Using Humor As Nonviolent Action by Bill Timpson

In the Peace Science Digest, July 12-19, 2018, was an article titled, Using Humor As Nonviolent Action. As they write: “During U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent state visit to the U.K., protesters carried an inflatable baby Trump blimp to bring humor to their protest of his domestic and foreign policy. Humor, in various forms, has a long tradition in protest movements.”

“Humor, in the forms of chants, performances, satire, cartoons, theatre, jokes, memes and puns has a long tradition in protest movements. It acts as a vehicle to communicate ideas as well as to foster a sense of community – it can cut across linguistic barriers, and increase the resonance of the message. All protests have a target, something or someone to galvanize others to action. The goal of the crowdfunded inflatable is to annoy the famously thin-skinned president. The six-meter tall balloon depicts Trump as a snarling baby in a nappy with tiny hands and mobs. Its purpose is not to change laws or policies, nor to influence his decisions. It is meant to mock and to undermine, suggesting the president is infantile, full of hot air, cartoonish and ridiculous.”

“Humor is empowering because it establishes those who are in on the joke and those who are the object of it. The balloon signifies an attempt to take back control and to undermine Trump. Whether he is aware of the balloon – and surely this media-obsessed president will be – is neither here nor there because mocking Trump is not just about annoying him. It fosters a sense of belonging between protestors and invites others to join.”

When I asked my class of first year Honors students what they thought of this use of humor, the reactions were mixed. Some could see a level of disrespect that could hamper the good will that someone like Bishop Desmond Tutu advocated in building trust between previously deeply divided groups as South Africa began to move past the apartheid era of state sponsored segregation and oppression. Other saw the U.S. Veterans for Peace authors we have been reading applauding this kind of protest and enjoying its playful nature.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how can we illustrate restorative justice? by Lindsey Pointer

The challenge of describing restorative justice and how the philosophy and approach differs from the conventional justice system is one that practitioners and scholars have grappled with since the beginning of the movement. The retributive approach to justice is so culturally ingrained that it can be difficult to fully communicate the restorative paradigm and the impact of this different way of understanding and responding to wrongdoing.

Images play a powerful role in communicating complex ideas. As the well-known idiom in the title suggests, the best images are capable of conveying meaning more effectively than a lengthy description.

So how can we use the power of images to help communicate the concept of restorative justice?

A recent article by Brunilda Pali highlights the lack of images of restorative justice available to help communicate its meaning. The most common image used is of a group of people seated in a circle, which does not communicate significant conceptual depth to someone new to restorative justice. She notes that “art can mediate, enhance, and make tangible new and alternative understandings of the notion and practice of justice” and laments the fact that restorative justice scholars have been latecomers to grasping this power of images.[1]

When we consider the complex concept of justice, the most common image encountered is that of Lady Justice. Lady Justice is generally depicted wearing a blindfold and carrying scales and a sword. The blindfold is meant to represent impartiality, the scales signify fairness and the weighing of evidence, and the sword symbolizes the authority to punish.

Restorative justice challenges the concept of justice communicated by the Lady Justice image in almost all of its elements. As Pali notes, “from a restorative justice perspective, the sword, the scales, and the blindfold mainly represent the limitations of formal justice, where justice is seen as harsh, rigid, and unable to see the injuries imposed in her name.”[2]

Pali’s article inspired me to think about how I would visually portray the restorative concept of justice. Because of the strong association of the word “justice” with the image of Lady Justice, I felt that an effective restorative justice image would need to be in conversation with the Lady Justice image. How could the Lady Justice image be modified to communicate the ways in which the restorative conception of justice differs from the punitive justice she personifies?

I began to wonder about a Lady of Restorative Justice, who has taken off her blindfold in order to see the complex humanity and individual needs of each person involved in the process. She would have hung up her sword and scales, and taken her place in the circle, leaning in, intently and compassionately listening to the stories of the people present and what each needed to repair the harms and make things right.

I reached out to a local Wellington artist, Phil Dickson, who agreed to illustrate the idea. This is the image he created.

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[1] Brunilda Pali, “Images of Alternative Justice: The Alternative of Restorative Justice,” Crime, Media, and Popular Culture (2017): 11.

[2] Ibid., 5.

Cartooning for Peace! Freedom of Expression by Bob Meroney

On 18 August 2018 Kofin Annan, past UN Secretary General died at the age of 80. Annan often soft spoken was known for his sense of humor and his appreciation of political cartoons as examples of free speech. In October 2006 he gathered press cartoonists from all over the world at the UN to build a bridge between press cartoonists and different national cultures. Based on his initiative The Cartooning for Peace Foundation was established in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2009 with United Nations support.

Political cartoons, like our Peace Newsletters, are intended to make us think. Often a good cartoon will shock the reader and may even offend since they are drawn to challenge the pre-conceptions of the observer. They can be very funny, but their main purpose is not to amuse you, but to persuade you, and even sway your opinion toward the cartoonist’s point of view. A political cartoon can be like a heavy stick hitting the head of a mule to get its attention. Cartooning often uses caricatures which can be insulting or complimentary, but usually serve a political purpose. Often the drawing is a visual commentary that exaggerates circumstances but should not alter facts. In all cases the political cartoon is intended to be a tool of free speech and public dialogue.

The Foundation has established an annual award for cartoonists whose work contributes to human rights, freedom of expression, tolerance and peace. The nominees are judged by a jury of 124 international cartoonists, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and the Mayor of Geneva.

Political cartooning can be dangerous in situations where intolerance exist and free expression is controlled by a nation state. When cartoonists are repressed in one time and place, others often fire back in media in their own nations. In many parts of the world state censorship is rampant.

Recently Isralei cartoonist Avi Katz expressed his opinion when Benjamin Neetanyahu and fellow members of the Lidud party celebrated after the adoption by the Israeli Knesset of a controversial nation-state law which sanctions Israel’s status as a Jewish nation-state. The law was considered discriminatory against non-Jewish citizens. His cartoon replicates a photo of a Likud group taking a celebration selfie.

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The cartoon led to so much political backlash that cartoonist Katz was dismissed from his position with The Jerusalem Report. Other journalists have since resigned in protest, and the cartoonist has received support from the Union of Journalists in Israel and the international group PEN America. Nissim Hezhyahu, founder and former president of the Israel Cartoonists Association organized an exhibition in response to Katz dismissal at the 18th Comics Cartoon festival in Tel Aviv in August 2018. Subsequently, cartoons supporting Katz have appeared internationally.