On Protest

In my Mass Media class, we were talking about protests, and how they are successful. I think that some people (**cough**anti-WTO folks**cough**) could use to hear what my class came up with.

1. Work within the system first
If you’re trying to get a product pulled (GMO, fur coats, non-fair trade coffee), write letters to the establishment first. Even if that doesn’t work (it usually doesn’t) it will keep you from looking like a reactionary who just wants to protest.

2. Use existing networks.
On college campuses, the obvious one is Facebook. But if you’re organizing, say, a pro-free trade rally, contact existing anti-WTO organizations, and ask them for help, advice, and/or mailing lists.

3. Choose speakers beforehand, and be sure that they will stay on message.
Last semester a group of students organized a protest against the fact that we have virtually no minority professors, and a very small proportion of our students are minorities. This is something that was long overdue, and that a lot of students would get behind. Unfortunately, their rally was, shall we say, uninspiring. Not one person at the rally could speak effectively, and they weren’t very good at staying on message.

4. Avoid scaring or offending potential allies.
Again, the Willamette students working on social justice violated this rule. They came into classrooms, disrupted class, and essentially told people they were racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted if they didn’t walk out right then. Even some of the more radical students (like me) were really turned off by this tactic, and a lot of people are afraid it may have tainted the entire movement PETA and pro-fair trade protesters also violate this rule. PETA still doesn’t distance itself from ALF enough for my taste, uses disgusting tactics like giving little kids brochures instructing them to ask why their moms (who apparently wear fur) kill fluffy bunnies, and argues against pet ownership. While agree with their cause, this sort of stuff is counter productive, because it reinforces the sentiment that animal-rights activists are nutters, even though a calm, rational appeal could easily sway many people. Likewise, there is an unfortunate trend in feminism to exclude certain types of feminists, and to ridicule feminists that work on what they consider “inessential” issues. For more on this particular problem, Jessica Valenti from Feministing has a really good piece up on TPMCafe.

5. Don’t be stupid.
I recently saw an anti-GMO protest where someone claimed that eating GMO foods would alter your DNA and is inherently unhealthy. That’s utter rubbish to anyone that understands even elementary biology, and even though there are very good arguments against widespread use of GMO’s, they didn’t use a single one, preferring the easily falsifiable “shock arguments.”

6. Make sure your protest is peaceful.
Even though peaceful protests are less likely to be covered, a violent protest will be covered in a way that makes people unlikely to join your cause.

7. Don’t, for god’s sake, invite Jane Fonda.
Celebrities are generally good (if they can stay on message speak off-the-cuff well), but not when they carry such horrible baggage.

8. Use the local media.
Yes, they have small circulation. But big newspapers sometimes pick up stories from little newspapers, and networks sometimes pick up local stories as well (e.g. Terri Schiavo, Laci Peterson). Plus, people that read local news papers are more likely to come to rallies.

9. Use technology.
To my generation, this should be obvious, but too many people are still relying on fliers, mailings, and word of mouth. Use text messages, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, and everything else at your disposal. Contact blogmasters, a lot of them will help out with publicity. Some radio hosts, like Randi Rhodes and Thom Hartman, will also help out. (Assuming you contact the right ones, don’t expect Randi to help you organize a pro-Bush rally. Though, if you’re organizing a pro-Bush rally, I don’t know why you’re reading my blog.)

10. Don’t give up.
This should seem obvious as well, but a lot of people are confused when their first rally doesn’t work. It will take a while to change public opinion. For several years, some folks from PETA have been protesting against a furrier in Portland, Oregon (about an hour north of me). At long last, the mall that houses the store (Schumacher’s) has refused to renew the lease, and the owner, Gregg Schumacher has given up and will not relocate when his current lease expires.

By the way, all of the campaigns I mentioned I support, it’s just that I think the tactics they use are very poor, and counterproductive.


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