Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Communication and Invitational Social Change

Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Communication and Invitational Social Change

Article excerpt

The scene is a public square in Oakland California. The date: early December, 2008. Two hundred citizens of Oakland have heeded the call of a local theater company to create a "theatrical reenactment" of the 1946 Oakland General Strike 62 years ago, when Al Brown, a streetcar driver, stopped his streetcar to express solidarity with a picket line of women retail clerks protesting low wages and dismal working conditions (Maher, 2008). When Brown stopped his car, the streetcars behind him stopped in cascading waves of solidarity. Another 100,000 East Bay workers joined in. The strike lasted three days, leading to recognition of workers' rights, a more progressive city government, and better living conditions for working families (1).

'The underlying assumption of invitational social change is that all community members--ordinary citizens, radio listeners, and others--can be agents of change for themselves and others. There are no experts implementing invitational social change--only facilitators, catalysts and occasionally, partners in mischief.'

The website for the "site-specific" 2008 performance invited participation:

   We need YOU--actors, citizens, performers, musicians, activists,
   regular folks--to take to the streets as part of a site-specific
   performance project about the 1946 Oakland General Strike. If you
   can hold a picket sign, carry a tune, dance in the streets, project
   your voice, or just want to be involved, we want you!

In response to the question "What is a theatrical reenactment," the creators of "Oakland 1946!" answered: "It is what you make it!" (2) Two performances of Oakland 1946! (Dec 5-7, 2008) were held outdoors in Latham Square, at the site of the 1946 strike, and were free to the public. Local union leaders and workers were invited to take the stage after each performance to address the audience. In a newspaper article covering the event, 19-year old resident Gabriel Vieira responded enthusiastically to the event: "I loved how (the performance) started with this fascinating historical story, and they brought it all the way up to the present. A lot of this stuff is still happening" (Maher, 2008).

This performance, part theater, part activism, commemorated a historic civic event, and by openly inviting citizens participation, wove the audience into the fabric of the story itself. Citizens participated in this performance not just as "spectators" more but as "spec-actors" (Boal, 1974; 2004, emphasis added). The creators of Oakland 1946! did not just dramatise and recount the events of 1946, they invited average citizens to become a part of it. After citizens had joined in the action--chanting slogans, holding picket signs, marching around the square--upcoming union organising events were discussed, inviting the "spec-actors" to join in (Maher, 2008).

Individuals from the organisation "Art for a Democratic Society" (A4DS), present at the 2008 performance, described the event as successful in "bring[ing] art and politics together." (2009, para. 9). The performances' Director, Max Bell Alper, said the purpose of the interactive performance was "to make it as engaging as possible so people will remember this [event], and then connect it to current struggles" (Maher, 2008). Some 300 "spec-actors" participated in the performances over the two days, many of whom expressed a desire to participate in future events (Maher, 2008). By invitation, Oakland 1946! enabled citizens' transformation from passive spectators to active "spec-actors" and, potentially, future social change agents.

Mahatma Gandhi goaded the world to action with the phrase "we must be the change we wish to see in the world." In this article, we explore three strategic communication for social change interventions which invite individuals to be agents of their own development--to be the change they wish to see. We propose the term "invitational social change" to unite these forms of communication under a single theoretical umbrella. …

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