Above Photo: ALVARO BARRIENTOS/Associated Press
One of the most common types of protests is a mass gathering, complete with handmade signs calling for change. But sticking to that format can limit the imagination — and activists have had enough of limits.
When it came to protesting in 2015, advocates proved that wherever there’s an issue, there’s a powerful way to tackle it. Savvy protesters used creativity as a tool to break through the noise, highlighting social and environmental causes in the most eye-catching ways.
While every protest advocating for a just, sensitive and comprehensive issue is attention-worthy, there’s something undoubtedly special about a demonstration that demands to be noticed through innovative imagery.
Check out these efforts that powerfully made an impact this year.
1. G7 world leader balloons
Activists installed balloons featuring portraits of world leaders ahead of the G7 Summit on June 5 in Munich, Germany, to bring attention to global poverty and inequality. The balloons were accompanied by a banner proclaiming, “Dear G7, Be more than hot air. Act now to end extreme poverty.”
2. Violence against women
At a June 12 protest in Ankara, Turkey, activists showed solidarity by showing split photographs of student Özgecan Aslan and other Turkish women who were victims of violence. The demonstration fought against the country’s culture of violence against women, with outrage ignited by the death of Aslan, who was killed while resisting an attempted rape in February.
3. “Sì” for LGBTQ equality
On June 26, 50,000 activists in Milan, Italy, took to the streets to call for wider rights for LGBTQ citizens. A sea of signs with the word “Sì” represented the protesters saying “Yes” to equality with one simple, united message.
4. Blood Mirror art protest
In June, artist Jordan Eagles debuted his newest artwork, Blood Mirror — asculpture made of the blood of nine men who have sex with men. The art piece was made as a statement against the FDA mandated blood ban in the U.S., which stated that any man who had sex with a man since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic) was barred from blood donation. The glass sculpture, at a towering seven feet tall, was displayed around the country in 2015 to advocate for the repeal of the discriminatory ban. This photo was taken in Trinity Church in New York City.
The ban on blood donations was reduced on Dec. 21 to require men who have sex with men to abstain from sex for one year in order to donate.
5. Running of the Bulls
Animal rights activists protested the famous San Fermín festival in Pamplona, Spain — more commonly known as the “Running of the Bulls” — in July. Activists painted themselves red, lying down on the streets of Pamplona to call for an end to the historic event, which they claim harms and abuses the bulls involved.
6. A painted sun around the Arc de Triomphe
Greenpeace activists created a sun around the Arc de Triomphe, a famous Parisian landmark, during the U.N. Climate Summit in Paris on Dec. 11. Protesters, who had been demonstrating around the city for the 12-day duration of the climate talks, spilled yellow washable paint along the streets using bicycles, allowing passing cars to spread the dye along the streets.
7. Black Lives Matter “die-ins”
For Black Lives Matter protesters, there’s power in the rawness and urgency of their message — and unapologetic visbility. Throughout the year, protesters from the movement organized mass “die-ins” across the country to protest police brutality and violence. The particular protest pictured above was especially impactful, taking place in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9 — the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown.
Die-ins are not exclusive to the Black Lives Matter movement — in fact, they’re a somewhat common protesting method. But the message these protesters sent is particularly powerful when applied to a movement centered around the mass killings of people of color by law enforcement.
8. Empty shoes as climate activism
Activists and advocates neatly placed thousands of pairs of shoes in Paris’ Place de la Republique on Nov. 30 in a protest coinciding with the beginning of the U.N. Climate Summit in Paris. In the aftermath of deadly terror attacksin the city on Nov. 13, French officials banned large-scale protests.
To still make a mark in the absence of actual activists, protesters sent their shoes to be placed at the square, each pair representing a person in support of a comprehensive and impactful climate agreement. The shoes included those of Pope Francis and a pair for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.
9. Migrants’ mouths sewn shut
Migrants and refugees sewed their mouths shut in “no man’s land” during a protest on Nov. 23 on the border of Greece and Macedonia. They were left in limbo at the border after several European countries declared they would only allow “war-zone refugees” from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to pass through their countries.
10. Mudslide protest
On Nov. 16, protesters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, lay in muddy water outside of the headquarters of Vale, a major mining company, to protest the bursting of two dams. The dams, partially owned by Vale, unleashed a flood of muddy waste that leveled a local village. It left 10 dead and polluted waters, causing a devastating environmental impact.
11. Plastic bags for cleaner air
Activists “choked” on plastic bags outside of the European council in Brussels, Belgium, in a protest for cleaner air on Dec. 16. The protest came just days after the end of the U.N. Climate Summit in Paris, calling on government officials to give continued attention to climate concerns.
12. Carne humana
A group of activists from Anima Naturalis, an animal rights group, participated in a street performance in Mexico City on Mar. 20. The activists posed as packaged meat products, labeled as “human meat.” The protest was in conjunction with International Day Without Meat, a day that encourages people to go without meat.
13. Shaking hands across the Slovenia-Croatia border
After Slovenia rolled out a razor fence on the Slovenia-Croatia border to block the path of migrants and refugees, protesters gathered at the fence to shake hands through the sharp metal blockade on Dec. 19. The protesters also decorated the stark metal border with holiday ornaments, balloons and banners, and even played volleyball over the structure.
14. March 2 Justice
From April 13-21, a group of protesters marched 250 miles over nine days to call for criminal justice reform in the United States. The trek, from New York City to Washington, D.C., was dubbed the March 2 Justice, conceived by Justice League NYC to deliver a “Justice Package” to Congress. The package included three pieces of federal legislation designed to end racial profiling, demilitarize the police, and invest in youth counseling and delinquency prevention.
15. Kashmiri government employee protests
Kashmiri government employees protested the lack of contractual stability and pending salaries throughout the year, especially throughout the summer like in this Aug. 10 protest in Srinagar, India. Security officials commonly used water dyed purple to try to break up the various protests that popped up throughout the city during the summer. Protesters in Srinagar, however, were defiant throughout the year, leading to arrests when the colorful water did not succeed in breaking morale.
16. Body bags to represent refugees
Approximately 200 activists were zipped into black body bags on a beach in the UK resort town of Brighton during a demonstration organized by Amnesty International on Apr. 22. The protest was meant to highlight the UK’s lack of response to the rapidly escalating migrant and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.
17. Taiwanese government workers protest
Taiwanese workers wearing white masks lay in the street during a protest outside a government office in Taipei, Taiwan, on Oct. 26. Activists protested the government’s treatment of workers, including mass layoffs to contracted and temporary employees. Protesters lying in the street spelled out “Give back annual salary” in Chinese, and their white masks symbolized the silence of workers.