As America ushered the controversial Donald Trump into the White House, Americans and the rest of the world reacted sharply. Never before in U.S. politics has there been such a fierce backlash to the inauguration of a president with protests, both peaceful and violent, erupting across the globe.
From as far back as we can remember, people have been protesting — from *burning the bra to the burning issue of racism. Some protests led to significant change, like Ghandi’s passive resistance against the British oppression of indentured Indians in South Africa, and the National Woman’s Party Suffrage Campaign which resulted in the groundbreaking move to allow women the right to vote in U.S.
Successful protesting isn’t just random chaos. It is a planned organized mobilization designed to effect change. So how do you guarantee your protest makes an impact?
Follow these seven steps to build an effective protest campaign:
1. Round up the Band of Merry Men/Women
Before anything can actually happen, a team is required to make it happen. If you know you’re going to be in it for the long haul, choose your players wisely — visionaries, strategists, researchers, planners, project managers, administrators, and diplomatic negotiators. You need a good mix of skills to sustain months, or even years, of campaigning.
2. Set the Agenda
No pilot takes off into wild blue yonder without a flight path and destination. This is a no-brainer, but when everyone’s hot under the collar and not thinking clearly, things may simply happen for the sake of happening. The organizers need to take the time to gather and calmly plan the message, strategy, and actions to be taken. Be clear on the desired outcome. Everything that happens next depends on this crucial step.
3. Organizing the Protest March
Mobilizing a large group of people is sometimes easy, as in the case of the delightful Trump. So many people despise him so the crowds just came.
In other instances, people may not be aware of your cause or be moved to do anything about it. Spread the word through mass emails, distribute flyers, get a buzz going on social media, and never underestimate the power of word of mouth. When people are passionate about something, they talk about it and push others to join.
Then there’s the law. Find out what is required to legally hold a demonstration in your area and get the necessary permission. Now you’re good to go.
4. Get Creative with Your Message
You’ve got to hand it to some protestors; they do come up with some brilliant posters. Some make us laugh, some are straight-forward while others are cleverly “punny”, and some are hard-hitting and bitingly sarcastic. Your aim is to grab attention — a dull poster equals a dull result. Need some inspiration on how to design an awesome protest poster? I love the witty ones in this article.
Posters aren’t the only way to spread the message in a way that gets people’s attention. Satirical cartoonists are geniuses at this game and political cartoons have been driving the point home with humor for centuries.
5. Gain the Support of Influencers
The best way to give your protest campaign a boost is get some influential people to back it. Struggling to get the crowds to your protest? Watch them flock when a big name is making a big noise about it.
Get some sponsors on board. Sponsors not only provide financial backing, but with their big media budgets you’ll gain plenty of media airtime to broadcast to a wider audience.
Support from influencers and major brands give your protest some credibility. Plus the publicity is embarrassing for those you are protesting against.
6. Blow Your Horn
Chances are, if you’ve promoted the heck out of your upcoming protest march the media already know about it and plan to cover it. However, invite them anyway.
At the event, make sure to document it — take plenty of photos and videos. You’ll need this for post-event promotion. Send it to the media (there will be those who can’t make it to your march), bloggers, and plaster it all over social media.
7. Keep the Momentum Going After the March
So the march went well and everyone is heady with exhilaration. You and the band of merry men/women pulled it off with great success. Thumbs up — that’s great. But that’s not where it ends. Unless your protest is targeting a specific one-off issue like expressing disdain at the use of animals in the circus that’s coming to town, protest marches and rallies aren't enough. If nothing follows it, then your efforts are futile.
The protest march is but one weapon in your arsenal. Activism aims to change policy, actions, and injustice through a variety of activities such as picketing, publicity stunts, lobbying and petitioning, creative cultural resistance, and civil disobedience in the form of either passive resistance or aggressive agitation until the goal is met.
As The Donald settles into his first 100 days in office, and as his fiercest detractors start to accept the inevitable and unsettling reality that this is it — he’s not going anywhere for the next four years, will the protests die down or ramp up?
* Note: The bra-burning story widely perpetuated over the decades is, in fact, a myth. Yes, the ladies did intend to burn bras and girdles but were stopped by the police. The rest of the protest did proceed very effectively going down in the annals of history as one of the most dramatic protests of the Women’s Liberation Movement.