Effective Protest: A Step-by-Step Guide (2012)

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Written for the Borealis Festival 2012 Programme Book.

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Introduction by Roger Pleasance (Col legno Magazine)

It was with a not insignificant degree of surprise, honour and then self-congratulation that I greeted the news of my having been asked to jiggle some words on a page in such a way that they might create the effect of having been thought through in relation to the particular theme of Borealis 2012.

‘Oh’ I thought as I glossed the local Arts Board’s take on such strategics: ‘Now here is a chance to explore how the thematicisation of events feeds the increasing of diversity amongst practitioners and audience-stakeholders alike, destabilising traditional hierarchic indicators in a roadmap towards enhancing access to the creative sector and pay off half my DVD rental arrears.’

Yet such enthusiasm was, alas, to be premature as I was soon to learn of the theme itself, which as you may be aware by now – is that of ‘Protest’. If you were not aware of this by now it is probably because you are, perhaps somewhat conspicuously, here for the music.

‘Protest?’ I thought out loud to myself. ‘Now what could there be to protest about?’ (This in spite of the fact that al-Assad had just dispatched a brutal crackdown across the city of Homs and that I had smeared some grease from a somewhat unctuously buttered crumpet on the LCD of my iPad.)

And as I began to think that I really had no idea what there could be to protest about, I found I was working myself into a bit of a fluster. ‘It’s all so ambiguous, so unfulfilled’ I could only repeat as I grappled for something against which to protest. Yet reader, how can one who writes about music for a living be in any way unfulfilled?

It must have been around this point that I had a peculiar turn, for I began to become somewhat exasperated by my own exasperation, outraged by my own outrage, and as I reached to loosen a rather tricky crust from inside the roof of the left nasal hollow, I began to find myself revolting. Yes, revolting against the very idea of revolution, ideating against the idiotic resolve itself to protest protest.

Fatigued, I sat back to do my 37th (and counting!) daily status update whilst Les Mis or something blared on in the background.

When I returned to the issue, after some rather lugubrious tapas at El Caro with Crispin from ArtReview, I was altogether taken aback by the sheer volume of response I had received to my query regarding the current text. Almost half of my 9 twittees had tweeted, with such sage suggestions as:


‘What is their to protest against? It’s not like anyone is at war over they’re is it?



Just wanted to mention my orchestral collab with JONNY GREENWOOD(’s cousin) premieres TONITE. Everything played with duct tape. 

‘Ah, the wisdom of crowds’ I thought, calculating how much time I could save on the brief.

But then the most intriguing contribution of all appeared, from an unknown IP, with a link to the following highly practical guide, which after a quick glancing over I gathered to be perfectly sized to fill all my remaining word count. I duly reproduce it in its entirety (and rapidly head off for an evening of crumhorn and sackbut electro).

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Effective Protest: A Step-by-Step Guide

1. Have a good moan about the problem

Sometimes ‘letting it all out’ is the best way of clearing the air and neutralising any negative feelings you have been holding on to. This technique is particularly useful for a variety of symptoms ranging from migraine and bullying work colleagues through to the effects of state-sanctioned torture and imminent civil war.

This being noted, be wary all the same that you are not simply projecting a negative frame of mind onto others – is the problem really ‘out there’, or is it not perhaps merely a projection of your own exasperating insecurities?

Ensure that others are likely to be sympathetic – it is important to pick either those who will empathise with your psychosomatic condition or who are on the same side in an armed paramilitary struggle. If no-one is available or willing to listen to you whinge then proceed directly to step 2.

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2. Write a strongly worded letter

Surprisingly, even in this age of email, instant messaging and so forth, the presence of the strongly worded letter has not diminished, though it might be added that such letters can also be electronically transmitted these days without in any way diminishing their capacity to be ignored.

Know whom you are addressing – the more clearly you can ‘target’ your letter, the greater the chance of it being read by someone in a position to effect any change you desire – that is of course assuming you really desire any change and don’t just want to moan (in which case go directly back to step 1).

Be sure to open your letter with one of the following:

  • ‘It has lately come to my attention that’
  • ‘I was positively dismayed to find that’
  • ‘Why oh why oh why oh why oh why is it that…’

Before perhaps continuing with one of:

  • ‘The weekly bin collection has been downgraded to once per fortnight’
  • ‘My psoriasis is not in remission like you said it would be’
  • ‘The Zapatista uprising has as yet failed to install universalised agrarian socialism across Chiapas and beyond as an inevitable result of pursuing primarily nonviolent and so ultimately counterrevolutionary valencies of resistance’

And signing off with one of the following:

  • ‘Outraged of [insert postal town]’
  • ‘Outraged of [insert age] years standing’
  • ‘Outraged just like [insert emoticon]’

If you don’t have access to paper or computer or if you are just too irate to compose such a letter then proceed directly to step 3.

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3. Organise

If you too feel that a problem shared is a problem halved, then why not go further and gather lots of people to reduce the fractional problem even more? Though it is best to make sure you don’t end up with such numbers of people as would lead to an irrational numerical result as this can be mentally cumbersome and time-consuming to write down prior to rounding.

Put simply, the concept of ‘organising’, in the political sense, gives the political sense of the concept (For example I personally find that good organisation can help significantly reduce the time taken to perform a range of household chores, so shaving minutes off the morning routine.)

With this in mind, you may like to try your hand at organising such events as:

  • Group therapeutic counselling
  • Church bring-and-buy (or bric-a-brac)
  • Neo-Maoist insurrection/full-scale coup d’état

The best way of recruiting people is via a strongly worded letter (go back to step 2). However if you are either socially reticent in certain situations where you feel your self-esteem may be easily eroded by dominant peers, or else hell-bent on solo martyrdom then proceed directly to step 4.

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4. Picket

Picketing can be a very effective means of drawing attention towards a cause. It is also something which can be organised (go back to step 3).

You may like to start your picket outside your own home, in which case it is very important that you do not go back in it again and that you tell any other co-habitants to do the same. If you cohabit alone however you may wish to publicly give the instruction to yourself so that any passers-by can take notice.

After this you should stake out any other locations for protest. If the cause of your complaint is neuralgic or sciatic in nature then you should choose the surgery of your registered GP or local orthopaedic specialist; if it pertains to your creeping sense of unfulfilment then you should choose the homes of either a more successful co-worker or your newly remarried ex-wife, and if it pertains to outrage or mock-outrage at the ‘state the world is in’ then you should simply host a news talk show.

When picketing it is a very good idea to hand out flyers with bold and clear messages. Suggested templates are:


With such procedures in place you can undoubtedly expect a very large turnout. However if no-one attends then it is best to proceed directly to stage 5.

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5. Self-immolate

It should be underlined that this step should only be undertaken once all other avenues have been exhausted and proven unsuccessful. If you find the fact that all your efforts so far have been completely in vain is somewhat frustrating, then you might like to consider pursuing options such as having a good moan or writing a strongly worded letter, in which case go back to steps 1 or 2 as appropriate.

If however you find that you are not too concerned about all this and that you are managing to maintain either a brave face or genuinely sunny disposition in light of your lack of success, then it will probably be most appropriate to proceed directly to self-immolation.

For this task it is important first to have a clear message that can be left behind long after your ashes have been swept away. For this reason it is best to write in permanent marker and avoid storing the message on your person prior to ignition. You may find it best to have it at the end of a long stick that can be retrieved by spectators or tourists prior to its becoming too charred. A useful guide to composing such a message can be found above in the section regarding writing a strongly worded letter.

The ingredients you will need are as follows:

  • 10,000 ml / 350 fl. oz. combustible of your choosing
  • Lighter or (preferably) safety matches
  • Carbon-based organism precisely matching your own DNA structure

Following ignition, you may wish to utter a last cry in anguish such as ‘Please refer to the leaflets at the back of the hall for any further information’, and if you feel like adding a poetic flourish you could try adding a final signoff in any one of the Romance languages, such as memento incendia! (‘remember the fire’).

If for any reason your attempt proves to be unsuccessful it is strongly advised that you have a jolly good moan, in which case go back to stage 1 and start over.