Political humor is as old as politics itself. Satire and jokes have been used for centuries to speak truth to power. They infused protests against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the peace protests of the 1960s, and inspired resistance movements in Nazi-occupied territories during the 1940s. But today’s non-violent activists have taken humor to another level. Laughter and fun are no longer marginal to a movement’s strategy; they now serve as a central part of the activist arsenal, imbuing the opposition with an aura of cool, helping to break the culture of fear instilled by the regime, and provoking the regime into reactions that undercut its legitimacy.
Of course, just because laughter in non-violent struggle is now common, it does not mean that it is easy. To the contrary, laughtivism requires a constant stream of creativity to stay in the news, headlines, and tweets, as well as to maintain a movement’s momentum. Without creativity and wit, laughtivism can wilt before a movement’s ambitions are met. And without discipline and sound judgment, mockery can quickly descend into chaos and violence.