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Collective Joy = How to Harness the Power of #Occupy for Your Nonprofit Cause

If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution -Emma Goldman

Protest Puppet from Paris: Image copyright 0olong from Flickr

Protest Puppet from Paris: Image copyright 0olong from Flickr

What Barbara Erhenreich AND the Occupy Movement are teaching me is that we need to take the collective expression of protest around the world and have a dance-off.



What does your cause need next?




Big puppets!


Why would you want to make people dance and sing around your very serious cause?

Because there is power in collective joy. There is power in celebration. Resistance is not about drudgery and speeches. It’s about a spiral dance, a circle dance, facepainting, big puppets, and changing the world one square at a time. Getting everyone to dance together.

Here’s a video from

Barbara Erhenreich wrote a book called “Dancing in the Streets: The Power of Collective Joy”

Dancing in the Streets by Barbara Ehrenreich

Dancing in the Streets by Barbara Ehrenreich

In it, she goes into detail about the collective joy, feast days, festivities from prehistoric times to the Greeks, the Romans, the 14th Century Europeans to modern-day sports fans.

From Laura Barcella’s interview with Barbara Ehrenreich on Alternet

“We are a very social species. I was reading about it for months and months, but came across this universal pattern of ecstatic rituals — it’s hard to think of any society that doesn’t have them. They all seem to feature these ingredients of costuming, dancing, masking, face/body painting, feasting … techniques that people in widely different cultures have used to generate joy. Why have we got so few [ecstatic rituals] today?

In a nutshell, generalizing over many cultures and times, these sorts of activities have been suppressed by elites — according to class, race, gender — because the [rituals] came to be seen as disruptive, subversive and even dangerous. They were seen as antithetical to the social discipline that came to be expected by mass society.

Class and issues of power are a huge part of this. In the Caribbean in the 19th century, carnival would be a huge part of slaves’ revolts.”

Ms. Erhenreich says of her research:

“I concluded that ecstatic rituals were a cure for depression — you can see that in many cultures. An example of a culture that uses it as a cure is some North Africans — if a woman were to take to her bed and become depressed, family would call in a zar healer who would bring in musicians and healers to engage in days and nights of ecstatic dancing, and soon the woman would get up and join. Some cultures would see this as a cure for melancholy. We do drugs instead, both antidepressants and illegal drugs.

We have never lost the capacity for collective joy. It’s part of our nature. But if you look at how little we get to exercise it … if we compare ourselves to the French in the 14th century, with Saint’s Days and this huge calendar of festivities, we just don’t do it very much, if at all.

This [lack of festivities] represents a triumph of the powerful, and their idea that you have to work all the time. This is a recent [development]. Historically, peasants worked when they had to, when they had to plant or harvest. When they didn’t have to work, they worked on having a good time — planning festivities, costumes, dance steps; great expressions of human creativity.”

When I worked at a women’s shelter, one other staff member and I put together a festival. I was in charge of facepainting, as well as bilingual English/Spanish postcards about the event, put in bodegas around the rural county where we worked.

She got people to translate and sing in Spanish and Russian, there was a farmer’s market, and booths from other nonprofits providing services in the area. We even had music and dancing!

Since we worked at a shelter for survivors of domestic violence, we were used to working hard and being serious. It was such a joy to put together a festival and get people dancing together and draw the community together around this change.

Maybe you’ve experienced this too, when you organized a gala for your nonprofit?

Do you feel like organizing a festival now?


US Scamalot Puppet From Clay and Paper Theater on Flickr

How can progressives use collective joy to help motivate people and promote our causes?

People who are working for change need to think about how to make their events draw on the solidarity and creativity of lots of people together. That’s been happening … but it’s something we need to address. Bringing art and culture into politics is a way to express what we are seeking, what our vision of the world is.

So go dance with your local occupy protest tonight.

Think of some protest songs for your cause.

Make a big puppet and get the word out to your nonprofit supporters.

Let’s shut down a square! Let’s shut down a street! Write with chalk on the sidewalk! Facepainting and balloons for kids! Live music from your local musicians! Let’s make changing the world part of our cultural tradition of Dancing In The Streets, from prehistory to now!

Want to do this NOW?

How to make a really big puppet head
How to make stilt pants
Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont does this all the time!

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