On Activism

This speech was first published on radicalcinema.org. Check them out, you may like and support them!


The Un-taming of the Image


I was invited to do a Tedx-talk, a usually 15min speech that is held in front of an audience and later uploaded to YouTube. And while writing the speech, I decided not to go. I was asked to hold a speech in the context of „exploring new territories“, and I decided to write something about activism. The result is the un-held speech below which I would like to share here with you.

// I came to write this following text in a quiet street in Berlin. It’s a hot summer-day. I’m sitting outside a shadowy café, opposite of a chapel. Red, pink and orange flowers are blossoming next to me. I’m drinking coffee and water. Occasionally, the birds are singing, but they sound lazy from the heat. The sky is bright blue and the place is full of peace. I’m a bit hungry. The waiter is french and a very handsome guy with wild, dark hair. //

I’m Josephine Witt, 22 years old, from Hamburg. My talk today will be about activism, why I think it is necessary and what I think is important to consider.

My first action was in Berlin in February 2013, it was an attack against a meeting of a german neo-nazi party. I had joined the FEMEN movement, a feminist group founded in Kiev in 2008, known for its shocking topless protests. The credo was «Our mission is protest, our weapons are bare breasts». We undressed in the cold of Berlin’s winter, the protest lasted for a couple of moments, then we were arrested by the police and released about one hour later again. The photos were spread through the internet and printed in many german newspapers the following day.

When I came home after and started to think about what just had happened, the most dominant was a new feeling about my body. Something had changed, I could feel it very clearly. There was some new power, some new relevance, a political energy about it, I had never noticed before. It was my body, but people looked at it in shock and disturbance.

It was amusing and empowering at the same time, and I wondered what that was exactly.

The «Naked Protest», the revolt of the female body against the patriarchy, is shifting the power-paradigm around, so that the body, the former object, that has only ever been spoken about, becomes a force of expression, a demanding subject.

This sudden shift sparks an irrational panic amongst the spectators who then, in most cases, react with violence towards the women, beat them, kick them, threaten them with guns, wrestle them to the ground and hide their naked breasts.

What is shown within seconds can be described as: liberation – protest- repression – arrest.

The photos taken by the press went all across the globe. The FEMEN protest was heavily discussed, often condemned and rarely understood, but the media loved to print us anyway.

Or was it simply the hunger for media attention, that made us undress, so that we could spread our message to a global audience?

This had often been claimed, sometimes even by activists themselves.

As if our breasts were only the generators for attention, in order to achieve a discussion about our feminist ideas.

In my opinion this is a very shortsighted and utterly false analysis of the protesting with exposed breasts. If we would agree to say we only did it for the attention, we would admit, that the act of exposed breasts outside it’s predefined space of acceptance within patriarchy, would be a wrong thing to do.

But is it? No!

Even considering there would be no media anywhere to later share the photos of what happened, it would be an absolutely right thing to do, to attack Vladimir Putin with bare breasts, calling him a dictator.

It is vital to create exactly this: An act that is ‚good‘ in itself.

By that I mean: No matter what will follow, if there will be a massive discussion afterwards or not, if there will be political changes or not, can the act justify itself?

When I plan an action, I take care about the following things:

1. Nobody gets hurt

2. The right time

3. The right place

4. An aesthetical shift of the situation

If one of these criteria is not fulfilled, I can not see self-justification for the action, and I decide not to do it.

But if all these conditions are met, and the action is carried out, what is to be witnessed then, is the creation of an image.

There would have been great opportunities for me to make a lot of money with my actions. Instead, this money was made by others. For example, the photos of my action in the Cologne cathedral were sold for more than a quarter of a million worldwide. Also I know there are people who’d be willing to pay me a lot of money if they could instruct me to make a protest against their chosen target. Even close friends have suggested me to accept such offers.

I don’t want this to sound as moral as it does: but I could never imagine to do such contract work.

No sponsors and no financial benefits must stand behind the actions. It would no longer be a political action or protest or anything of intrinsic value.

Tedx in Hamburg is sponsored by «Deutsche Bank», «Mediacom», «Airbus», etc. You can find the list online. Furthermore you’ll find other regular sponsors of Ted/Tedx events, like «Google», «IBM», «Daimler», «Coca-Cola», «Unilever», etc.

Ted/Tedx are devoted to «Ideas worth spreading». The people who were responsible of recruiting the speakers for the talk told me that they were very aware of the fact that it seems to be a specific characteristic of people from my generation, that we are looking for «meaning in the world» and that it is therefore profitable for companies and corporations to transport certain ethics in order to get hold of the geniuses.

People my generation who search for «meaning» do not stop there. Pretty many of them go further and look for «change», also.

The ethics that Ted/Tedx represent are then the following: That it is possible to change conditions by the combination of optimism and technology/design.

I don’t believe the recipe «optimism+technology/design» does actually achieve change. What I have observed so far, all it does is deluding people with gradual innovations while actually creating, sharpening and hardening the overall conditions.

The Ted/Tedx approach is global and the ideas captured in 15min frames spread all over the world.

The photos of my actions also have been spread all over the globe.

But in order to change the world, we must first consider that we do not live in «one world». We live in many different worlds, worlds that do collide sometimes, and are connected, worlds of consciousnesses.

But the popular opinion of «only one world as one‚ shared‘ space», does already suggest a severe problem that lies here: uniformization.

Uniformization of perception and thought is triggered by neglecting the existence of consciousness as a individual reality and is an utter necessity for the persistence and even global spread of top-down-social-structures.

Uniformization is brought by various factors, but the one I want to focus on now again is «the image». As I said before, what is created during the protest is an image.

The world is perceived through images.

Images are everywhere, more images exist right now than ever before in human history. Everybody captures them with their lenses on cameras, laptops or smartphones, through selfies, as tourists of Paris who shoot the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel tower is the world’s most photographed sight, it is almost obligatory as a tourist to take the selfie with the tower in the back. The Eiffel Tower is shot in the exact same way. The same image is reproduced over and over and over again, nothing differs except the pattern of the clouds in the background. The more images there are, the more equal they get. The images are similar, as if there would be an authority of aesthetics.

It is quite easy to understand the existence of such aesthetical authority.

Imagine a photo of a woman showing some underarm hair. And a photo of a refugee from syria.

The picture of the woman with underarm hair shocks the people. Even if there is no thing more natural than underarm hair on grown women. It is essentially nothing bad. Whereas refugees suffering homelessness and hunger is something bad, but provokes no outcry whatsoever.

We can see here how the obedience towards two authorities is responsible for creating this controversy. On the one hand, «war», on the other hand «beauty industry».

There exists a taboo for creating images showing underarm hair, even though there is nothing wrong with it.

Pictures following same rules of aesthetics are reproduced, as if the world of images needed to be tamed.

What follows is a certain «routine of imagery».

When TV only existed in black and white, it is reported that people often dreamed in black and white. The routine of imagery consumed by everybody puts a routine of thinking in the minds. (nobody played this card better than the nazis. But i’ll not mention nazis in the talk.)

This routine is what my activism attacks.

For the first time, a topless women stands on Cologne cathedral, in the same pose like Jesus.

And if Draghi will be wearing the banker’s pokerface on each picture, we would accept him like that the whole time and not even consider him looking weak like that.

It is not only the routine of the christmas procedure I broke with my protest in Cologne. It is also the routine of imagery that are produced and keep a certain status quo.

To be even able to question the status quo, we need to have a choice in our imagination, a choice for an alternative, or even one million alternatives.

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Verliebt, verlobt, verheiratet, geschieden!

Ein Vogel wollte Hochzeit machen in dem grünen Walde-

Fiderallala, Fiderallala, Fiderallalalala!

Ich habe vom Hochzeit machen geträumt heute Nacht, und nun sitze ich auf dem Balkon bei meinem viel zu starken und ordentlich gesüßten Zapatista’s Kaffee und meine Gedanken kreisen stets darum.

Die liebe Sonne über Berlin knallt so gewaltig auf uns herab wie Sektkorken und am Wochenende gaben sich ein schwedischer Prinz und seine, sag bloß!, dem Pöbel entstammte Bilderbuchbraut das Ja-Wort, und selbst die kleine Thronfolgerin fand es zum Gähnen, trotzdem wird uns gerade kein spannenderes Amusement serviert. Die Champions-league ist durchgespielt, ja mei, herrscht denn etwa schon wieder Saure-Gurken Zeit!?

Fast, die Sunday-Times tat ihr Bestes uns einen frischen Aufreger zu präsentieren – und hatte sich wohl ein wenig verkalkuliert. Sicherlich interessant, den in unseren Breiten zumindest immer noch hartnäckig als Held hochgehaltenen Edward Snowden mit ein paar schmissigen Zeilen in die Schmuddelecke der Verräter und Bösewichte zu katapultieren- doch zum Glück ist die Geschichte im Rohr krepiert. Wer sich halt mit Snowden’s hochkarätigen Freundeskreis anlegt (in dem greenen Walde! ) sollte sich das zweimal überlegen, sonst geht’s arg nach hinten los. Puff!

Dann muss man eben wieder in die Mottenkiste greifen und bläst das Griechenland-Thema nochmal auf. Lalalalaaangweilig denkt sich die Kronprinzessin erneut und scrollt sich durch die Timeline. Was haben wir denn da? „Die Toten kommen“?  Sie muss an Dawn of the dead denken und fragt sich ob sie wirklich klicken will- zu spät, der Zeigefinger war schon wieder schneller, und siehe da!

Few Zombies, aber very Menschlichkeit und much Like.

Ein Glück, da hat die Presse dann wieder große Neuigkeiten und bunte Bilder.

Heiraten hilft im Übrigen auch gegen das Abschieben. Vor ein paar Tagen sind meine Mitbewohnerin und zwei Freunde ins dänische Tønder gefahren um schnell und mit wenig Bürokratie zu heiraten. Flüchtlingshilfe im kleinen hat in Tønder tatsächlich Hochkonjunktur und kann weiter empfohlen werden. Da wird das alte Konstrukt mit Strandurlaub verknüpft und noch ein wenig mehr ausgehöhlt. Very Menschlichkeit und much Like, skandinavische Hochzeiten sind wohl immer noch am allerschönsten. In diesem Sinne: Ehe für Alle!

Die Vogelhochzeit ist nun aus, die Vögel fliegen all’ nach Haus.

Fiderallala, Fiderallala, Fiderallalalala!

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Fluorescent Adolescent

Okay, so what’s on my mind now, one day after sentenced guilty for my topless protest at Cologne cathedral?

Not much about that, to be honest. The sun shines at his brightest on my new little balcony in Berlin and I’m eating cherries and drink my sweet morning-espresso at 10.30 am.

Is this the retirement of a FEMEN-activist?, I playfully ask myself and smile.

The fine reduced itself from 1200€ to 600€, but not because I’m less guilty, only because they realized I’m much poorer than they thought I was. And that’s true, but that’s okay for now because on this balcony flooded with sunlight I feel like the queen of Berlin. „The tendency to daydreaming“ is what the judge could not spot in me.

Because I was only twenty when I jumped the altar on christmas, they had to check my personality on a few aspects to determine whether I was to be judged like an adult or an adolescent. Being judged as an adolescent has the great advantage that the fine must not be paid with money, which is an attractive thought to me in my current financial situation.

There are a few characteristics that, as appropriate, would lead to criminal law relating to young offenders, among them:

– Insufficient formation of the personality,

– Naive/trustful behavior,

– Live the moment,

– Playful attitude to work,

– Tendency to daydreaming,

– Hang to adventurous activities,

– Imagination into self-worth-increasing roles

Without feeling any sort of shame about it, I can say that the majority of these criteria do apply to myself. As a matter of fact- I would feel sad if they would not.

To discredit these personality features to be exceptionally „especially juvenile“ though, I think, is a big social problem that I see closely linked to corporate depression.

I am 21 now, by law a definite adult, only a few days apart from turning 22 and I can well remember still the first lines I read in the first book I’ve ever read.

It was a book of Erich Kästner that I found in my grandmother’s house one bright summer day like this one here. I was standing on the balcony and watched my mother in the garden, watering the plants with the hosepipe. I read the preface and I found it boring, I wanted to drown myself right into the storyline, I found it boring until I came across these crucial lines: „I take this opportunity to ask you wholeheartedly: Never forget your childhood, you promise me that?“

How astonishing I found it, to read this! Never was I told that before, nor to take any pride in my childhood! And now an old, serious author with wrinkles and a beard asked me not only to never forget my childhood, but to make it a promise!

I took a look at my mother who shot water at the roses. She called me to come down and play with her. And in my mind I secretly gave Kästner that promise.

But the judge saw that differently. And I will have to find a way to come up with 600€. The bill has not been sent yet, but it will be coming within the next few weeks, for sure. They’ll not forget about me, in Cologne.

I already received quite a few kind emails from people who are ready to split the fine with me- and I’m incredibly thankful for that! But I will have to find a way to make it look as if these donations will be used differently- as by law a fine is a fine and must be paid by the criminal. I will let you know, when I receive the letters by court.

In the meantime all there is to say from me:

Be wild, be free. Don’t put your phantasy in a cage but ride on it’s lithesome back through the concrete jungle! And never forget to be happy.

My small text is finished here, and my small sweet espresso is still more full than empty.


Foto am 04.06.15 um 15.37

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FEMEN or not?

My break with the organization.

One week ago I did my first protest without being topless.
I explained to the world media that I am not a part of FEMEN anymore, but I operated as a “freelance-activist”.

Obviously my time with FEMEN was very intense and it’s not the most easy decision to cut the cord after so much had happened.
Remember, I celebrated big successes with FEMEN when attacking Putin, for example, and also I was going through very hard times when I was in Tunisian jail.

And most of all, I still feel that the topless protest is something very powerful.
But I proved, that also without being topless it’s perfectly possible to transport a strong message.

And furthermore I felt that exposing my breasts that day would not have helped at all.

Here I want to share my thoughts I had during my emotional and intellectual break with the organization of FEMEN.

A statement I wrote in February 2015:


FEMEN or not.

A radical protest group like FEMEN does not only grow with the strengths of it’s arguments but also with its activists.

When I did my first protest in the name and style of FEMEN, that was in February 2013 against the german neo-nazi-party NPD in Berlin, this fell into the period of FEMEN’s history when many new young women* joined the topless protest and our bodies carried the message of the “new feminism” all across the globe.

Delighted we were about the new feeling of power of our bodies, invincible we felt when our actions succeeded, and back then, almost all of them did.

Look at FEMEN then, look at FEMEN now.

At the right time and place we caught the perfect wave and it carried us so high we almost thought we could fly.

How pathetic we look now when we try to catch the same wave, like an old clown in the arena of an empty circus telling his old jokes over again and nobody laughs anymore, and when they do, they laugh out of pity.

But not our bodies have let us down. Not our form of topless protest. Not how we let speak what before only had been spoken about.

It’s what we said. And what we did not say.

Let’s take a look at the world now and what do we see:

Birthland of FEMEN, Ukraine, bleeding madly.

The countries to which FEMEN first expanded: fascist riots in the streets. Xenophobia, racism, islamophobia, economic inequalities and massive unemployment.

The USA, place where FEMEN always planned to conquer: Police slaughtering their way through the black ghettos.

What do we do about it? Where is FEMEN’s response?  How can we honestly believe in our political relevance if we shun to speak about these issues?

No, we don’t have to speak about everything that’s a big deal in the media.

But is our worldview not a bit narrow if we define patriarchy’s evil as merely Putin+ISIL ?

With statements out there like “I am islamophobic” or “hijab is like a concentration-camp for women*”, with photos proving collaboration between Ukrainian FEMEN activists and Ukrainian fascists, obviously it’s hard to credibly counter racism.

One looks at FEMEN now and sees it all blurry like looking through a fogged window.

Ridiculous activists who like to be seen at film festivals, TV shows and give interviews where they talk about their private lives and relationships.

In the face of racism, war and fascism, FEMEN became a boring and tired sod. Now that’s shameful.

Because there are problems to be addressed.

To be addressed with the irrepressible spirit of the naked truth and the sharp wit of a young woman*.

There is no form of protest more beautiful to me than the strategy of the naked protest.

And I know very well of my task to waste my beauty in order to create beautiful things.

I am absolutely convinced that this world needs young women* to stand up and to break the silence.

But I can no longer be confused with the group of women* who absolutely lost track about their opinions and aims.

I can no longer tolerate their dumb and destructive statements regarding antifascism, islamism, patriotism and feminism.

And very personally I can no longer stop myself from my own political engagement because I’d worry to be lumped together with the silliness of some other FEMEN activists.

Now what some girls* do, among them the FEMEN Belgium, FEMEN Berlin, Amina, is to “reclaim the naked protest”. They turned their back to FEMEN but they do so with their breasts still exposed and their mouths wide open.

Even in my most active times within the movement I was never really a good “group-person”. Peer-spirit and group dynamics are not my elements to swim in. Loyalty is a concept that works for me rarely with people but more with principles. And among the group many girls* often did not know if they could trust me, and other than making clear my ideological intentions, I also never gave them many reasons to trust me on an emotional basis.

When FEMEN became a registered organization in Germany, as one of the best known individuals of the movement I did not take any legal responsibilities.

Some of the girls* became my friends but with many of them the only link was the belonging to the movement named FEMEN.

What I mean to say is that, even if in the media and in criticism of ex-FEMEN girls* the group’s dynamics was often described as “dictatorial” with a few ladies* (+“Victor“) on top giving orders and many girls* (blindly) obeying and “risking their lives”­­­­­­ while following orders,

This is not my experience of being a FEMEN activist.

I never followed or gave orders and I have the full responsibility for every single action I did.

Every protest, from my first to my last, was the embodiment of an idea that was greater than it’s members. An idea of liberation spread with the language of a woman’s* naked body.

If there is a way to continue my political engagement and if there is a way to ever protest again, I know that I owe it to the people who once or still supported FEMEN to clarify my current involvement within the group of FEMEN.

I am in loose contact to three or four girls* worldwide who still consider themselves part of FEMEN. We discuss ideological issues and current political events. I gave up speaking to Inna Shevchenko and her group of FEMEN France. I disagree with them on many levels about our ideology, tactics and protests. I am not and very rarely was in direct contact with Anna Hutsol. I never even saw “Victor Swyatzki”. Since almost one year I have stopped seeing the members of FEMEN Germany.

There is absolutely no reason why I should consider myself to be a part of FEMEN now.

It is funny, because even when I had every reason in the world to do so, in summer ’13, shortly after being released out of Tunisian prison, in the documentary “Naked War” by Joseph Paris, I stated: “I am not part of FEMEN. I am FEMEN.”


FEMEN is no club to join with shiny member card and regular meetings. Those training sessions they have in France are ridiculous.

FEMEN is: Two women* at a bar laughing about Erdogan loosing his own voice in his election campaign.

FEMEN is: The sigh of my mother when she says goodbye to her daughter who leaves her and the family on christmas eve to spend the night on a train and the next day at a police station.

FEMEN is: An idea of liberation spread with the language of a woman’s* body.

FEMEN is : A fucking meaningless word out of five letters, because the idea of the topless protest does not even need to wear a name.

We should let it work for itself.


These were my thoughts when I decided to leave the organization. Whereas it was powerful in the beginning, “FEMEN” now has become a label that does more harm to the intentions of the activist. 

It is a feminist concept to liberate oneself from harmful labels.

There are many things i learned during my time with FEMEN. And I don’t hold any grudges against them, nor do I regret any action. But it was time to move on.

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Hello my dears*!

Welcome to my new site, where from now on you can follow me, my actions, thoughts, poetry, art…..

I’ve already uploaded some pictures and an interview concerning my last confetti action.

Many of you asked me about my break with the FEMEN movement, this and further explanations will be provided for you here.

I’ve also changed my email address to: mail (at) josephine-witt.com – I’m waiting for your mails!

Let’s have a blogging blast, butterflies!

Love and keep up the good fight!



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