In Philadelphia on Thursday, poverty activist Cheri Honkala plans to host “the world’s largest ‘fart-in,’” during Hillary Clinton’s nomination acceptance speech, as a silent but deadly rebuke to the Democratic nominee. Given the handwringing from Clinton supporters and surrogates about Sanders supporters booing and jeering the Democratic elite (including their own candidate), one can only imagine the outrage that will greet such a bodily demonstration on Thursday. The presumptive nominee, this thinking goes, is supposed to accept her nomination without disruption or distraction—despite the fact that having such a vocal, activist wing of the party is, in fact, a very good thing!
“We will be holding a massive bean supper for Bernie Sanders delegates on American Street in my Kensington neighborhood on the afternoon of July 28,” Honkala told Truthdig early last month: “We are setting up a Clintonville there, modeled on the Hoovervilles of the 1930s where the poor and unemployed built shanty towns. The Sanders delegates, their bellies full of beans, will be able to return to the Wells Fargo Center and greet the rhetorical flatulence of Hillary Clinton with the real thing.”
Objections to these tactics stem largely from the perceived need to maintain a sense of propriety. That is also precisely what makes them so effective, as explained by the father of the art of the fart-in, Saul Alinsky, who threatened to deploy the tactic while a community organizer in Rochester, New York, working to break Eastman Kodak’s iron grip on the company town. From his lengthy 1972 interview with Playboy:
PLAYBOY: Aren’t such tactics a bit juvenile and frivolous?
ALINSKY: I’d call them absurd rather than juvenile. But isn’t much of life kind of a theater of the absurd? As far as being frivolous is concerned, I say if a tactic works, it’s not frivolous. Let’s take a closer look at this particular tactic and see what purposes it serves — apart from being fun. First of all, the fart-in would be completely outside the city fathers’ experience. Demonstrations, confrontations and picketings they’d learned to cope with, but never in their wildest dreams could they envision a flatulent blitzkrieg on their sacred symphony orchestra. It would throw them into complete disarray. Second, the action would make a mockery of the law, because although you could be arrested for throwing a stink bomb, there’s no law on the books against natural bodily functions. Can you imagine a guy being tried in court on charges of first-degree farting? The cops would be paralyzed. Third, when the news got around, everybody who heard it would break out laughing, and the Rochester Philharmonic and the establishment it represents would be rendered totally ridiculous. A fourth benefit of the tactic is that it’s psychically as well as physically satisfying to the participants. What oppressed person doesn’t want, literally or figuratively, to shit on his oppressors? Here was the closest chance they’d have. Such tactics aren’t just cute; they can be useful in driving your opponent up the wall. Very often the most ridiculous tactic can prove the most effective.
PLAYBOY: In any case, you never held your fart-in. So what finally broke Kodak’s resistance?
ALINSKY: Simple self-interest — the knowledge that the price of continuing to fight us was greater than reaching a compromise.
The absurd, the nasty, and the vulgar have long held a place in popular political movements: No contemporary politician exemplifies this better than Donald Trump—a man who is completely without gentility or guile. But leftists, Amber A’Lee Frost writes for Current Affairs, need not cede vulgarity to the vulgarians. “Reclaiming vulgarity from the Trumps of the world is imperative because if we do not embrace the profane now and again, we will find ourselves handicapped by our own civility,” she argues. “Vulgarity is the language of the people, and so it should be among the grammars of the left, just as it has been historically, to wield righteously against the corrupt and the powerful.”
The only problem with the fart-in is that Sanders delegates loading up on beans won’t have enough time to digest before Clinton’s acceptance speech. So, if you’re on the arena floor, keep an eye out for queasy-looking Bernie or Busters—but don’t hold your breath.