “They are making a joke out of the movement”, “they are making us all look like fools” “they are having a good time while we are doing the real work”. When do we give up on having a good time? Why can’t we have a good time and do the ‘real’ work? Why can’t we embody our fight and embody pleasure? Why can’t I hold these things at the same time?
I think clowning is flexible resistance. I think holding a road block by playing games works the same as holding a road block by sitting still for hours. And it has the added benefit of pleasure. Of confusing a police force that will meet rigidity with violence. I have seen it. Someone sitting in a hammock across a road being cut to the floor by a group of cops, only to have the same group of cops standing in an unorganised gaggle, scuffing their shoes and staring at the floor when someone is clowning in front of them. They looked like naughty school kids, their power in that moment was gone. The hammock lasted a couple of seconds. A single clown putting down a tent held the road for 20 minutes, and totally removed the aggression from the situation. Literally flexible resistance in an object, the tent would bend and then pop up in an unpredictable place. The clown even walked away with the tent still in their possession.
I feel like there is so much to learn from the likes of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army. From clown doctors who literally make people forget their life-threatening pain through pleasure, laughter. These thoughts have been going round and round in my mind and I know they are relevant to the world right now. I know clowns have a power that speaks to our problems. Where do we go from here?