Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army 1 Favorite 



May 13 2003


London, then global

To some, the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) might appear to be but a ragged bunch of activists sporting false noses, a smudge of grease paint, camouflage pants and bad wigs. And those people may be right. But it is also a highly disciplined army of professional clowns, a militia of authentic fools, a battalion of true buffoons.

Clowning is a state of being rather than a technique
Art activist John Jordan and colleagues L.M. Bogad, Jen Verson and Matt Trevelyan founded CIRCA in late 2003 to welcome arch-clown George W. Bush on his royal visit to London. CIRCA aimed to be a new methodology of civil disobedience, merging the ancient art of clowning with contemporary tactics of nonviolent direct action. It went on to be a successful meme and international protest phenomenon, with self-organized groups taking action in the streets outside summits and military bases in dozens of countries from Colombia to New Zealand.

CIRCA worked with professional clowns to develop a methodology, rebel clowning, that introduced play and games into the process of political organizing. We developed a series of trainings that encouraged activists to reprogram their bodies, to develop their intuition and to “find their clown” — a childlike state of generosity and spontaneity. Rebel clown trainings attempted to peel off the activist armor and find the vulnerable human within.

Emphasizing the inner work of personal transformation that too many movements ignore, CIRCA viewed both soul and street as sites of struggle. The deep work of clowning, involving real letting go and finding the absolute spontaneous self, can have profoundly liberating psychological effects on participants. CIRCA’s combatants are not meant to pretend to be clowns, they should be real clowns. Clowning is a state of being rather than a technique.

It’s a core CIRCA premise that mocking and utterly confusing the enemy can be more powerful than direct confrontation. In one instance, a seventy-person-strong gaggle of clowns walked straight through a line of UK riot cops who, strangely, could not hold their line. When the video footage of the event was examined, it turned out that beneath their visors the cops were laughing too much to be able to concentrate. Other clowns filled their pockets with so much strange junk that it took hours and lots of paper work when stop-and-searches occurred. A favorite tactic was to walk into army recruitment agencies and, in a clownish way, try to join up, thus causing so much chaos that the agencies had to close down for the day, whereupon CIRCA would set up its own shabby recruitment stall outside.

Turn-of-the-century anarchist Emma Goldman posed this problem: “how to be one’s self and yet in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings and still retain one’s own characteristic qualities.” CIRCA bridged that divide, allowing participants to discover their own inner clown while at the same time wearing a “uniform” that made them feel part of a strongly bonded group.

(Reposted from

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