A flash mob is an unrehearsed, spontaneous, contagious, and dispersed mass action. Flash mobs first emerged in 2003 as a form of participatory performance art, with groups of people using various online platforms to arrange to meet and perform some kind of playful activity in a public location. More recently, activists have begun to harness the political potential of flash mobs for organizing spontaneous mass actions on short notice.
It's as simple as clapping your hands.
Flash mobs have recently become a powerful tactic for political protest, particularly under repressive conditions. In the midst of a harsh crackdown on protests in Belarus in 2011, for instance, dissidents began organizing impromptu demonstrations by gathering in public spaces and clapping their hands in unison. The result was the bewildering sight of secret police brutally arresting people for the simple act of clapping their hands — a powerful challenge to an oppressive regime.
Organise and then disperse.
The overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt also involved flash-mob-like tactics, with organizers calling for protesters to gather initially in alleys and other protected spaces for safety before moving into the streets in larger and larger numbers. Blogger Patrick Meier explains the thinking behind this approach:
"Starting small and away from the main protests is a safe way to pool protesters together. It’s also about creating an iterative approach to a 'strength in numbers' dynamic. As more people crowd the smaller streets, this gives a sense of momentum and confidence. Starting in alleyways localizes the initiative. People are likely neighbors and join because they see their friend or sister out in the street."
Spread the word through social media.
Another example of effective use of the flash mob tactic is UK Uncut. In October 2010, one week after the British government announced massive cuts to public services, seventy people occupied a Vodaphone store in London to draw attention to the company’s record of unpaid taxes. The idea quickly went viral: within three days, over thirty Vodaphone stores had been shut down around the country by flash mobs organizing over Twitter using the hashtag #ukuncut.
The revolutionary potential for dispersed, coordinated action using flash mob tactics has only begun to be realized.
Article adapted from Beautiful Trouble by Beautiful Trouble, various authors, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.