Street Spirit: The Power of Protest and Mischief


Frontline Club

Image by Jane Franka

2017 has certainly been all about protest. Or a return to protest as a means for social change when other forms seem to have slipped into an abyss of confused politics and a wave of regressive ideology in human rights acts. Indeed, protesting is no new or groundbreaking form of social change - it’s in fact one of the oldest. But in a timeless manner, it continues to carry its power across generations and surpassing technological advances. Because protest shakes the foundations of what our entire civilisation is built on, whether it’s democratic or fascist - civil upheaval has the capacity to ultimately shift any structure that aims to rule it.

Human rights campaigner Steve Crawshaw has been an eyewitness to some of the most dramatic demonstrations of recent years. He is also a senior advocacy adviser at Amnesty International and was previously a UN advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. Crawshaw joined The Independent at when it launched and reported on the eastern European revolutions, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Balkan wars.

His soon to be published book ‘Street Spirit: The Power of Protest and Mischief’ outlines and comments on the immense power of nonviolent protest, which draws on his experience as reporter and activist, as well as witness to powerhouse revolutions as a result of civil nonviolent uprise. An interesting and unique angle that Crawshaw uses in his argument for protesting is the integration of imaginative defiances, such as the surprising impact of Lego figures in Siberia, red-hatted dwarves in Poland and a donkey holding a press conference in Azerbaijan – not to mention the story of how Darth Vader helped to effect a global arms treaty. He incorporates both real life circumstances as a result for social shifts, but also takes into account cultural and imaginative inputs that have had their own repercussions as well.

When considering the need for social change as a result of governments that fail to represent their civilians, how effective is humour and creativity? When there is a need for human action, vigilance, and close monitoring of the systems that are rapidly shifting beneath our feet - how important is it to remain protesting, and what role does humorous commentary and persistent creativity play?