John Jordan, Jennifer Verson, Zoe Young, Matthew Trevelyan, Hilary Ramsden, and several others are here—we are all looking for a way to forge our eclectic skills and varied radical politics into a farcical phalanx of red-nosed resistance to corporate globalization, to deploy disruptively at corporate, state, and other political events. Our first deployment will be during the upcoming state visit of George “Dubya” Bush to the British Queen, against which there will be massive protests in London. We want to bring an army of clowns to the protest to add a flavor of “serious play” to the action.
We are a motley combination of leftist performance artists, professional clowns seeking radicalization, progressive military veterans who know drill maneuvers, and non-theatrical comrades hoping to find some joyful action to heal the burnout that hardcore activists always face. This first gathering is playful and messy as we experiment and share skills and make mock-military banners…
We are cohering as a group. In the next series of meetings, in parks, in backyards, wherever we can: We train. We riff. We skill-share. We improvise. We develop our clown personae, with bouffon-style deformities. We make banners and costumes in conversational sewing circles that, we later reflect, are a vital part of our group cohesion-formation.
In a series of actions over the next two years, we develop our schtick.
In our first action, we march all over London in the protests against Dubya’s visit to the Queen, pulling a cannon and caisson carrying pink pretzels, a perhaps tasteless allusion to Bush having recently choked on a pretzel. The media is attracted to us. National Public Radio asks me/my clown, Colonel Oftruth, why we are there. “He’s the wrong kind of clown!” I heartily exclaim. We fire our pink pretzels with great aplomb, and very little range or velocity, at corporate buildings.
We protest at some events to call attention to the unknown, like a corporate-state meeting in London to divide up the resources and markets of occupied Iraq. In Leeds, we swarm a military recruitment center, eager to enlist, or rather to get the recruiters to enlist in our army. The recruitment center, in response to the ridiculous disruption, shuts down for the day. This clown-enlistment tactic is repeated later in Oakland, California, and the recruitment center there shuts down in response as well.
When one of us is arrested, we decorate the front of the police station festively and celebrate, refusing intimidation, until they are released. Due to structural and state racism, this only works in the UK, not the US, and only if almost all of the clowns are white-presenting.
The clown says “yipee!” We train and warm up so that our bodies and hearts and minds are dilated and delighted—even in the face of armored riot police or corporate security.
A Few Discoveries in the Praxis of Clownfrontational Tactics
The clown says “yipee!” We train and warm up so that our bodies and hearts and minds are dilated and delighted—even in the face of armored riot police or corporate security. This is exhausting after a few hours.
The clown is loving. We do not disrupt the actions of others with a different aesthetic. When we come upon a candlelight vigil or a die-in, we slowly and silently back away and go play with others.
The clown is open, spontaneous. The clown agrees: “Yes, and!” One makes a suggestion—“Let’s all find the hypotenuse! Let’s all find the weapons of mass destruction! Let’s all find our cousin Ronald!”—and the others follow.
The clown is wonderfully over-obedient! “You’re right, officer, it is outrageous that my pants are down,” the clown says, holding their arms straight out and doggedly attempting the impossible: trying to jump into their own pants held out at chest level. “This is an outrage! My pants are IN THE WRONG PLACE!” The clown jumps again, fails again. (This lazzo, or routine, was improvised in front of the police by Matt Trevelyan.)
The clown uses the terrain. A speed bump becomes an insurmountable obstacle that requires the help of passersby to overcome; the tolling of a city’s main clock tower, or the firing of its cannons, is our signal that the Queen supports us. We arrive at the copse of trees approaching the palace. We begin to use the forest as cover, which only calls more attention to us, crawling in technicolor fluffy uniforms through the fallen leaves to sneak up on the palace. As if we were camouflaged. Hiding behind very small objects! A leaf! A pen! An idea!