Only dead fish go with the flow – INTRODUCING How to Make Trouble and Influence People

HowToMakeTrouble-BLF

Welcome to the collected and expanded edition of How To Make Trouble and Influence People. For over a decade this series of books and pamphlets has focused on how generations of Australian troublemakers have moved beyond political inertia to push the boundaries of “acceptable” protest. As a result, the publications have not only included tales of pranks and hoaxes designed to humiliate the rich and powerful and illuminate the rest of us, but also creative and comedic graffiti, posters, placards and other protest ephemera. Similarly tactics and strategies, like strikes, that may have been relatively common for one group of Australians at a particular time and place have been shown to be creatively subversive when used in a different context, say by high-school students or in solidarity with those struggling against Apartheid in South Africa.

The first volume of this series came out in 1996 as an 80-page, self-published zine documenting and celebrating Australian political pranking and creative direct action. How To Make Trouble and Influence People proved to be a modest success and in 1998 ABC radio produced a documentary and website using the title. The zine was reprinted a number of times by anarchist collective Scam Publications before spawning two sequels, How To Stop Whining And Start Living in 1999 and Revenge Of The Troublemaker in 2003. A collection of more in-depth essays, Disturbing The Peace: Tales From Australia’s Rebel History, was also published in 2005 as an adjunct to the original series.

With material for a fourth volume piling up Tom Sevil and Lou Smith from Breakdown Press came on board, agreeing to assist not only with design, publication and editing, but also with sourcing new material, mainly photographs and images, via their own networks. Since all of the earlier publications were long out of print we decided to bring together the best material from the first three books along with hundreds of new listings and graphics. The material on Aotearoa/New Zealand which appeared in the first publication, has been put aside for a separate volume, also the chapters from Disturbing The Peace have not been included here, but the book is available in PDF form via www.howtomaketroubleandinfluencepeople.org.

Covering a wide gamut of seditious political acts, from Indigenous guerrilla resistance to anti-uranium blockades and Critical Mass bike rides, this collected and expanded edition provides a potted, although far from detailed, history of Australian radical politics from the colonial era onwards. It is informed by a commonly held belief on the Left that social progress does not emanate from the pronouncements of “enlightened” politicians, but instead derives from grassroots resistance to inequality and discrimination. Today’s troublemakers may understandably feel isolated and overwhelmed, but they are not the first to find themselves in such a position. History is filled with individuals and organisations who were totally out of step with the mainstream of their time, but whose ideas around racism, gender, sexuality and workers’ rights eventually found some level of acceptance, if not success.

In learning about the deeds of rebels past, we are provided with a memory bank of ideas and tactics from which to draw. These tales and images also serve to remind us that political activity need not be a predictable and grim slog. As well-resourced as our opponents may be, they are vulnerable to the use of creativity, solidarity and humour. Indeed, these are often the only tools we have.

Another major factor originally pushing me towards researching and writing about Australian radical history was a cultural cringe that I encountered when I first got involved in a variety of activist scenes during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many of us seemed to know more about the revolutionary history of Spain or Russia than we knew about Australia, and our strategies and ideas, and even our fashion sense, were often based on movements that were happening tens of thousands of kilometres from where we were. Now there is nothing wrong with showing solidarity and taking a broad view, but I believe that it is vital that we understand our own history and traditions if we are to make a difference in the country where we live. I’m hardly the first person to assert this and there are plenty of great books about Australia’s radical history, but the fact that many important struggles remain largely forgotten continues to spur me on.

To more widely disseminate knowledge that would otherwise have remained buried within the realms of academia, and in the memories of those who lived it, the summaries and quotes in the original books, and this new one, have deliberately been presented in what I hope is an accessible, yet thought-provoking format. The listings have also been presented non-chronologically in order to illustrate the diversity of Australian political action over two centuries, as well as reveal otherwise hidden continuities.

Much of the material contained in this collection and its predecessors has been gleaned from interviews and stories passed on by friends and acquaintances, as well as from publications found in radical collections such as those located at the Collective of Self Help Groups, Jura Books, Barricade Infoshop, Melbourne Resistance Centre, Perth Anarchist Library and Loophole Community Centre. Many hours have also been spent in more formal state, university and local libraries poring over activist publications and the work of labour historians. Websites such as the Indymedia family and EngageMedia.org, and the occasional anonymous submission by email, have further assisted the research process.

Although a myriad of Australian researchers and writers have helped inform and inspire this series (many of whom can be found in the bibliography) two overseas influences deserve special mention — the late UK situationist Larry Law and his Buffo booklet and the original San Franciscan ReSearch group with their Pranks tome. Like the former, I have compiled a number of accounts covering a wide range of incendiary activities. As with the latter, this edition includes for the first time, a series of dialogues with well-known, and not-so-well known, creative activists. These interviews cover the history and modus operandi of a variety of campaigns, groups and individuals in greater depth than a simple summary would otherwise allow. They also include dialogues with popular entertainers Chris Taylor (from The Chaser) and John Safran, both of whom, while not activists themselves, have demonstrated how a critical and mischievous approach to issues and public figures can be thought-provoking and subversive.

In the end, of course, the main inspiration for a book like this remains the people documented within it, those who continue to work (and play) towards a more sustainable, ethical and fulfilling society. As the old saying goes “Keep on swimming against the stream, only dead fish go with the flow.”

– Iain McIntyre, 2009.

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