Friday, May 20, 2011

How Flash Mobs and Lady Gaga are Energizing Protests for Palestine

Today's Alternet article on BDS Flash Mobs features US Campaign member groups St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, Adalah-NY, and CodePink, illustrating "how enthusiasm and new media can drum up power."

By Kiera Feldman
May 19, 2011

BDS Flash mob in New York's Grand Central Station. Photo: Bud Korotzer.
Not long before Christmas, in a Best Buy in a St. Louis mall, 86-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein performed a synchronized song-and-dance number to the tune of “Telephone,” rocking black pants and a turtleneck in lieu of Lady Gaga's metal-studded bra and crotch cover. Epstein, along with a cohort of mostly young women, urged the bewildered holiday shoppers to “hang up on Motorola,” a company that sells Israel surveillance equipment used in the Occupation. "Aiding in apartheid and being sneaky/tell us what you're doing with your technology," they sang.

On YouTube, the Lady Gaga parody became something of an instant classic in a small but burgeoning activist video genre. “I had always wanted to be a part of a flash mob,” explained coordinator and co-lyricist/choreographer Banan Ead, a 32-year-old Palestinian-American, remembering the fad’s heyday a good half-decade ago.

Flash mobs were the pre-YouTube brainchild of former Harper’s editor Bill Wasik. In June 2003, an email invite brought 200 people to a Manhattan Macy’s, where they converged around a giant carpet, telling clerks they lived together in a commune and were shopping for a “love rug.” Soon, flash mobs were like Starbucks: everywhere. Wasik had set out to make a grand joke of hipster conformity, calling his creation “an empty meditation on emptiness.” While the original flash mob was essentially an apolitical situation comedy, today it is enjoying a revival as a movement builder.

The cause is Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS), a non-violent, Palestinian-led movement inspired by the campaign against Apartheid South Africa. Launched in 2005 by a call from Palestinian civil society groups, in the wake of the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, BDS is gaining traction both globally and within Israel.