The Art of Slow Protest



The Buddha walk has its origins in the 1992 documentary movie Baraka, in the scene where a monk is moving ever so slowly and peacefully through a busy New York city street. The idea was adapted for Buy Nothing Day in a large shopping mall – one of the world’s largest – in Edmonton, Canada.

Four of us started moving in super-slow motion, one behind the other, as the busy mall patrons passed us by. The action worked – shopper after shopper stopped to watch as we made our way from the ground floor to the main floor. People gathered, and many of them wondered out loud what we were doing and why we were there. Some of them thought we were part of the local fringe theater festival. Others remarked that we were simply strange; one person even suggested that we might steal something. Eventually a mall security officer arrived to engage us in a conversation as we continued our slow progression through the mall.

SECURITY: You have to stop that or I’ll have to remove you.

US: Stop what?

SECURITY: What you are doing.

US: What are we doing?

SECURITY: You are creating a spectacle.

US: How are we creating a spectacle?

SECURITY: Well . . . uh . . . you are walking very slowly.

US: [slowly pointing to an elderly person moving across the mall very slowly]: Well, what about her? She’s moving very slowly.

SECURITY: No, she’s moving at the appropriate speed.

US: Can you show us what is the appropriate speed? I mean, how slowly can we walk and still remain in the mall?

SECURITY: [getting flustered] No, you simply have to leave the mall. Leave the mall or I will call the police to remove you.

At that point, we left the mall. We didn’t feel the need to press the issue with the police department. But as we walked off, a strange thing happened. The crowd that had gathered started clapping for us and jeering at the security officials. These shoppers – primarily middle-aged people – were now applauding, partly because of the absurdity of the situation and partly, perhaps, because we all have a desire to stand up to authority and we get a certain sense of catharsis when other people do.

We live in a time when we all seem to be out of breath most of the time, running from place to place. The Buddha walk lets you take a much-needed breath. At the same time, the action breaks people out of their routines, which is one of the first steps to change.

And, besides, it’s one of the best actions for any old lazy day when you want just a little something to do.

Adapted from An Action a Day Keeps Global Capitalism Away (Between the Lines, 2004), a book by Mike Hudema that outlines 52 enjoyable ways to protest globalization.