Protesters can make an impact and have fun, too

Marni Halasa harpooning Elliot Crown as King Trump at the 2017 Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. Photo by Roland Marconi

 

 

Marni Halasa is a lawyer, journalist, activist and performance artist, and the founder of Revolution Is Sexy, a one-stop shop for activists, groups and organizations needing advice and counseling on how to stage protests that attract the attention of mainstream media. Halasa, who was active in Occupy Wall Street, was an editor for the book “Occupy Finance,” which educated the wider public about the 2008 financial crisis. A native of Akron, Ohio, she came to New York City after getting her law degree to attend Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and work as a reporter and editor for the New York Law Journal. Currently, she is a figure-skating coach at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers. Here Halasa shares some tips with The Villager on how to protest while also being sexy and fun.

Q: What is the best protest advice you can give a newly ordained resister?

A: You don’t have to pull a Howard Beale, the TV anchor in the 1976 movie “Network,” and scream that infamous phrase about being “mad as hell” out your window. But you do have to take that anger to the streets. Whether you piggyback onto an already existing protest or organize your own, get out into the street and make some serious noise. And before you do, organize a strategy, publicize your demands, alert the media and then invite everyone you know.

Democracy begins with mass movements. And citizen-led uprisings — from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to Climate Justice — are steadily paving the way for policies to change, catapulting ideas that transform society into the national conversation.

Signing petitions, calling Congress and tweeting also have value, but they are no substitute for the power of concerned citizens on the street with a clear demand on the right side of history.

Q: Why do you dress up in elaborate costumes to protest? Is it worth all that effort?

A: I don’t know if this stems from being raised in a household of immigrant tiger parents pushing me toward a career in corporate law since birth — but when I get pissed, I dress up: a wearable display of pink flamingos to combat global warming, a tutu made of fake money to pressure Trump into releasing his taxes, and a sassy leopard costume with long red nails to scratch our president’s fat face for crimes of sexual harassment.

Marni Halasa in her “Oceans Have No Walls” getup at the 2016 Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Photo by Gene Kennish

Bigger is better in terms of getting your message heard, though, admittedly, it’s not glamorous hauling props up subway stairs. But, in the end, when large banks admit they moved their shareholder meetings outside New York City because you embarrassed them, or when a hedge-fund manager jumps on the bandwagon to lobby about the inequity of the carried-interest rate in Congress, it’s all worth it.

Don’t think that putting your energies out into the universe doesn’t have an effect. It does.

Q: Have you ever been arrested?

A: I have not been arrested, but I often have a tinge of anxiety when the desire to morph into a butterfly comes calling. In 2013, I was given a summons by the New York Police Department for impeding pedestrian traffic wearing 6-foot-high wings made from Chinese kites affixed to reams of diaphanous pink chiffon. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon at a virtually empty Zuccotti Park. There were few pedestrians around. I was an easy target.

At the hearing, the judge promptly dismissed the summons. And although the experience can make for a fun story at a cocktail party, don’t be fooled — grown men with stellar credentials in law enforcement can still feel threatened by a woman with wings. Some political forces keep chipping away at the First Amendment, making it harder for citizens to express dissent in public.

Q: What was your more memorable protest experience?

A: One of my favorites was helping a group of young Brooklyn teens stage a protest about wage inequality with the Alternative Banking Group’s “Occupy Summer School.” On the street, the girls wore red T-shirts, choreographed a dance to Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls),” and sold muffins to women for 77 cents and to men for $1 dollar.

A more recent favorite was a stint crashing the White House Correspondents Dinner. Working with political puppeteer Elliot Crown, we crashed the reception as King Trump and sidekick Miss Mar-a-Lago, posing for photos for the journalists since President Trump refused to attend the event. We danced and pirouetted out the doors of the Sheraton, escorted by D.C. police, while reporters clapped in applause.

Q: What’s on the horizon for you?

A: Talking to community groups and children about how to protest and have a voice in politics. I also recently moderated a panel at the Left Conference, the largest national conference of left activists, about how activists can get media attention for their protests. I am also writing a book that will hopefully pass along the reins and inspire others to become more politically active. And, yes, I am thinking of running for political office!

For more about Halasa, visit www.revolutionissexy.com.

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