The Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency: Collective Action in Public Spaces

The Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency’s (GPI) name is just as creative as its practices, innovating political action through the streets of Washington D.C. Working as a collective is central to how The Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency (GPI) operates. GPI was founded in September of 2003 in D.C., a center of political action. GPI shows the way that art can be merged with politics, forming a collective action of resistance. GPI creates a counter-culture community, participating in “a guerrilla anti-war” by using words, beats, music, rhythm, poetry, and collective action. GPI conceptualizes their “action model” as “push marketing,” voicing their convictions and “truths” through “political perspectives in real space.” One way of describing the organization is that they “reclaim the streets” by spamming spaces with performances about human rights, sort of like a “political theater.” When GPI performs, streets of D.C. are no longer passive walkways, but a continuous space where anyone can share their thoughts freely.

GPI operates by hosting open mic events, as Shahid, a Guerrilla Poet, explains, the group strives to break down and blur the barrier between the participant and the audience. By blurring this line, the Guerrilla Poets form an inclusive environment where everyone who wishes to share their thoughts is supported and encouraged to do so. Guerrilla Poets also go on “lyrical ambushes” sharing their thoughts in public spaces, performing on public transportation systems like the D.C. subway. GPI is met with resistance by those who oppose the group’s messages and/or methods, but they are also met with thoughtful listeners and brave participants who speak up. No matter what the response, Guerrilla Poetry has persisted in D.C., inviting all people of all demographics, even kids, to join the collective resistance. Although their activity has slowed based on their website, GPI’s most recent act as a collective was their participation in the D.C. Women’s March after the election of Donald Trump.

When the poet Shahid was interviewed about GPI in 2010, he mentioned how in D.C., there is a collective action dilemma, but that GPI draws people that are often separated by their own respective issues together. While reading Shahid’s words from 2010, I thought about our current political climate. Our authoritarian-like administration threatens issues that the Guerrilla artists have been grappling with, working through, and healing from since their start–over 10 years ago. We have seen the emergence of threats to environmental justice, social justice, womxn’s issues, war, the LGBTQ community, and the list could go on. Now, more than ever, is a time where we can learn from groups of collective action, like The Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency.

Sources: Washington Peace Center: DC Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency, Who is the DC Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency? , The Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency Lyrical Ambush


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