Noelani Rivera on the Debating for Democracy Conference

By Noelani Rivera, CCAR Student Projects Coordinator 

I had the pleasure to attend the Debating for Democracy Conference on Friday, February 28th at Pace University NYC. The conference featured guests from Beautiful Trouble, which is a network of artist-activists from all over the world with the mission of making grassroots movements and efforts more creative and effective. In addition to this, the event was put forth in conjunction with Project Pericles, an association of multiple colleges and universities promoting  civic engagement. This activist training experience was vibrant, extremely interactive, and had a creative twist! 

First and foremost the workshop trainer was extremely upbeat and inviting! Her introduction was followed by that of everyone in the room. She asked us all to stand in a circle for the first activity, creatively expressing ourselves through body movement and sound. Naturally, we created a cool handshake with jazz hands, power fists, and shouts of “Justice!” After this, the activity shifted to one where we find shared experiences within the group. So for example, those who had organized a protest would step into the circle, and they were given the option to share their experience aloud if they wanted to.

By the end of these introductory activities the group was much more comfortable; hearing other people’s experiences and the lengths they have gone to in fighting for their causes was an inspiring show of how beautiful getting into trouble can really be. 

The workshop featured a powerpoint presentation by Beautiful Trouble giving us a brief introduction to their tactics, principles, and theories. One really intriguing tactic that I learned about was “Creative Petition Delivery,” which essentially gives your cause an unavoidable physical presence. We were shown an example where members of a group called “38 Degrees” were dressed in nurses uniforms and were delivering their petition on a gurney with an IV pole to the National Health Service, a spectacle that is hard to miss! It was explained that with this tactic comes the key principle to “Make the invisible visible.” You have to give injustice a sense of visibility and present the uncomfortable truth to those who refuse to acknowledge it. We also got to learn a few organizational and planning techniques, such as a method to brainstorming those who could be allies to our causes and where to focus our advocacy.

Following this, we put these into practice for ourselves in creative ways: physically, vocally, and artistically. We were first tasked with creating a skit and a few statements to show a moment of activism. The approach the training took towards group activities, focusing on creative expression, made the workshop extremely enjoyable. The group I was in focused on the Stonewall Riots, and we linked arms during our skit to recreate what those at stonewall did. During another activity, the groups put some of the organizational and planning tactics we learned into practice; in order to “shift the spectrum of allies” for climate change we organized active allies, passive allies, neutral allies, passive opposition, and active opposition. In addition to this the presentation included an introduction to the Beautiful Trouble card deck, which we were going to put to use ourselves! Members of our group picked random tactic cards, which we then had to put on a skit about in relation to climate change. The group I was in picked a flash mob tactic card and put on a skit where we put on a flash mob to stop people from cutting down trees. These were fun and quirky ways to exhibit diverse forms of activism and show how all tactics can be applied to various issues (reproductive rights, climate change, lgbtq efforts, etc.)! 

As an introverted activist, the Debating for Democracy conference took me out of my comfort zone in the best way.

By the end of the Beautiful Trouble training I felt as though I expanded my revolutionary toolbox, and felt more confident in my activism!