There are different reasons you might want to accost people on the street (when we say “to accost,” we mean “to grab the attention of unsuspecting strangers”). The reasoning is for you to think through. As for the ways to accost them...
Stand next to a stunning sign
Why not put up a sign advertising something particularly great or offensively horrible, and stand near it with a brochure? You can represent yourself as the company selling this product if you want, which makes the action more fun.
Artist Steve Lambert uses this tactic with his sign that reads “Capitalism works for me!”, which is shiny and spectacular and encourages people to stop and engage with it.
Give them something they need
In 2004, during the US presidential elections, we printed up a bunch of “US Patriot Pledges” and handed them out to Republicans. We hoped that they would read through these things and freak out at what Bush was asking them to sacrifice. (Instead, they just read them and signed.) We’ve also distributed Survivaball brochures (inside PDF, outside PDF) as a way of bringing climate change issues close to home.
Ask passers-by for advice
Making an action participatory not only gets them to stop and listen to you for a second, but it also gives you a chance to make the issue personal. When you ask folks for advice, they get to show how smart (or how foolish) they are. You can film these responses for reaction shots or funny ideas. But you should also think about how your hilarious action can get passers-by to articulate the problem, rather than just telling them what the problem is. As anyone who has had an argument with a boss or a five-year-old knows, if a person has to articulate an idea themselves, they’ll understand it better than if you just tell them the idea.
In Boston, we showed people who were drinking Coca Cola’s Dasani water a new marketing campaign for the bottles, and we asked them what they thought of the new product, Deceit water (Dasani water is actually just tap water with salt added). Several people were stunned and educated, and the video was pretty funny.
Dress up in a hilarious costume
Wacky antics and satire can sometimes be the best form of resistance because it brings an air of celebration, wildness and humor to the pretty stark and terrifying times we find ourselves in. Your audience is more likely to remember your message when you wowed them with a compelling visual tableau, or made them laugh their asses off.
There are lots of folks who have mastered striking, political theatre like Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping in New York and Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani in Peru. Their work is inspiring. Check it out!
If you’re planning a street action, Beautiful Trouble is an invaluable resource. Check out the following articles to get started, then keep browsing… you’ll find something useful.
Mass Street Action: Planning a street action on a large scale
Don’t Dress Like a Protestor: Using costumes effectively
Show, Don’t Tell: Thinking visually before you hit the streets
The Teddy Bear Catapult: Using absurdity to undermine the aura of authority
Ethical Spectacle: Stephen Duncolme’s principles for planning a symbolic action