Pink Bloque Franchise: How do you feel about people starting other Pink Bloques?

Over the years we've had several requests from people wanting to start their own Pink Bloque. Within the PB there were many different feelings about this. While some of us were fine with it, others of us were worried that our actions or the tactic we developed would be used in a way that we were not sympathetic with [e.g. "The Pink Bloque, Sponsored by Reebok"] and it would be linked to us forever.

While we want to spread the dissent party from Chicago to the east, west, north and south, and have no official policy on other groups starting a Pink Bloque anywhere else, we think that creative resistance should be really creative and should respond to and reflect the local community from which it comes. We don't own this tactic, and we definitely don't own the name, but this is something that we came up with in response to a need for a change within Chicago protest culture. ~Jane Bryan Ball

Are you Code Pink?

Pink was suddenly the hot thing. Department store windows declared pink the new black. Fabolous got away with pale pink threads from head to toe (though he later renounced the color when he felt everyone else was bitin' his style). While the Bloque likes to think its choice of pink preceded (or maybe even fomented) this craze, we do not deny its sweeping extent. The ubiquity of pink as a social force manifested itself to us most frequently in the question, "Hey, are you ladies in Code Pink?" Code Pink is an organization of "women for peace," which originally formed in November 2002 (around the time of the Pink Bloque's one-year birthday) to publicly denounce the war in Iraq. The women and men of Code Pink have since used their pink prowess to oppose multiple injustices through massive protest and non-violent direct action. Their ranks are immense (they are a worldwide organization) and their reach is extensive (they even have their own tea!). Though we collaborated with Code Pink at the RNC 2004 in NYC, we are not an affiliate or subsidiary. We are different because popular culture and spontaneous and choreographed dance form the core of our creative resistance. ~Amanda Parris

How did people become members of the Pink Bloque?

There never was just one Pink Bloque. Over the course of the Bloque's life, members came and went, with new faces and dance moves stepping in when old members moved on or moved away. Although folks were often under the impression that the Pink Bloque was a tight group of friends from the outset, many members of the group had never even met until attending an open meeting or becoming involved. As a result, we were made up of friends of friends, acquaintances and ladies who simply liked our style--all wanting a chance to rock the hot pink camel toe sweatpants. We were a diverse group, with members spanning professions and interests from preschool teacher to dominatrix.

There was often discussion of growing the Pink Bloque into a group larger than our standard ten to twelve, but we could not get away from the reality that if coordinating meetings and dance practices with ten members was a challenge, what would it be like with 25 or more? Would we ever realize our dream of sewing breakaway pants for each member? Ultimately, we decided to keep it small, holding open meetings as necessary, with meetings going anywhere from throwing attendees headfirst into dance practice to having structured roundtable discussions where we handed out press kits, showed our video and broke down our newest dance moves.

The smallness of the Pink Bloque allowed us to form a tight bond. Our dynamic, though not always perfect, worked for us. With each new member the Bloque gained a new skill, and members who had left often still participated from other states. Some were present from the beginning while others stayed on as little as two weeks. Seeing each other as often as once or twice per week for two to three years, at meetings and dance practices, on the road in vans and marching through the streets of different cities, we ended up friends even though some started out as strangers. ~Anne Dienethal

BLACK IS THE NEW BLOC: What is your relationship to the black bloc?

You have seen them before: Black-clad masked protesters lined up in the streets looking almost as intimidating as the hundreds of riot cops ready to beat them down. They are Black Blocers. A "bloc" is technically a group of nations, parties, or persons united for common action. Black Blocs are a group or groups of people who get together, wear the common outfits [all black!] and attend street protests. They have common political ideals [many Black Blocers are Anarchists] and have agreed upon a set of risks and actions they are prepared to take on the street. Sound familiar?

Black Blocs do not represent a set politic. Rather, when a group of people gathers to form a Black Bloc it is a tactical move that has good reasoning behind it. Black Blocs became common sights during the anti-globalization protests in Europe in the 1980s, as activists sought new ways to resist police violence and oppression during street protests. Black Blocs gained notoriety in the US after 1999's anti-WTO protests in Seattle because the mainstream media represented them as unruly anarchists who hid their faces as they hurled bricks through corporate coffee shop windows. But it is unfair to say that Black Blocs are just out to fuck shit up.

People wear all black for many of the reasons that the Pink Bloque wears all pink. Aesthetically, the spectacle is amazing. Despite what you may have felt at the prom, sometimes it is cool to have a bunch of people show up wearing the same outfit. It shows solidarity and makes people see they are a part of a group that has their back. Covering one's face may seem like a shiesty, sneaky thing to do, but when one is at a protest and the cops are trying to profile you, put you in a database, or otherwise try to spray teargas in your face just because you want to take up space in the streets, covering up is a smart move. Black Blocs are mostly notorious for smashing things and fighting cops [and really, is it that common? Don't believe the hype!]. Many Black Blocers explain it as a visible demonstration that all the symbols and agents of corporate capital need to be resisted, and it exemplifies a critique of the valuing of private property over the wellbeing of humanity and the earth. Black Blocs generally do not incite violence--some people think that is what the police do. Rather, they respond to violence with physical defense or offense.

Does the Pink Bloque and the Black Bloc have beef? Heck no! Some of our best friends and supporters are Black Blocers. And we all know wearing all black is always tres chic! The Pink Bloque, like any affinity group, decided collectively that our tactic was dance. It is not because we hate on other tactics, it was a result of a careful assessment of our personal comfort levels with other types of intervention. We understand that for political change to occur, resistance must manifest itself at various levels. We support a multiplicity of tactics and a multiplicity of outfits! ~Rachel Caidor

Radical Cheerleading: Are you the Radical Cheerleaders?

"Look, it's the radical cheerleaders!" we would sometimes hear or, "Will you please do another cheer for us?" Now, if you haven't been to many protests as of late, let us tell you a little bit about the radical cheerleading movement. According to most histories, radical cheerleading began with two Florida sisters in 1997 and quickly spread across the land. What many radical cheerleading outfits look like are a group of folks [all genders welcome!] who show up to protests and other events in handmade cheerleader-esque uniforms and recite cheers similar to ones at football games but with political content about social justice issues or the joy of protesting.

The Pink Bloque was often mistaken for the Radical Cheerleaders, and that makes sense because we share many of the same goals--and some might argue that we share similar tactics. Although we appreciate what the radical cheerleaders do, we are not radical cheerleaders. Mainly, we do not get our inspiration from cheerleading as the radical cheerleaders do. We are not particularly interested in sports per se, or the cheering on of our team, or speaking to the gendered history of cheerleading. We are more interested in accessing the language of popular culture as a vehicle for communication. Cheerleading uses a different sign system than we attempt to access. Pom-poms communicate in a very different way than a popular jam does. In the context of a protest, perhaps these nuanced differences are lost on an audience, but for both our intentions and experience of the performance this specificity was important. We are also a local and specific group that is interested in mutation of protest tactics rather than replication. From their many websites, radical cheerleaders are very interested in spreading the radical cheer joy throughout the world, although each radical cheerleading squad that we have met have their own styles.

The radical cheerleaders support the spread of radical cheerleading itself. We, on the other hand, are interested in other and new protest tactics emerging--both strategies (replication and mutation) are interesting and have their pros and cons. The radical cheerleaders, like the Pink Bloque, have been written about in the mainstream and independent press, and many chapters have their own websites.

If you are interested in learning more about the radical cheerleaders, check 'em at http://www.radicalcheerleader.tk/ & http://www.nycradicalcheerleaders.org ~Dara Greenwald

Technology: What's your take on technology?

The 20th and 21st century is rife with examples of how technology has been the cause of and solution to many social, political and cultural problems. People rely on all sorts of machines and invisible networks to make their lives easier (or to tie them inextricably to their jobs/families/bookies). The Pink Bloque was no exception.

It was common knowledge amongst the Pink Bloque that we loved the Internet. Because many of us had jobs that required us to be tethered to computers 7.5 hours a day, we did a lot of our organizing via the Internet. Among the first things we did [after popping in the VHS tape of Darrin's Dance Grooves and buying some too tight hot pink pants under the influence of mimosas] was set up an e-mail listserv. We used a corporate-run free e-mail Internet-based service as a site for us to write emails to each other, as well as to provide a place for people to send us questions and comments after they read our flyers or saw us on the street. The listserv was a blessing and a curse at times, as we would email furiously about topics ranging from what to put on the flyer about the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue to announcements about where to get cute pink socks on sale for cheap, and we would end up with as many as 25 messages in one day if we were not careful!

We also used the Internet to do research about political topics and outreach for upcoming actions or benefits. We leaned heavily on amazing resources like indymedia.org to learn about protests and promote our actions. We looked to news outlets like http://www.znet.org/ or http://www.theguardian.co.uk/to give us more perspective on political issues of the day. We even shopped for outfits and choreographers on the Internet.

As the Pink Bloque gained more fame, we started a website for press, lovers and haters to access if they wanted to keep up to date on what the Pink Bloque was doing, read some of our history, or check out links to our pet causes and homie hook-ups. The website went through as many outfit changes as the Bloque, in part because we had a rotating cast of helpful [but too often overextended] website managers. Later, we realized that the website was more than a place for people to data mine about our whereabouts or send us email love letters--we recognized it to be a site for organizing. Following in the footsteps of D and Darrin, we decided to teach people the dance by posting instructional videos on the web so that our homies could learn the dance and be ready to throw down at the national actions we planned to attend. We even set up a blog on the website to keep our friends up to date about our travel stories and feelings about our actions.

Another technology we loved was our various laptop computers and the PowerPoint presentations we did with them. After working in the non-profit world, many of us understood that a gripping PowerPoint could take your presentation over the top. We have driven the point home about US foreign and domestic policies with our infamous "Wack Quotient" chart and our slide of Outkast saying "Let's Get Dialogical, Y'all," which gets 'em every time. We took our laptops and/or PowerPoint presentations everywhere we were doing a workshop. Two industrious video mavens in the Pink Bloque made a compilation DVD of Pink Bloque actions that was the crown jewel in the multimedia juggernaut that was Pink Bloque presentations and workshops.

We would be remiss if we did not mention another technology that bound us together: our cell phones. We never realized how important the cell phones were to us until we went on tour and had to keep tabs on ten different ladies in two different vehicles. Once we got bills that ran into the hundreds of dollars, we understood that the Pink Bloque was as much about dialoguing with each other over the phone as we were about dialoging with people on the street. We devised buddy systems for our actions and made sure at least one buddy had a cell phone. After all, when were we supposed to let everyone know it was time to end the action and head over to a mid-priced family restaurant?

But like Milli Vanilli, we learned that the technologies we relied upon could easily backfire on us and leave us fending for ourselves on the street or presentation stage. Often our listserv would not deliver messages for days, or the tone of messages sent over the Internet would be misconstrued because binary code cannot translate inflection. While we often transmitted radical content over our listserv and website, we could have kept it realer by using open source software instead of relying on corporate, ad-driven sites to communicate our desires for the world we want to live in. At times, the website would go unchanged for months at a time because people were too busy to update it. On trips, cell phones would lose signals or go out of range or be off at inopportune times. On many occasions presentation venues would not have the appropriate cables or DVD players, or boomboxes would relegate our multimedia extravaganzas to quasi-mediated stand-up comedy routines. While the Internet, our cell phones and our computers were high-profile auxiliary members of the Pink Bloque, ultimately the technologies we relied on the most were our wits and our bodies. * ~Rachel Caidor

*If you are wondering, "Weren't your sound systems part of your cavalcade of technologies?" you would be right! We decided that the sound systems were a hot topic unto themselves.

Sound Systems

You can't have a radical feminist dance troupe without portable amplified sound. Whether you are contending with pockets of protesters chanting in semi-unison, the indifference of passersby, or the megaphones of both the Spartacists and the police, you must be heard. Throughout the years, the Bloque struggled long and hard with sound systems. The sound system bears great powers: it can provoke interest or bring the police; it can facilitate or resist motion; it can carry you seamlessly through a song or leave you in silence in the middle of a body roll. The Pink Bloque fully recognized and even came to channel these powers for the fight against the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

We began our foray into auditory public performance with what we had: a common boombox. Even with eight size D batteries, the boom of this box was quite limited. When you're trying to start a street dance party, people in the street should know that music is playing. Most did not. We were seen flipping cartwheels before our music was heard. This was a problem because people are obviously more engaged by contemporary hip-hop than they are by what looks like modern dance or mime.

We decided to remedy the situation by enlisting our welding-savvy friend and supporter, Cynthia Main, to forge a powerful yet agile sound system. Having withstood a shard of metal to the eye (and pulling off the eye patch brilliantly), she produced a formidable and loud hot pink machine that could be pulled by bicycle. Because of this machine, Chicago was hit with a flurry of spontaneous dance parties over a single weekend. But ultimately our relationship with it turned out to be more of a summer fling than a lifelong commitment. After being housed at a local activist/art space, the system was never the same. In the end this may have been best--the apparatus did not exactly make for a quick getaway in moments of crisis (whether flight from the popo or a dash toward the bathroom).

When it came time for our next action, we had to act fast. On the cold February morning of the protest against the profiling and forced registration of Muslim and Arab men, and against the coming war, we were totally without a sound system. It was at Guitar Center, across from the man with flowing golden locks and wailing guitar licks, that we met the sound system that would serve us faithfully for over a year: The portable amplifier. In its first incarnation the 30Watt amp flew solo, encased by a suitcase on wheels. The suitcase served a triple function: It protected the sensitive device from the harsh Chicago weather; it made for easy wheelin'; and it accommodated our coats and bags. This final function greatly increased the frequency with which we performed the dance and our overall endurance. The only way we could think to improve upon the amp was to double our pleasure and make for easier access, so we bought one more amp and invested in two grocery carts. This made for MEGA sound and easy movement. We threw around ideas for fusing the two carts into one, and for building a mobile encasement from scratch. We stuck with the original arrangement and had impressive musical accompaniment for many actions. It might be because we bought the cheapest carts possible, but during the March for Women's Lives, our penultimate action, we ended up dragging one cart like a stubborn unborn child down Pennsylvania Avenue. This turned out to be the demise of the carts and large amps.

Luckily, Krishna was on our side. While on one of her thousands of free trips, one Bloque member attended a Hare Krishna dinner, where devotees chanted hymns to God through a nearly divine human creation: the can amp. Good things indeed come in small packages. These compact audio gems emit powerful and clear sound from the comfort of a standard-sized backpack. If it were not for the hype of the anti-sound ordinance, which plagued our RNC experience, these devices would have blasted a different beat into the right wing booties. ~Anne Dienethal and Amanda Parris

Tactics & Strategies

Over the years, the Pink Bloque performed over twenty actions. We showed our faces and shook our booties at marches against hateration and war. Quite often, though, we chose against showing up at a march or an action clad in pink and ready to kick out the jams. When asked, "Why aren't you ladies in pink?" we would have to point out that the Pink Bloque was a tactic, and one tactic is not right for every situation.

A tactic is an element deployed within a set of actions to achieve a larger goal. The plan hatched to achieve a goal, and the goal itself, is known as a strategy. When trying to execute a goal, be it challenging the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal empire or winning a dance-off, success is achieved by having a strategy [kinda like a choreography] that incorporates a variety of tactics [moves]. Sometimes a situation calls for levity and fun to disarm the audience and create dialogue. Sometimes the audience needs to appreciate how grave an issue is and needs an action to remind them of that. Tactics are just one part of the entire movement, so they need to be deployed when they will be useful and garner the most impact. Tactics also can be limited and limiting, so a good strategy understands that not all tactics need to be used in perpetuity, and that some tactics get old and hence ineffective because one key component of a great tactic is the element of surprise. Ultimately, it is important to remember that a multiplicity of moves is what will help your troupe win the dance-off!

Admittedly, the Pink Bloque never sat down and developed a strategy to dismantle the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal empire, but we are not going to say our actions were not strategic. In the planning of our actions and outfits, we had to employ a lot of strategy and think of the smartest way to get into and out of hairy situations. And all of our actions were always done in the interest of agitating, educating and gyrating for social justice. ~Rachel Caidor

Dance: Who comes up with your dances?

Whether we busted the anarchic freestyle or were harmonized in our every kick-ball-for-change, dance was critical to the Pink Bloque's version of creative resistance. Though people are often as hesitant to dance as they are to think critically about politics, their MTV-saturated, voyeuristic minds are easily drawn in by a gaggle of gyrating women in matching attire (and we are no exception). Knowing the power of spectacle in our culture, we chose to use it to engage others and to make protest more accessible.

The very first Pink Bloque action was spent turning cartwheels and breaking out the butterfly squat to "She Works Hard for the Money." Although a spectacle in its own rite, it was clear that we could do better (because after all, some people flee in terror from the butterfly squat). It was time to introduce choreography. Choreography not only made the dance more pleasant to the eye, but also showed that diversity within unity is possible. We were never homogenously on beat. We like to think that this is not because of a lack of ability, but is actually the realization of individuals working together within a single movement.

We pirated our first moves from Darrin Henson, choreographer to stars including Brittany Spears and N'Sync. For almost every meeting that we talked about logistics and issues, there was a dance practice (and sometimes even two). We spent endless hours in front of a grainy, poorly-duplicated VHS, watching and rewinding, watching and rewinding, watching...until we got the moves almost right. Our unique style of choreography was initially determined by our limited dance skills. We weren't quite prepared to dance through an entire song (three minutes can seem like a lifetime), so we mapped sequences from Darrin's videotape onto the choruses of pop songs. Luckily for us, most pop songs have identical rhythm structures and most people only pay attention to the chorus anyway. But the method made for awkward verses where we stood around, handed out a flyer or two and then scrambled together again to dance out the chorus.

We eventually became more ambitious (though whether we became more skilled is still up for debate). On an Internet spending spree we bought ten instructional videos. Some didn't make the cut, showcasing nothing but cheerleading moves and gymnastics meets. We did happen upon one that changed the Pink Bloque forever--"Dee's Southern Style." Dee, a non-Southern-style minx with a Brooklyn accent and a penchant for bad headwear, became our muse. She broke everything down to its most basic elements, from hip shake to the sassy body roll. We soon learned that you can't body roll your way through an entire song, so we decided to step up to the plate and dance a whole song. Homerun!

"Gossip Folks" by Missy Elliott was the first song that we danced from start to finish. We choreographed a third of the song and danced to it over and over again. Discounting Michael Jackson's advice (never a bad thing, really), we loudly counted out the beats to keep ourselves together. ONE and two and three and four and FIVE and six...though not agreeable to the ear, we stayed on beat throughout. Then we realized that staying on beat is not all there is to dancing and so we decided to make things yet more complicated. Full throttle!

Our final dance was the only one we crafted in its entirety. No longer dependent on videos, and with the confidence to dance a whole song, we merged moves we now knew by heart to create a fully choreographed dance to Outkast's "Hey Ya." This dance was spectacular, involving a simulated basketball lay-up and some very old school moves. It was both cute and tough, and we communicated it worldwide through videos on the Web. Though we inadvertently looked like middle-aged soccer moms or terrorists in Blublockers, people watched and practiced at home. At the March for Women's Lives we taught groups of protesters simplified versions of the chorus so that they could "Shake it like a Polaroid picture" right along with us. We brought it into people's homes and into the streets of New York City to protest the Republican National Convention. Ultimately, we drove it right into the ground through overuse. "Hey Ya" eventually became Hey...Naaah and ushered in the end of the Pink Bloque.

In the two years that the Pink Bloque "danced in dissent," the tactic never lost its impact on those watching. Even after it grew old for us, it still managed to inspire others. ~Anne Dienethal and Amanda Parris

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