Fun Fact: One of the earliest stories of nude protest is also linked to one of the earliest tales of voyeurism.
In 11th century Coventry, Lady Godiva was inundated by her subjects complaining about the oppressive taxes imposed by her husband, Leofric. But when she spoke to him, he only agreed to relax the tolls if she rode nude through town. She issued a proclamation that all villagers must stay indoors, as she rode through town. Legend has it that one tailor, Peeping Tom, drilled a hole in his window and watched her pass.
Since then, nude protests have been around in one way or another. In 1902, a religious group known as the Sons of Freedom landed in Saskatchewan. Their choice to not send their children to school didn’t sit well with the government. The governments of Saskatchewan and later British Columbia soon started to charge parents for not sending the children to school.
In protest, the Freedomites demonstrated in public by burning their own money, possessions and parading in large numbers, while stark naked. When arrested, they would also go on hunger strikes in continued protest. That just shows that even peaceful protests can still land you in jail.
But even now, nudity seems to be the fastest way to get exposure. From Ukraine to Russia to California to Nigeria, protesters are getting their kit off for a cause, and they claim they achieve more while protesting naked. FEMEN say they went from wearing brightly colored clothes, carrying flags and being unnoticed in 2008, to going topless and grabbing headlines in 2010.
But not all peaceful protests involve nudity; people have voice dissatisfaction by splashing politicians with custard, barricading roads with manure, scaling buildings then strapping themselves in etc. We’ll look at ten laid-back protests and see if they really worked.
10. Brighton, England (2014)
Objective: Protest the discrimination against a lesbian couple by the store’s security guards.
Method of Protest: Using Facebook to spread the word, 1,400 people agree to show up at the store on October 15, and hold a ‘Big Kiss In’. Around 700 people turned up with placards and signs proclaiming LGBT equality.
The store defused a potentially difficult situation by offering everyone cookies and water. They also allowed the event to take place in the aisles of the store. Participants spent time milling around, kissing and taking pictures to post on social media.
Results: Sainsbury’s apologized for the incident, donated to a local LGBTQ charity and promised to update the equality and diversity training their staff were given.
9. Washington DC (1967)
Objective: Demand the withdrawal of the United States army from operations in Vietnam.
Method of Protest: On October 21st 1967, over 250, 000 people marched down Pennsylvania Avenue and attended an antiwar rally at the Washington Monument. The group then marched towards the Pentagon where they were met by 2,500 Army troops wielding M-14 guns. The soldiers tried to force them back, but protesters groups stood their ground, mere inches from the gun barrels.
Fully embracing the peace ethos, one of the activists, George Harris stuck a carnation in the barrel of the gun pointed at him. At another end of the crowd, Jan Rose Kasmir was doing something similar, holding on to a daisy as she gazed defiantly at the soldiers.
Results: While the march didn’t halt all American involvement in the Vietnam war, the event and exposure of the ‘Flower Power’ served as a springboard for the counter-culture that symbolized the 70’s.
8. London, England (2015)
Objective: Protesters against the proposed Psychoactive Substances Bill.
Method of Protest: Protesters planned a mass inhalation of laughing gas outside the Houses of Parliament at exactly 3pm on August 1st. Using Facebook to spread the word, the organizers, The Psychedelic Society, rallied over 1,500 invitees. While only around 100 people showed up, the event went ahead as planned, with the participants huffing from their balloons at the set time. The low turnout was made up for by the amount of press that turned up at the event.
Results: While not meant to be a really serious protest, it was used to show up the UK’s draconian attitudes to drugs.
7. Sarnia, Canada (2009)
Objective: Protest supposed surveillance by the USA, using a high-tech Aerostat balloon
Method of Protest: Mooning of the balloon by 200 protesters as it passed their section of the Canadian-US border. On the event’s Facebook page, 1,500 people signified interest, but only 500 showed up. The balloon was reportedly equipped with a $1-million camera that could read a ship’s name from 14 km away. There were mixed feelings to the protest, with some residents citing laws that prohibited indecent exposure in a public place.
Results: Hard to tell, as the balloon didn’t even fly that day. It had been damaged in a storm a week before and was still undergoing repairs. I guess it’s the principle that counts.
6. Östersund, Sweden (2014)
Objective: Stall the deportation of an Iranian national.
Method of Protest: Due to a quirk in immigration law, Ghader Ghalamere could only apply for a residence permit from outside the country. This was despite the fact that he was married to a Swedish resident and had two sons with her. Before the flight departed, Ghalamere’s family and friends explained his situation to his fellow passengers. The story moved many of them and when they all boarded, they simply refused to fasten their seat belts. The pilot couldn’t take off and after a while, the flight was canceled. Ghalamere was taken off the plane and back to a detention center.
Results: The incident led to the Swedish government allowing Ghalamere to submit a new application.
5. Lima, Peru (2000)
Objective: Thwart the re-election bid of President Alberto Fujimori.
Method of Protest: Peruvian women gathered in Lima to symbolically “wash” the country’s flag of the dirty politics it had become associated with. The President was accused of abuse of power and launching attacks on his political opponents. The passive-aggressive protest went on for seven weeks till he was implicated in a major corruption scandal.
Results: He fled to Tokyo, from where he infamously tried to resign via fax message. He was on the run till 2005 when he was caught in Chile and extradited back to Peru. He was tried and jailed for 25 years in 2009.
4. England (200os)
The UK collective, Fathers 4 Justice has had their fair share of run-ins with the law. Luckily, most of their stunts result in only minor charges and a release within hours. This is because almost all their protests involve dressing up as super heroes, priests or Santa Claus and disrupting any live proceedings they can get into.
Objective: Their main objective has been to draw attention to the unfair paternity laws in the UK, but lately, they’ve started to protest what they call an “anti-male agenda”.
Methods of Protest: There are too many to count, so we’ll look at three; in 2004, one member scaled the walls of Buckingham Palace, crept on a ledge and just stood there for FIVE hours. In 2012, they held a naked protest in the Oxford Street branch of Marks and Spencer. In 2013, a member defaced a portrait of the Queen that was created for the Diamond Jubilee.
Results: In many instances, the members are released without charge, but the media circus they always attract means more people hear their message.
3. Moscow, Russia (2013)
Objective: Protest the plan by the state to ban “gay propaganda” and one that recommended fines for “promoting” homosexuality among minors.
Method of Protest: Up to 30 LGBT activists turned up and posed for photographs in front of the Russian State Duma building. The activists made sure to ham it up for supporters of the bill who were around at the time. They kissed, hugged and waved placards declaring that day “Kissing Day.”
Results: The peaceful protest turned violent when the LGBT activists were attacked by Christian Orthodox activists who punched them and pelted them with eggs and ketchup.
The fights were broken up by the police and the crowds dispersed.
2. Bristol, England (2012)
Objective: Protest a nursing mother being asked to leave a cafe because she was breastfeeding.
Method of Protest: When Kelly Schaecher was told to leave the Park Street Cafe, for suckling her baby in public, the word soon spread round Bristol. Branding themselves lacticvisits and mother-suckers, 200 breastfeeding moms rallied together on Facebook and marched to the cafe. Escorted by policemen on horseback, the mums called the staffers bluff by coming there specifically to breastfeed.
Results: The manager apologized for the misunderstanding and even put up a sign in the cafe window, saying breastfeeding is welcome.
1. Telford, England (2015)
Objective: Raise awareness about the low prices farmers are paid to produce milk.
Methods of Protest: When major milk processors slashed the price, farmers decided they’d had enough. At that time, they were paid 24p per liter, which didn’t even cover the cost of production of 28p. To protest, farmers started to blockade supermarkets across the country. They’d arrive as early as possible and proceeded to buy up EVERY pint of milk available. And what did they do next? They gave it all away to shoppers!
The milk processors claim the demand for milk had reduced leading to an oversupply in the UK.
Result: Both parties are currently in talks to figure a mutually beneficial agreement.