Ever since there was government oppression there has been public dissent. Though modern media likes to display the actions of protesters who are aggressive and inconsiderate, such news coverage gives the average American citizen an inaccurate portrait of a social dissident. People have been protesting in non-violent, peaceful ways for centuries. Some more common strategies used are mock elections, flags/symbolic colors, destruction of one’s own personal property, wearing symbols, portrait displays and prayer and worship.
In portrait displays, a portrait of a famous person in power is altered to indicate public dissent. One such example of this was in 1962, when the people painted a rope around the neck of a portrait of Walter Ulbricht. Perhaps one of the most taboo forms of non-violent action, and therefore perhaps one of the most effective, is protest disrobing. Protest disrobing is the public removal of garb to express religious disapproval or political dissent. In the 1600’s, during the Quaker invasion of Massachusetts Bay Company, a woman named Lydia Wardel walked into a church and promptly removed all of her clothes in protest.
Another infamous protest disrobing took place in British Columbia on May 28, 1968. On this highly memorable day, several women whose husbands were awaiting trial for terrorist acts strolled right into the Prime Minister’s meeting only to drop trou. This form of protest was quite popular among the Sons of Freedom sect of British Columbia, Canada, who held nearly uncountable nude parades. Even in the not-so-distant past, protest disrobing has been used as a tactic to demonstrate anti-government and anti-war sentiments.
As recently as the anti-war movement of the 1960’s, students have participated in protest disrobing. On February 5, 1969, students from Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa made a bold display during a speech being given by a Playboy Magazine representative. Students walked into the conference hall only to completely disrobe and then declare that this non-violent action was in protest of Playboy Magazine’s encouragement of the sensationalism of sex. Perhaps the television and radio shows of modern times are a bit more explicit about sexuality and nudity than would have at one time in history been considered appropriate.
However, most people still find it quite shocking when a passionate protester removes his or her clothing in a highly official setting. Protest disrobing combines the value of shock with a very real reminder of the protester’s humanity, an effective combination for being heard that does not utilize inflicting harm unto others. In these ways, protest disrobing is a non-violent action that has been used by compassionate dissidents for centuries and hopefully that trend will continue.
Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.