My Short Stint as a Radical Cheerleader
Back in 2010, I started up a radical cheerleading group called the Rah Rah Revolutionaries. You might ask, what is radical cheerleading? Well, it is a form of performance based activism that began in the mid-1990s by three sisters in Florida (Aimee, Coleen, and Cara Jennings). Generally speaking, it has an anarchist, anti-capitalist, feminist history. I am not an anarchist, but I enjoy the idea of appropriating cheerleading and twisting it into something subversive. By the time that I started the group, radical cheerleading was in decline nationally. This isn’t surprising, as social movements in general were in decline after the Bush years. Nevertheless, 2010/2011 saw a resurgence of protest and I am glad that the cheerleaders were a tiny part of that.
When I started the group, I had a lot of energy for activism. I had just returned from a semester abroad in South Korea and I was looking to re-engage in my community. The trip was a bit of a political isolation chamber. Weird ideas fester in isolation. I wanted to start up a radical clowning group at the same time. For better or worse, that idea never took off. Anyway, the idea of radical cheerleading had appealed to me for some time, though I am not sure how I first became familiar with the idea. It seemed like a way to add something fun and interesting to the run of the mill protests that I had been attending. Admittedly, my main motivation was probably the fact that I had been a cheerleader in high school. Granted, I was the worst cheerleader in the history of cheerleading. I was so awful that I actually got hate mail asking me to quit the squad. This makes for a funny story, especially because the sender did not add a stamp to the letter. I had to pay postage for my own hatemail. I feel that paying postage for your hate mail pretty much means you fail at life. None of this traumatized me enough to squash my fantasy of being an adult communist cheerleader. To this end, I made some handmade fliers and put them up around Duluth. I assembled some cheering clothes and recruited a few interested friends. Thus, this is how the Rah Rah Revolutionaries was born.
The group really came into fruition when we tabled at the Duluth/Superior Pride Festival that year. This helped us establish an email list. This is also where we did our first action as the Rah Rah Revolutionaries, which involved cheering and chanting at a group of religious activists who were there to protest the Pride Festival. In all, I have good memories of tabling at this event as many young people and members of the LGBT community showed interest in our group.
Following the event at Pride, we had a few meetings at my house. We never practiced any chants or routines, but we planned some events we could attend. Our events that fall included a fundraiser for CASDA (a local domestic violence shelter) and an anti-war rally. We were able to lead the anti-war march and lead the protesters in chants. We were also involved in a few “Cheer for Choice” events. In these events, we counter protested the 40 Days for Life picket outside of the Building for Women. We did this several times during their 40 day vigil. Because of my affinity for costumes and red and black clothes, I provided most of the uniforms/clothes to my friends. After these fall events, the group went on hiatus during the winter. It re-emerged in February 2011 with a few protests against Scott Walker’s attack against collective bargaining for public workers in Wisconsin. We also did a few “Cheer for Choice” events that spring in front of Planned Parenthood as a way to counter protest . In all, only about a half dozen people were actively involved in the group, with a dozen participants altogether.
Unfortunately, I graduated in the spring of 2011 and moved to Mankato in fall 2011 for graduate school. The group did not continue after I moved away. Years passed, and while I looked back at the brief stint at a cheerleader with fondness, I figured that it was something that would forever remain a brief moment in the past. However, after attending the Pride Festival this year, I once again became nostalgic for my pompons and cheerleader outfit. As I saw young politicized youth wandering around the festival, I thought that they might enjoy radical cheerleading. Perhaps it would be a way to make protesting fun and accessible. At the very least, it could add some color and noise to local protests and pickets. Around the country, there are not many active radical cheerleading groups these days. I myself am pretty busy with other things. But, the magnetism of nostalgia and possibility pulls me back to that past moment. So, I am preparing for round two of the cheerleading squad. Hopefully we can cheer on the masses to, “Rise up! Rise up! Rise Up up up up!”