How To Start a Protest Movement: Tips from the Pioneer of Glitter-Bombing Meet Nick Espinosa, the Gay Rights Activist Who Started Glittering Presidential Candidates

Posted by Nona Willis Aronowitz

It was 11 a.m. on May 17 when Nick Espinosa spied an announcement on Twitter, letting him know that Newt Gingrich was in Minneapolis that day. 

"It was a really spontaneous action," Espinosa says. "I saw the tweet and brainstormed some ideas. Then I went to the store, got a bag of glitter, and showed up at the event." Needing a last-minute body behind the camera, he dragged his little sister along for the ride.

The same day, 24-year-old Espinosa simply got in line at Newt's book signing, and dumped a cracker jack box full of glitter on the presidential hopeful's head. The move was in protest of Gingrich's appearance with the Minnesota Family Council, which has compared gay sex to bestiality. A few days later, the glitter-bomb video had hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube, and inspired the grassroots social justice group CodePink to follow in his footsteps and throw confetti all over Tim Pawlenty. A few days ago, Espinosa's friend Rachel glittered Michele Bachmann, too. (Check out our previous post to watch all the videos.) There is now a #glitterati hashtag, which has people speculating who will be the next victim. Rick "Google-problem" Santorum, anyone?

There are tons of examples of pranks-as-politics throughout history; the Yippies and the Yes Men come to mind. But Espinosa may be the most successful one-person catalyst of a mini-revolution thus far in the Age of the Meme. Here's what you need to start your own movement of one for the YouTube generation:

Be sure the substance conveys a message. "People have accused the glitter thing of being sensational, but it conveys a clear message," Espinosa tells GOOD. "If the action doesn't have a specific message, it doesn't have value." Unlike the pie-throwing gay activists employed in the 1970s, colorful glitter specifically invokes gay culture. So does Espinosa's battle cry, "Feel the rainbow!"

Record it.  Espinosa put out a press release with a few photos shortly after Newt's glitter shower, but the message truly spread after he posted the video on YouTube. It turned a funny news story into an even funnier visual experience. "It got much more attention than I thought it would once the video was up," he says. "Personally, Newt Gingrich's frumpy, sad reaction is my favorite."

Make the action cheap and easy to replicate. "Anyone can just go to the store and buy a bag of glitter or confetti," he says. "It's an easy way for people to take the glitter into their own hands, so to speak." The more preparation your direct-action idea requires, the less likely it'll catch on.

Create a Twitter hashtag. Once a movement has a catchy tag, anyone can participate. "The hashtag #glitterati allows people a forum to discuss the issue, and it's really important to make it accessible for anyone to chime in," Espinosa explains. A hashtag is also an easy way to choose your level of involvement, whether you're a big, loud activist or just someone who wants to support a groundswell of a movement in a small way.

Remember that political statements can be fun. "[Other] methods of protest can be aggressive and physical," Espinosa points out. The pie-in-the-face tactic, for example, borders on assault. "Glitter is a safe, fun, and creative way to protest. And it's sort of a joyous act, it's a bit more fabulous than some of those other methods."