How the 99 percent do book releases: Andrew Boyd engages brass bands, beer, gospel singing, and street fighting at party
11:35 am Apr. 6, 2012
Author, protester, and prankster Andrew Boyd’s skill at organizing social movements is obvious; he is also good at organizing parties.
Thursday night, he celebrated the release of his new book, Beautiful Trouble (OR Books), at DUMBO’s Powerhouse Arena. A “Toolbox for Revolution,” the book collects contributions from dozens of activists describing the techniques of “creative protest”—the combination of performance and politics employed by groups like the Yes Men, Code Pink, and Billionaires for Bush. Tactics listed include “Flash Mob” and “Banner Hang”; principles include “Choose Your Target Wisely”; theories include “Society of the Spectacle.”
As guests arrived, Boyd was the slight figure helping move benches into place and greeting everyone with hugs. His mom, tiny and white-haired, was one of the first people seated. She wore a bright red beret.
John Oakes of OR Books opened the festivities by commending contributors on their hard work under the “generalship—“ He corrected himself. “Capable leadership ... of Andrew Boyd.” Then Boyd took over, scooting a pile of books away from the microphone to free some table space for his beer.
“Don’t want to put the beer on someone else’s book,” he explained.
“Do it!” yelled one woman.
The rest of the audience booed this suggestion. They were, after all, considerate revolutionaries.
Boyd began his remarks by expressing pleasant surprise that the store had let him bring a keg for his party.
“I have never had a beer in my hands in a bookstore,” Boyd said. He liked it.
He told the crowd that one of his favorite things about the book was its structure, a catalog of cross-referenced modules, which helped to create a kind of language and taxonomy. His other favorite thing was the book’s timing. But of course, there was the inevitable “downside of writing a book during a time of revolution”: people tended to be busy making that revolution happen rather than handing in their work on time. His contributors kept asking for extensions so that they could go surround the White House, or serenade Hu Jintao, or project a 99% Bat Signal on buildings.
Boyd asked everyone in the audience who’d contributed to the book to stand, say what they’d written, and name their favorite tool. Favorite tools included “sit-ins,” “my voice,” “my chainsaw,” and “Barack Obama.” Boyd’s co-editor, Dave Oswald Mitchell, said that his favorite tool was a red pen.
Laura Newman, the "deep diva" from the Church of Stop Shopping, sang the book’s table of contents to wrap up the speaking portion of the evening.
“I sing a lot of gospel, but I feel like this is more of an opera,” she said. She sailed through the syllables of “Prefigurative Intervention,” and an audience member helped her out with the pronunciation of “hegemony.”
A table for book signing was scattered with pens and “I [Heart] the 99%” stickers and could seat ten or so contributors at a time. But the crowd’s interest was flighty (horizontality and signed books pair strangely, it turns out) and the table emptied before long.
There were other matters to attend to, like that keg. Boyd was excited about the scale of their investment in beer, as more people had shown than anticipated—250, by one estimate. Boyd’s next order of business was trying to talk a young woman into putting on a SurvivaBall suit so that she could do battle with Unemployment Man. Unemployment Man, Boyd pointed out, was already wearing an orange skin-tight suit beneath his street clothes. The young woman seemed reluctant. The SurvivaBall is an inflatable round suit marketed by the Yes Men to corporations as a climate change protection measure. It is very large.
Meanwhile, a man in a neckerchief led a people’s microphone. “I know there is an afterparty!” he yelled. “That everybody should go to!” But, he added, after the afterparty, they should also come to Union Square—where they could join the Occupy protesters in sleeping outside banks.
The SurvivaBall loomed into view just as Powerhouse prepared to close down the party. The young woman had apparently acquiesced. She descended the steps at the back of the store, her face just visible through a small hole in the big beige orb. The SurvivaBall had two mesh-covered eye-like openings and two rows of nubby legs down its front. It looked like a Pokemon parade balloon. Unemployment Man helped her to navigate the tables of books and the crowd followed her from the store.
Out front, the Greatest Smallest Band played for the party on its way—to the afterparty, but first to a stanchion of the Manhattan Bridge, where The Illuminator van was projecting the 99% signal as well as a short video promoting Beautiful Trouble. The crowd walked quickly, and with greater cohesion and unity than most groups moving from party to bar. The SurvivaBall bobbed along beneath the full moon, the breeze wiggling its folds gently as the woman inside danced to the band.
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