The Tiny Tents Task Force is a project initiated by individuals at Occupy Boston.
In the wee hours of December 10, 2011, Occupy Boston’s encampment was evicted from the financial district. People were arrested, tents destroyed and hauled away, signs torn and scrubbed off the soon-pristine granite.
A few hours later, a tiny, three-inch-tall tent appeared hidden in the corner of a South Boston police station. Thus began the Tiny Tents Task Force (TTTF).
It is unknown how many people paused to notice the little paper tents below the marches and protests, flashes of day-glo construction paper in the corners of eyes, settled in the nooks and crannies of train stations, jails, bank ATMs—bearing the emblem “99%” or messages like “Stand up! This is your life!”
In a week, the little A-frame structures were seen in cities across the U.S. and Europe. As real tents left public squares, tiny tents quietly began to occupy the understory of the urban jungle.
“Evict us, we minify,” became the motto of the TTTF. What started as a craft project in Boston turned into a global conversation through the use of a simple website. As evictions of the Occupy Movement’s encampments swept city after city, the TTTF’s tumblr-based blog distributed printable PDF templates, instructions for folding and placing tiny tents, and a form for uploading pictures of the results. Within weeks, images came back from Phoenix, Nashville, Raleigh, New York, London, Naples (Italy), Sydney, Berlin and more. Some even speculated when “little protestors” were used by opposition activists the next month during the 2011 Russian elections, it was in the vein of TTTF’s work. Tiny tents had gone classically viral.
Back in Boston, where participatory democracy could be both heated and exhausting, tiny-tent making became an much-needed informal community activity. The art collective The Institute for Infinitely Small Things hosted a tent-making gathering in a Cambridge, MA gallery space. News that similar gatherings were happening came from as far away as Sydney, Australia.
Part of the appeal of tiny tents is their customizability. Anyone making a tiny tent can insert their own message, either by writing on the sides or attaching makeshift signs of paper and toothpicks. Other times, the template has been printed on top of existing documents such as the full text of the National Defense Authorization Act or Citigroup’s leaked memo on the “Plutonomy Symposium.” The act of making and releasing the tents thus becomes another kind of “making public,” a way to actually read the way that oligarchs speak behind the backs of most people.
Tiny tents are not just about evoking what a tent could mean in the wake of the Occupy Movement. To be sure, for any given person a tiny tent could be a surprising (or subconcious) reminder of DIY democracy, public services, a possibility for collective struggle. What literally makes tiny tents, however, is the social interaction they enable. From the childish activity of cutting, folding,and gluing, to the performance of taking the finished tents to their destination, to seeing the images online, every step of making tiny tents is actually participating in some kind of conversation. Making the tents implies getting together with people, affecting inhabited spaces, delivering a message through word and image to both an online and offline public.
Why It Worked
Because tiny tents are playful and open-ended, they have more potential to be politically subversive than other kinds of signs. While propaganda offers positions for its viewers to push against, tiny tents entice viewers to participate, to ask questions, and ultimately enter the public in a critical fashion. While engaging in dialogue is never revolutionary in itself, there’s also no telling what effect a slight change in thought or habit might have when it takes place on a large enough scale. Maybe in the end tiny tents are just clever conversation pieces. But as they say, “start small.”