Lasers, Human Megaphones, And Guy Fawkes Masks: The Memes From Modern Protests

The hottest accessory in Tahrir Square today was the laser pointer, the newest meme-tastic tool of civil disobedience.

In the days leading up today’s ousting of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, many of the protesters in the country’s Tahrir Square concentrated laser pointers upward, directed at the military helicopters flying above them.


This novel use of the pointers attracted international media attention and helped galvanize observers–an important part of any modern protest. Aware that the world is watching (and re-tweeting), protesters keep coming up with novel ways to transcend the banners, signs, and chants of protests past. Here’s a look at seven innovative awareness-building techniques used in recent years.

Lasers In Egypt

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered together in Egypt’s Tahrir Square to cheer the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi. Under the gleaming lights of military helicopters, Morsi protesters came armed with lights of their own laser pointers.

#DuranAram, The Standing Man In Turkey

During the third week of protests against the Turkish government’s planned closure of a public square, Erdem Gündüz took a stand–literally. He stood for six hours in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, impervious to harassment from police and passersby, and inspired activists across the country. The unusual form of protest got its own meme: Duran aram, or “standing man” in Turkish.


Human Megaphones Of Occupy Wall Street

During the Occupy Wall Street protests that began in September 2011, the camp set up in New York City’s Zuccotti Park lacked an amplified sound system. So protesters created the “people’s mic,” a system for making announcements in which the speaker would say something that the crowd would repeat, in groups, until the message was fully disseminated. The technique, which reinforced the movement’s emphasis on decentralized experience, caught on in cities as far away as Oakland, California.

Bat Signals, Occupy Wall Street

On November 17, 2011, as Occupy Wall Street activists marched across the Brooklyn Bridge after the eviction of Zuccotti Park, messages of support–“99%,” “MIC CHECK,” “WE ARE A CRY FROM THE HEART OF THE WORLD”–beamed onto the Verizon Building in lower Manhattan, projected from a public-housing apartment. The bat signal got a batmobile shortly thereafter: the Illuminator, and has been called into action for other statements, like this sign of solidarity with the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Pepper Spray Art, UC Davis Occupy Protest

A brutal police breakup of a group of peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters on the UC Davis campus in November 2011 quickly became popularized for a particular cop whose cavalier use of pepper spray earned him the Casually Spray Everything Cop meme, showing that even a setback can be turned into a chance for a statement.


Social Media in the Arab Spring

Though social media has become a hallmark of modern protests, Facebook and Twitter have become particularly critical parts of the wave of demonstrations, protests, and riots of the Arab Spring. In Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, activists turned to Facebook to organize protests, and Twitter and YouTube have become critical vehicles for sharing news with the world. They also used the names and logos of these companies as rallying cries.

Anonymous’ Guy Fawkes Mask

Anonymous, the group of hacktivists, adopted the mask of Guy Fawkes, the leader of a failed attempt to assassinate King James I in 17th Century Britain. The image of Fawkes’ face was also popularized by the 2005 film V For Vendetta, and has been used as both a shield and brand of international protest.


About the author

Christina is an associate editor at Fast Company, where she writes about technology, social media, and business.