Monday, December 12, 2011

Eight Rules for Effective Protesting

Americans have forgotten how to protest properly. We think that going outside, playing drums, bashing trash can lids, and shouting slogans in unison is how it's done, and the result is always the same -- the public get sick of them, and doesn't seem to care when police use their military-surplus toys to bust them up.

30 or 40 years ago, protests were more effective, more lawful, and actually inspiring. There are some significant differences between the protests of the 60's and modern protests that people need to know, and some things that should be taken to heart.

(1) Reclaim the American Flag
40 years of right-wing shenanigans, pundits, Jesse Helms, and rednecks all waving flags in solidarity of genuinely hideous principles, has made most liberal protestors regard the flag as the symbol of conservative hatred and bigotry. Even I must confess that seeing Tea-Party protestors, anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-science, and anti-bill-of-rights, right-wing activism, all accompanied by fierce flag-waiving, as if to say that everyone who isn't a bigot is un-American, has made me think of the American Flag in a negative way. If you look at left-wing protests in other countries, this is not the case. Left wing protestors in France, Russia, and other countries all wave their national flags around with pride. In America, left-wing protestors can't seem to do this, without holding the flag upside down, if at all.

The American flag is not the exclusive property of half-retarded, brain-dead racists, fascist, and neo-cons. It belongs to everyone, whether you are right-wing, left wing or in-between. Liberal protestors need to stop thinking of flag-waiving as an activity performed by the Neanderthal, thug-like, and the mentally-retarded, redneck right wing. We need to reclaim the flag as everyone's flag, and it needs to be as prominent as the protest signs.

(2) Dress for the occasion
Even I get sick of seeing throngs of dread-locked, tie-dye festooned, pot-smoking hippies. That's what I see at every left-wing protest event. I can't begin to tell you how much the image of these people turns me off, as well as it turns off moderate and right-wing people. Now I am as liberal as the next one of you, but really, the style of dress, and the behavior that involves banging djembes, dancing, and smoking pot, makes people, including yours truly, think these people are just dirty.

I think that protestors would be taken much more seriously if they simply dressed as though it were a special occasion. Don't go in blue-jeans and t-shirts like those Tea-Party tards -- wear your interview suit, your Sunday best, and your office-attire. LOOK RESPECTABLE. Nobody looks at filthy hippies with respect, especially when they are banging their obnoxious drums and chanting John Lennon lyrics. Dressed like slobs, you are a mob. Dressed respectably, you are an assembly.

(3) Quiet down
Hearing drums pounding hour after hour, people screaming, and out-of-key renditions of Lennon and Dylan songs is ANNOYING to listen to. It annoys the other protestors, as well as people who may otherwise be sympathetic to your cause. In fact, people are more willing to listen to you if you are quiet, believe it or not.

I learned this in parochial school when Sister Jane was trying to explain a lesson to a noisy classroom. She kept getting louder and louder until she suddenly switched to a softer and softer voice. The rest of us instinctively got quiet, until we heard what she was saying. She whispered "If I speak quietly enough, you will listen to what I am saying." One of my College professors, in a history class, applied the same method when the class was loud with talking students. It's true -- the quieter your message, the more attentively people will listen to you. People will have far more respect for a protest that doesn't leave their eardrums vibrating.

(4) Be Less accepting of variations in the message
One of the big problems with both the Tea Party Protestors and the Occupy movements, is that they seem to allow anyone to show up and protest with them, even if they are not protesting the same thing. When Racists showed up at Tea Party events, the news media singled them out, and it seemed as though the movement actually welcomed them and their racist message. Likewise, all of the pot-smoking kids who use the opportunity of a protest to play rave music and dance, all of the conspiracy mongers, and all the people with bizarre messages to add to the protest, can reflect badly on your protest. 911-truthers, Vegetarians, Communists, Pot-legalization proponents, and other kooks and weirdoes, are just there to hijack your protest, and are trying to push their own agenda, using your steam.

Protestors are too permissive, and too overly-polite. You really need to get rid of people that show up at the protest, whose messages are not properly aligned with the movement. When crazy people show up, you need to inform them that they are only welcome if their message is aligned with the rest of the group, and that they should either get with the program, or stay away. This sounds harsh, but all it takes is one news-crew with a camera to see one inappropriate sign, or interview one kook who has nothing to do with the protest, or who is inarticulate and the whole country will see that person as representative of your movement. This is especially true if Fox News is sending its crews around for "gotcha" interviews, which are designed to defame your movement.

(5) Take control of your message
The people who organize liberal protests need to make sure that everyone participating goes through an orientation, and follows rules. They need to have internal policing of protestors to enforce rules of conduct. The rules of conduct should be simple and straightforward -- Don't act like idiots, don't be rowdy, be polite, no fighting, no yelling, No boom boxes playing loud music, no drums, be clean, be on your best behavior.

Protests need to have designated speakers to whom the media can be directed. Participants need to be told that they should not speak to the media unless they are designated speakers. Everyone needs to have hand-outs that explain the points of the protest, and everyone needs to be told that they should refrain from pushing a message that is not listed in the hand-outs. When asked by media for an interview, people need to be aware that it's best to redirect the media to the designated speakers. Not everyone is good on camera, or is articulate enough to express the movement's goals. Also, not everyone is skilled enough to know when they are being set up by a hostile interviewer. Interviewers need to be routed to experts who can handle expressing the goals of the protest without looking like a fool.

Organizers need to control the signage. When people show up with poorly-made signs, which are misspelled, or have inappropriate messages, they need to be told to trade in their sign for a more official one. Organizers need to have a bunch of more-or-less professionally-made signs to give people whose signs are not appropriate. They must be honestly told the reason for switching their signs, and that they should leave if they refuse. I know it sounds tough, but as I said, if you allow signs with poor spelling and grammar, inappropriate language, or inappropriate messages, the public may see these people as representative of you.

To properly control the message, you need to have some trained security people who can spread out in the crowd, and respond wherever rules are being broken. People who show up with inappropriate signs or those who do not behave, should be given a written page of the rules, and be asked to attend an orientation. If they refuse, or they have to be given a warning more than 3 times, they need to be removed. The security people need to be swift and as non-violent as possible. This sounds harsh, but it can make the difference between a truly unified protest, and a random mob of mixed messages.

(6) Don't camp. There is no reason for it.

The biggest weakness of the Occupy movement is the unnecessary and disruptive practice of camping out in public spaces. Other protest movements from around the world do not camp in public places. They simply assemble every day, and leave when it's time to go home. I know that it's hard to keep thousands of people fed, hydrated, informed, policed, and have adequate sanitary facilities. Having a permanent camp may be convenient, but it's definitely not the best way to do it. If the structures were torn down and set up at regular times every day, and not left overnight, it would give fewer excuses for authorities to tear them down. It would also give less opportunities for Homeless people and petty criminals to take advantage of people who are sleeping.

(7) Learn what non-violent civil disobedience is supposed to be
American protestors have forgotten what civil disobedience is, and how to conduct it. Some protestors, such as the idiots at UC Davis, make bad situations worse. The Protestors at UC Davis blockaded police, and entrapped a small group of University police that were actually trying to leave, making a bad situation even worse. They got maced, and they asked for it. Let's get one thing clear. Non-violent, Civil disobedience is NOT about confronting cops and intimidating them back. Traditionally, successful civil disobedience is when you walk up to the cops, and offer to let them arrest you. Civil disobedience is NOT resisting arrest, and NOT fighting with police.

If you actually believed in your protest, you should be willing to offer yourself up for being arrested for protesting.

Shouting slogans angrily at cops only does one thing. It scares the crap out of them, because it's only one small step from shouting slogans to having a peaceful mob turn into a riot. When the cops arrive, you need to be calm, intelligent, and KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. Many cops don't even know what your rights are, and will try to tell you what they are, incorrectly. You need to ask why you are being asked to leave, and most importantly, "what law am I violating", and "Are you arresting me, and if so, what will I be charged with?"

Too many protests involve acting tough and openly intimidating cops, shouting angry slogans at them, and improvising weapons as though you plan on fighting them. This is the wrong way. Martin Luther King and Ghandi did not resist arrests, or intimidate cops. When the cops attacked, they looked like fascists, because they were using violence against un-armed peaceful protestors. When you shout at cops, chant slogans, threaten to rise up, or otherwise resist them, you are inviting them to behave badly.

When they arrest you, you have to go willingly, and you cannot shout or scream. Just go peacefully, and cooperate. Most of the time, you will not get hurt (though it can happen), and most importantly, when the cameras are on you, you will look like someone who is willing to get arrested for their cause. In most cases, if you have truly not broken any laws, charges will be dropped. Many protestors get arrested multiple times at different protests without getting hurt, and without being charged. Sure, some people did get charged, and paid fines or served jail time, but the point is that public sympathy is increased by observing protestors that aren't acting rowdy.

(8) Realize that we're not living in a dictatorship.

Too many protestors are looking to start a violent revolution. Many people, particularly anarchists and communists, have wet dreams of fighting police in the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails, and chasing frightened cops through the streets as smoke and bullets fly. These people should be weeded out and effectively banned from the group as soon as they are discovered. They often have the ability to incite the crowd, as they did at UC Davis. These people are not about non-violent, civil disobedience. These people are about violent clashes with authority.

In a dictatorship, police do not have to follow rules of conduct, and are known for getting away with atrocities. America is nowhere near being a Dictatorship. Cops have to follow strict rules of engagement, and can be publicly punished for violating rules and laws. Though lots of people keep claiming that we're turning into a fascist police state, the fact is that we haven't nearly gotten to that point at all yet. Cops can still be tried and imprisoned for their behavior, and regularly do. If we were a fascist dictatorship, cops would rarely be tried for crimes committed while wearing their badges. Yet we see it every day -- cops get reprimanded sent to prison for bad behavior, criminal activity, and violating the rights of those whom they arrest.

Now go out there and protest like civilized people.
Using these rules will not guaranty a perfect protest, but it will get you closer to being effective at spreading your message and garnering the sentiment of the public. There will always be those who will pooh-pooh your movement. There will never be 100%public support for your movement; no movements are accepted by 100% of any population. What is important is that your message be clear, be consistent, and be rational. Protestors need to be wrangled effectively to ensure uniformity of goals. Laws need to be obeyed, officers respected, and you have to be willing to get arrested for your cause, if it comes to that. To be effective at protesting, you have to be respectable, rational, and realistic.


David Moisan said...

More rules:

1) You are going to make people uncomfortable. That's the way of it. Rights and powers are never just given to you -- you must take them. If you're protesting just so your friends and family can pat you on the head and think you cool, you're wasting your time, and ours.

2) People will come out for existential threats. Civil rights were very much exisential for those participating (RIP, those Freedom Riders made non-existent in the South.) Vietnam was very exisential for those facing the draft. I came out for a rally on health care (and my speech is on YouTube somewhere) because it is exisential to me and extremely important.

3) The Occupy movement has a message for us all, and a potential for many older folks to get involved. They will have to "trust people over 30". If it's just a scene for the young where the old should just get out of the way and die, well, Winston Churchill said that if the old and the young fight, they both lose their future. The older folks could bring a lot of knowledge and stability to the movement.

4) I'm always told not to take myself too seriously. There's something to that. But too often, people take that to mean "don't take the job seriously, you're only a volunteer!"

Absolutely take the job seriously. If it's that important that you are willing to get yourself arrested and thrown in jail, it is important to do the damnedest best job you can at it.

If you can't put in the time, do another job or do something else. I'll understand "no" a lot better than "OK, I'll do it", when I've heard the latter ten times after asking for something.

I have done many volunteer jobs. I may not have equal energy to put in all of them, but when I do, I will do them at a professional level to the best extent I can. If I can't, well, maybe I should not do.

I may have a sense of humor as a boss, but that doesn't mean I don't care if the work is done.

JohnDurandal said...

I agree with some of what you've said in your two post about the Occupy movement, but disagree with much of it, mostly on the nature of civil disobedience and the contrast between protest of the past. The Occupy protest are actually, probably coincidentally, a direct successor of the Bonus Army Uprising, which lead to the creation of the GI Bill:

Contrasting the Occupy movement with the Civil Rights Movement is a little silly, as Martin Luther King Jr and other organizers did and advocated much of the same things, occupying places of importance, boycotts, general strikes, etc. It got tense and violent in the Civil Rights protest, people were shot and killed in fact during them. Jesse Jackson compares Occupy and Civil Rights Movement

Everyone from Adam Smith to Karl Marx to MLK would be occupying Wall Street right now, if they were all in America anyway

"We don't live in a dictatorship"

No we don't live in a dictatorship in that we don't have an Augustus Caesar or Adolf Hitler running the country, but we live in a country where now the Department of Homeland Security is actively coordinating attacks against popular protest and where now anyone can be arrested on suspicion of terrorism indefinitely without trial, a bill that passed suspiciously as the Occupy movement has been raging, so we don't live in a free country where people's rights are respected, give me a break.

Anonymous said...

"(6) Don't camp. There is no reason for it."

Um, tell that to the Bonus Army :p

Also tell that to the Egyptian uprising where they camped out in Tahir Square and refused to leave and got shot at and battle police and the military until they got what they wanted.

Tell that to virtually every successful protest movement in history. "Protest and leave when it's time to go home" Um, tell me when passive non-confrontational orderly protest have done anything? The Civil Rights protest were not that, they chained themselves to buildings, marched into headquarters, conducted boycotts, confronted police, did general strikes, etc. They got beaten up, shot at and killed even.

It seems your vision for protest and movements in this country is just the Democratic Party, which of course is self-defeating as its Wall Streets party.

Though I agree that doing that alone won't do anything in the long run, and it's great to see the Occupy movement dismantling what camps are left and convening to do a national strategy, but the fact is their little "unslightly shanty towns" have already done a lot, the Occupy movement has changed the dialogue of this country has scared the people on Capital Hill shitless.