IN PRAISE OF CHALK

We have written this because everyone talks about strategy and not enough of us talk about tactics. At best one hears discussions about broad classes of tactics “mass tactics” versus “insurrectionary tactics- essentially this is just another strategic discussion (though necessary). When tactics are spoken of, they are often discussed in an apolitical manner, in DIY guides or lists of creative action ideas. This short paper considers the political strengths of the tactics of chalking, most especially at rallies.

We are often told that there is a complex dialectical relation between form and content. It is said that it is naive to claim that a form essentially has a particular content.

This may be! Where is the tactic or stratagem that hasn’t been used by the enemy as well? Where is the organisational form, however, democratic or pre-figurative, which has not been adopted by some business or bourgeoisie think tank somewhere?

Nonetheless, to claim that organisational form is neutral is to commit the opposite mistake. Form may not determine content, but it’s pretty bloody important.

One notable thing about going to a rally, demonstration or protest is that it usually involves being talked at. There is most typically a pre-established speaking list, with little or minimal flexibility. There is the voice of those with something to impart, and the ears of Those Who Must Have Words Battered Against Them. In this sense it mirrors the worst excesses of authoritarian education structures.

Just like the lecture, the rally may be unavoidable in our present circumstances. But during recent struggles at Sydney University we have discovered a solution to allow everyone a voice without mere cacophony.

Just hand them a piece of chalk. Give everyone chalk. Take a bucket of the stuff and pass it around. Have a few prearranged militants start, so as to give everyone else a visual explanation of what the chalkstick you’ve put in their hand is for.

I don’t know what prices are like where you live, but here you can get a bucket for two dollars if you shop smart (you can also make your own- a simple recipe needing simple supplies). I don’t know what laws are like where you live, but here chalk generally isn’t considered graffiti because it washes off. This isn’t a DIY guide, but I do have one tip, wet the chalk before the rally- it last longer and goes on more nicely.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as writing obscenities on a politician or manager’s door.

Upon giving out chalk we found that the result was a beautiful (make sure to bring cameras!) multi-coloured symphony of slogans, symbols and etchings. Many who find rallies alienating no longer felt like spectators, but as agents.

Our engravings persisted both physically (for it takes a while to organise a wash off) and electronically. Our photographs looked better than dull snaps of protestors walking in a line.

“Expression” is rarely a static reporting our thoughts, but participates in their creation; any writer can tell you this. Many of those who hover between reform and radicalism seem to find a radical voice when given a stick of chalk and a wall. The most notable moment was one young man who wrote ACAB, and relayed afterwards that it was in the moment of writing it that he had become satisfied of its truth. We have since experimented several times and the result is similar.

The fear of arrest is greatly lesser than that engendered by the spray can. The liberal’s cries are quieter or non-existent. Dozens or even hundreds create a mural of their own desires. With ease we act beyond the ropes of any Trotskyist or Reformist who would seek to make the event an endless repetition of their message or line. Let chalk etch, scrawl and scrub, long live colour, long live the power of the people!

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About timothyscriven

I study philosophy at Sydney University. In the grand scheme, I'm not very important.
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