The return of Idle No More ‘flash mobs’… to the shopping malls
by Warrior Publications, Dec 26, 2013
Over the past week, more Idle No More ‘flashmob round dances’ have occurred in various shopping malls across Canada, including Winnipeg, Toronto, Lethbridge, and Vancouver. Once again, hundreds of Natives as well as non-Natives have rallied, drummed and sang songs inside malls. These have been part of the one year anniversary celebrations of Idle No More.
But the question has to be asked: What exactly are they celebrating? A year after the mobilization of thousands of Natives, Idle No More has floundered with no substantial actions despite the efforts of more experienced organizers allying themselves with the movement (such as Defenders of the Land).
As detailed in an earlier report, the #Sovereignty Summer campaign was largely a bust with very little participation from INM grassroots people. Even at the height of the Mi’kmaq anti-fracking resistance in New Brunswick, INM was largely idle. This despite the fact that the Mi’kmaq were protecting their land and water, one of the main goals promoted by INM. If the INM grassroots had mobilized in solidarity with the Mi’maq, it is quite likely that some of the repressive actions carried out by the RCMP could have been minimized (as occurred during Oka 1990).
But now, to mark their one year anniversary, hundreds have again flocked to the shopping malls in a self-congratulatory spectacle to affirm that they’re “still here.” But what has INM accomplished? The fact that it succeeded in mobilizing thousands of Natives last year was an important step, but what is the continuing appeal of the ‘flashmob round dances’ considering that this is about all the movement is capable of?
First, I think they’re relatively safe and non-threatening, for both the participants and for the shopping malls. Last year, the West Edmonton Mall negotiated with INM organizers and opened the mall up to a grand entry procession followed by drumming and singing. Aside from a few incidents of over-zealous security guards, and in a couple of instances police over-reaction, the round dances have seen virtually no repression.
Secondly, many of those orchestrating these shopping mall flash mobs are those already engaged in some kind of public performances, either as cultural performers (such as drum groups) or politicians (such as band councilors). For them, Idle No More presents a safe stage from which to perform (and in some cases co-opt the movement in passive singing and dancing).
This might come as a surprise to those die-hard INM organizers and participants who portray themselves as an “Indigenous revolution,” but the fact is they’re not doing anything with these shopping mall excursions other than adding a Native-themed song track to the shopping experience of consumers. Many of the INM participants themselves go shopping after their “revolutionary” round dances, so of course some businesses don’t mind at all if a mob of Natives comes to the mall, sing and dance, and then add to their daily profits.
Not so with the Mall of America, one of the largest shopping malls in the USA and located near Minneapolis, Minnesota. This year, the mall’s management mailed warning letters to Natives they identified as organizers of a proposed New Year’s Eve ‘flashmob’ at the mall. The letter states that if a round dance is attempted, the mall will take action to stop it.
The response from at least one INM organizer paints a rather sad picture of what INM and its shopping mall dances are about:
“Idle No More Duluth organizer Reyna Crow was one of several people who received the letter on Christmas Eve. “The characterization of the Round Dance as a protest is not only incorrect, it is insulting”, says Crow, “If the Idle No More flash mob Round Dance that was held there last year is a `protest’, so are the Christmas carols and the other flash mob events that have been held there”.
According to Crow, then, INM ‘flashmob round dances’ are no different than Christmas carolers and previous flash mobs at the mall, including one that involved hundreds of people dancing to Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” song.
In addition, the ‘flashmob’ tactic was co-opted by corporate shopping malls several years ago. There are even professional organizations that conduct ‘flashmobs’ and who partner with shopping malls and other corporations to carry them out, such as Flash Mob America.
In Orlando, Florida, flash mobs in shopping malls were orchestrated and coordinated with the mall and the tourism industry, according one blogger at Adventures with Ben.com blog site:
“I had the chance to speak with the organizer of the event, County Commissioner Linda Stewart before the dancing began. The Orlando Flash Mob was born out of a way to increase tourism to the region in order to increase funding to the arts.”
But why is the Mall of America being such hard-asses about a non-threatening Idle No More ‘flash mob’? Probably because previous flash mobs at the mall, and across the USA, have erupted into riots and looting. According to one report from PowerLineblog.com describing a December 27, 2011 flash mob at the Mall of America,
“Several witnesses said the melee had elements of a “smash and grab” flash mob… They said those creating the disturbance numbered in the hundreds and some knocked down shoppers and grabbed items from kiosks and shoppers. …”
The Mall of America incident is just one of many that show the potentially disruptive aspect of flashmobbing.
In August 2011, the city government of Philadelphia imposed curfews in parts of the city to counter small-scale flash mob “riots.” Youths under 18 were barred from the downtown core on Friday and Saturday nights after 9PM.
In March 2013, some 500 youths rampaged through downtown Chicago as part of a flash mob, only the most recent in a series of such incidents over the last few years in that city.
To be clear, I am not promoting the idea that INM flash mobs turn to rioting and looting in the shopping malls. In fact, I would recommend they get out of the malls altogether, and if they insist on continuing with this tactic at least alter it to some form of direct action that has substance, perhaps a flash mob blockade of some destructive industry, for example.
But this is unlikely to occur since the modus operandi of the INM grassroots has been firmly established: “peaceful” rallies that do little more than sing and dance. In addition, the way these flash mob round dances are carried out does little to actually organize the grassroots; a few people with Facebook and Twitter accounts call for a rally, people gather and drum, and then disperse.
I will leave the final word on this ‘flash mob’ business to Wikipedia:
“A flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.”
Mall Of America Threatens Arrest Of Idle No More
By Reyna Crow, www.idlenomore.ca, December 25th, 2013
Duluth, MN: Various organizers identified by the `Mall of America’ management team as being connected with the `Idle No More’ movement have received letters from the mall indicating the mall “…will utilize additional actions… including trespassing the organizers of the protest” (emphasis added) should a flash mob Round Dance recur there on New Year’s Eve this year.
Idle No More Duluth organizer Reyna Crow was one of several people who received the letter on Christmas Eve. “The characterization of the Round Dance as a protest is not only incorrect, it is insulting”, says Crow, “If the Idle No More flash mob Round Dance that was held there last year is a `protest’, so are the Christmas carols and the other flash mob events that have been held there”.
Crow is inviting a representative of the `Mall of America’ management to join her and Patricia Shepard, who also received the letter, at a news conference at the Mall of America on December 31st at 3:00 pm. Crow plans to use the designated `free speech zone’ there to discuss her concerns that the apparent singling out of organizers associated with Indigenous people and issues for threats of arrest and/or other intimidation over flash mobs events at the mall.
According to Shepard “During the 1837 treaty signing, which include the lands where the MOA is located, the Ojibwe received $24,000 in cash, goods and services, retaining rights to use the land for hunting, fishing and other purposes. Other purposes means to gather at any location, whether that location be private or public. The MOA location is within those treaty territories outlined in the 1837 Treaty. The MOA is in violation of the 1837 Treaty obligations to the Dakota and Ojibwe by threatening to trespass us on our ceded territories. We have a right to gather anywhere within those territories which was agreed upon by the US Government “. (http://treatiesmatter.org/treaties/land/1837-ojibwe-dakota)
Who: Reyna Crow, Patricia Shepard, Mall of American management invited and urged to attend
When: Dec 31, 2013 3:00 pm
Where: Mall of America
What: News Conference and Rally
Why: To respond publicly to Mall of America’s threats to arrest Idle No More organizers, and the unequal treatment of Indigenous organizers in ceded territory.