One of my favorite tools for social change is the “short circuit.” Maybe it is because it is so elegant. A “short circuit” is when a protestor applies intellect and creative thinking to “plug” one part of the system into another part of the system and watch them “short themselves out.”
A wonderful way to do this is through private property. The shield of private property is used to excuse so much of the world’s injustice that it has become unassailable. Your right to do as you please with legally purchased property is sacrosanct, and there are few better ways to draw attention to the intensity of your cause than the destruction of your own legal property.
Perhaps the most famous destruction of property in a nonviolent action was the incident when Abbie Hoffman, of the Yippie Movement, threw money from his own pocket onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. This caused a legendary commotion and enshrined the greed of the traders for all time. It is unknown how much money Mr. Hoffman threw, though it was probably about $30. It embarrassed Wall Street so badly that they spent $20,000 to install bulletproof windows and make sure no one could ever do that again. Money is, literally, the abstract essence of the property system. Mr. Hoffman’s inspired act brought two manifestations of the property system together in a symbolic and elegant collision, and changed the world. All it took was $30 and a good idea.
Burning bras and burning flags are famous examples of nonviolent protest through destruction of personal property. They had different effects, though, because they provoked different reactions. The bra burnings of the early women’s rights movement were an unqualified success. They made their point colorfully, safely, and legally. Flag burning evoked a different controversy. It is an unfortunate fact, learned the hard way during the anti-Vietnam War protests, that burning a flag is a disproportionately offensive act to people of limited experience and limited views. Though a flag is only a symbol of a country, available at any hardware store, our culture has conditioned many to view it as a directly aggressive act. As a result, burning flags backfires as often as it is effective.
Careful attention to the symbolism of your actions can make the destruction of your own personal property one of your greatest methods for social change. All it takes is a little money, a little courage, and a great idea.
Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.