Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Planning and Executing a Political Demonstration

In Brief: This post describes how to think of protests and activism in ways that are beneficial to your cause. It is meant as a forward to the list of 10 ways to make your protest a good one.

Having taken part in dozens of political protests and demonstrations over the past 8 years or so, I have noticed some things that work very effectively and some things that just don’t fly. Particularly in terms of gay rights advocacy, there is a problem with a lot of our demonstrations and protests in that the persons who are most inclined to participate have not been armed with a solid understanding of the advocacy process. Furthermore, many people don’t even understand the issues at hand but they know they are angry and they know that there is injustice somewhere so they get involved before they are ready. Lastly, they fail to narrow their myriad of causes and issues down to one simple and effective message or goal.

My aim in this post, no matter what your political stripes, is to give you some advice on how to handle your protests, rallies and demonstrations in a way that encourages understanding of your point of view and doesn’t become a moment of contention between only you and your peers.

I have always believed that there is a secret understanding that political activists have of each other. This empathy extends even to their arch nemesis on the other side of the picket line. Political activists are very fiery, imaginative and independent people. They can be clever, even wickedly so… But they also have family and friends that they love and wish to protect. They are loyalists to an ideology but they generally have a modicum of respect for public health and safety. Two rival activists will often have respect for each other and sometimes even feel almost kindred, as though they might have been friends in another life. This is because both of them know what it’s like to be outsiders looking in… they are the rogue cowboys and Indians who battle over a new frontier ahead of all of their peers.

Most people don’t like to get involved with political protests – and they don’t always think very fondly of those of us who do. They are afraid that their boss will see them on the nightly news and fire them the next morning. In some cases, this is a realistic fear but in most cases, it’s very pessimistic and a little bit paranoid. Perhaps you will see your boss’s daughter at the event… and even on YOUR side of the issue! I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard naysayers reason that they can’t get involved because they have “real life” to contend with. Well, I’ve got news for them: We activists are the creators of their “real life” as it will be tomorrow. We are not “the sheep” even though that is usually the metaphor chosen to describe us by our nemeses.

Having said that, there is a certain amount of “herding” that goes into organizing a demonstration or protest and a good shepherd will not let his flock be embarrassed and sent home feeling unaccomplished. A person’s self esteem can be greatly enhanced or diminished after participating in political advocacy. We all have an interest in making sure that nobody (not even our so-called enemy) feels too bad about partaking in their American right to free speech.

I have put together this list of 10 Steps to Make Your Protest or Demonstration a Good One to use as a reference if you are just beginning your involvement with public activism.

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