Designing Activism was a workshop moderated by Emilie Tromp and included presentations by Tijmen Swaalf (Bits of Freedom), Tijmen Schep (Setup), Joris Thijssen (Greenpeace) and Marleen van der Zanden (designer/activist). All of them brought cases to illustrate the importance of well-designed campaigns to achieve their organization’s aims. After the presentations, the audience was invited to participate in the debate.
Report by Rafael Heiber

Designing influence

How can a big organization like Greenpeace influence a giant organization like Shell and have a positive impact on climate change? How can a local organization reflect concerns about urban air pollution and, at the same time, improve the objective conditions and solve the problem? Examples also included the use of civil disobedience and hacking skills as a way to access sensitive information.

Globally established organizations like Greenpeace rely on a variety of activities to accomplish their goals: research, access to media outlets, surveillance, blockades, propaganda, social mobilization and so on. Shell was frequently a target in campaigning against the negative impact of fossil fuels on our planet. Blockades against the construction of new plants in the Arctic or campaigns to preserve the habitat of polar bears offer ways to fight climate change through activism and influencing public opinion.

Remarkable expressions of creativity can launch new ‘winds of change’ even if promoted by local organizations. What about a Pigeon Air Patrol to monitor London’s air pollution? Twenty pigeons were backpacked with sensors to measure air pollution online, and the campaign quickly became a media trend. International outlets reported on the project and delivered the message of awareness. The immediate result: many people offered to volunteer and carry the same sensors as the pigeons, which could generate a new monitoring network and database to research and analyse air pollution in London.

Dilemma as methodology

Exploring dilemmas was the methodology applied to involve the public in the debate and explain the complexities of activism. The moderator presented a series of situations and questions, and the public could use coloured paper to indicate if the decisions taken were right or wrong.

What is better: hack or blockade? Will activists use prison as part of their tactics? What about fake news as part of a strategy? These and other questions involved participants in an animated discussion that showed how companies manipulate data of public interest so that it is legitimately accessible through hacktivism. The debate also exposed the importance of context and framework when it comes to design tactics: activism in Scandinavia or rebellion in sub-Saharan countries is not the same thing.

Top photo: Participants during the debate (photo Leo Veger)

DESIGNING ACTIVISM was one of two Activation Sessions exploring the theme of climate action and politics at WDCD Live Amsterdam 2017.

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