Protesting In The Buff

Transport, Welcome to Vörland

There's no shortage of creative ways to protest climate change and car traffic. You could, for instance, glue yourself to the Prime Minister  to stick it to his airport construction plans, or organize a block party for 6,000 people on one of the busiest roads in your city. But lately more and more people are opting for another method to demand greener policies: taking off their clothes to join the "cyclonudist revolution." Those who have tried it say that riding a bicycle naked is really quite comfortable and gets positive reactions – mainly laughter – in the streets.  

Since it was first organized in 2004, the World Naked Bike Ride has become the world’s biggest nude demonstration, mobilizing people in 70 cities in 20 countries. This year’s largest event was held in Portland, where over 9,000 naked riders flooded the streets, with messages like “Less Gas, More Ass” painted on themselves. Meanwhile in London, around 1,000 cyclists stripped down to protest oil dependency, and in Zaragoza, the city of the first group naked ride in 2001, 200 people joined the carnival-like demonstrations to annoy car drivers.

As the slogan “Bare as You Dare” points out, full nudity is not required; however, the majority of participants appear in their birthday suits. Many may be among the emerging "econudes", who link nudity to environmental activism. According the movement's followers, getting rid of our clothes is the best way to save the planet. By reducing the energy used in the manufacture, transport and washing of textiles, nudism helps reverse climate change, advocates claim. They also encourage naked vacations (“nakations”), arguing that lighter luggage loads mean that planes emit less carbon dioxide. Though these claims may not necessarily be supported by research, getting naked rarely fails to catch the media's attention – which makes it a popular tool of protest for many campaigners, whatever their cause may be. 

In countries where it is taboo, public nudity can indeed be an apt political weapon. In Liberia, Leymah Gbowee and her fellow campaigners were able to maintain a blockade at the site of the 2003 peace talks by threatening to get naked. Protesters were allowed to stay as the police was afraid of the West African curse incurred by seeing women expose themselves in public. More recently, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy similarly fueled huge political outcry by publishing her nude photos of herself on the Internet. Many Egyptian liberals were afraid that the scandal would ruin their chances in the newly democratic, post-revolution elections.

But the scene in the West is quite different. In the U.S., nudist camps earn about 500 million dollars a year, and almost 10 percent of Canadians are interested in naturism. Likewise in Britain, participation in nudist vacations is growing by 20 percent each year. Western ease with nakedness is not only for holidays, however. Many people are prepared to strip down in the streets for new jumpers, like in this marketing scheme, as well as for art – American photographer Spencer Tunic has had no difficulties in finding enthusiastic volunteers for his large-scale nude shoots.

In this context, naked bicycle rides seem more like acts of exhibitionism than subversive demonstrations. And they are becoming just one of the many protests of this kind. It may be that sex sells, but activists should continue trying new and striking tactics to capture people's attention. If not, grabbing an old chair to sit in the middle of the road and stop traffic may not be such a bad idea after all.


Blog courtesy of: Bobe Barsi
Photo: Pablo Boto.