For those that need to protest, you really should read this!
(My background and qualifications, beyond a political nature, is also in marketing. I am also a qualified teacher.)
I watched with horror some news clips on TV media, on Facebook via Youtube and seen some pictures of photo nature, exposing a Dublin protest that occurred in the last few days. The protest had occurred outside our Dail, by all appearances and by passed on tales of those that was there on the day, had descended into chaos. Some of those there on the day claimed it was not heir fault as they were supposedly aggravated and intimidated by state forces. This may have been the case – I wasn’t there so I cannot state this as fact one way or the other. Regardless, what was obvious from the videos shared of the protest – videos that showed it from the start of a large gathering into a later confrontation, was that the ‘organised’ protest was in fact anything but that – better professional organised! I’m speaking bluntly here.
- It’s one thing to call for a protest.
- It’s one thing to actually set a time and a place for a protest.
- However, once you manage to get people there, then it’s important that there is further organisation of the day.
The third point above, I am going to come back to in this article. It is extremely important as you will see.
Why Do We Protest?
That may sound like a simple question to answer. If your answer is along the lines of “...because I want to highlight an issue” or “I want to get elected to do something“, you are off to a good start – but why people protest and just as important, why do it far more effectively, is a much bigger answer than just one five second soundbite.
So why do many take to protesting? For a lot of people it’s because they have reached ‘the end of their rope’ in trying to resolve a matter by simple talk that to them, seems to have eventually gotten nowhere (for whatever reason). Reluctantly, people then feel they have no choice but to take to protesting – often a last resort effort to bring about a conclusion, change or solution. I have come across this many times as I continue to teach others how to actually hold meetings or how to organise a protest.
In a nutshell, protesting should be about:
- Trying to highlight an issue to others – including media and elected.
- Trying to attract others in greater power, to become supportive and thus, become involved.
- Trying to encourage dialogue between opposing sides and those often looking on from the outside.
- Trying to show to others that ‘the cause’ is a real issue of importance of not just to a few but to actually more than most realise.
- Trying to show that it actually exists and is of serious concern (or should be further).
- Trying to show to outsiders or those also suffering from same issue but feel isolated, that others do exist (of same cause or thinking) and gathered together, those at a protest are exhibiting a sense of solidarity. This then extends to an invitation to “Come join us” – “Lend us your support” – “Don’t feel isolated“.
- Trying to take to a larger population, some hidden truths that local or national dodgy would rather be kept buried.
What happened in the last few days in Dublin outside our Oireachtas served few of the above protest reasons! What actually occurred, in fact, did the exact opposite for many of the above points. Let me be clear – I am here NOT to give out about that particular protest cause. I mention what actually occurred at it, only in order to teach others how to do better – and why it’s important that all of us that have reason to protest, do it more effectively.
A Protest Can Defeat Itself.
I have attended many protests. Sometimes as being part of those that are suffering and in part, sometimes to show solidarity with those that are suffering. Out of all the protests I have attended, very few in fact have been done right. I say this about national and local protests that have also occurred within my home town of Drogheda, Co Louth.
I have attended protest for the above mentioned reasons and afterwards, when they were over – or appeared to be so – have returned home dejected and with a sense of feeling “Well, that was a waste of time!“
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF – have you felt like this after attending a protest or even a meeting of other nature? If you have, you are not on your own – and remember – when others too feel this, they are likely not to be further as supportive of the related issue – or other people involved, if they feel that way and are thinking something like “This is a lost cause” – “This protest will go nowhere” – “This protest is counterproductive to what it hopes to achieve“. Next protest? Possible further dwindling numbers and the organisers are often asking themselves “Why?“. Their answer is in a mirror but they cannot see it. Hard truth.
Who has attended a protest that has some of the following aspects?
- Someone picks a day to protest.
- A good few people promise to turn up.
- Lesser than expected numbers, actually appear.
- After the main organiser speaks, you get a line of people roughly saying the same thing (too much).
- You get elected turning up but sometimes just using the opportunity to speak, just to be seen ‘being one’ with the people or hoping for 10 second news bite on national news at six/nine o’clock. They say what they say on the day but are rarely ever after heard speaking of the issue/cause again!
- The protest seems to drone on and on… and on…
- The protest appears (a) to be poorly organised or (b) descends into chaos.
- The protest ends with an anti-climax…
Be truthful. Any of the above sound familiar?
Here is some more hard truth. Politicians and media outlets are daily inundated by lobbing people or groups about one cause or another. Each one is calling for attention to their cause. With so many requests, if you give them a reason to ‘brush it off’, you can be almost sure they will brush it off – if only for time and logistical reason alone.
If there has been a prior protest that has descended into trouble – with or without Garda involvement – regardless of who is to blame – then (a) elected like other public, will seek to stay away from getting involved with such a cause or (b) be very reluctant to be seen further involved or connected to the organisers of the previous protest. The cause might indeed be a good one but a bad outcome on a day of protest, can loose far more people than it originally hoped to further gain. How a protest is initial perceived and how it enters the publics consciousness, I cannot stress enough – is mega important. In marketing terms alone, FIRST IMPRESSIONS REALLY DO COUNT!
If at a protest, fighting or face to face confrontations does break out, media will record the matter – but they will certainly not go out of their way to then publicise the actual cause more. The fighting or confrontations becomes the main news point far more rather than the issue(s) that brought all together in the first place. Less media interviews take place with the organisters of a protest or then later aired. The actions of a few could end up being massive self-defeating for many. Cold truth.
Lost with the ’cause’, will be others looking on that might have got involved at the start but decide then “I’m not getting mixed up with that lot” on seeing how matters progress on the day (due to disorganisation or witnessed confrontations). Lost will be any positive media exposure. Any news-bites might be used for sensational reasons but after that, the long term effects will have a more negative effect upon those who organized the day or on the overall cause.
“Look, I got the matter on the TV because of our confrontations. I got the issue highlighted on TV” might sound great initially from someone but a one or ten second showing of fighting (for example) in the long run, loses far, far more people than it attracts. O’ sure, such scenes are going to attract some bad elements that live in the fringes – but a good protest is about reaching out to the standard general population of a country – not just those on the fringes – not just those that you would honestly think “Christ, I wouldn’t like to see them with even greater power in office!”
Bad protests in fact, push the undecided or fearful of a nation, towards old reliables. “Better the devil you know...” This in turn, could help part explain why older political parties are still supported? Turned off people tend to stick with that they do know – even when it’s far from perfect and they know it for a long time.
You could have all the protests you want daily, all year outside a location and get no media coverage or advancement in public attention and support. Why? Simply because it’s not planned and thought through, to be effective enough. A simple example?
For the last few years in Hong Kong before CV19 times, there had been near daily protests over the taking over of the area by the Chinese state. The protesters while occasional large in numbers, was gaining no long lasting, real international media attention other than a rare add-on to news broadcasts. Up and down the protesters marched in the streets. While most assuredly being nuisance to a Chinese government, the same government to great degree didn’t stress themselves too much over it all. BUT THEN the protesters wised up and got clever…
The protesters took to protesting at airports. They marched into such places, peacefully sat down – and with their signs not only seriously interrupted international travel (which in turn immediately caught far more lenses of international TV network cameras) but their cause was seen and heard far, far more through on screen signs and then interviews. Why? Their protests also partly affected international travelers. If the world wasn’t listening enough to them, they went to where the world partly was!
The protesters made sure their signs were in other languages including French and English. This in turn (a) further international highlighted their cause and (b) brought far greater embarrassment to the Chinese government – so much so that from their once sitting back attitude, then then had to far greater react! The airport tactic worked. Since then, the Hong Kong issue has rarely been off international TV screens.
The same type of fresh thinking must be in operation elsewhere. It’s simply not good enough that people are protesting – but just as important, is HOW they are protesting – in a positive way overall, long term – not in a negative way that people might remember for years – and the ramifications from that!
Protests on the day MUST be far better organised. Having a list of speakers is great. Getting someone already well known or famous is great – but the end of a protest is just as important as the start of one. This has been seriously under addressed by many protesters.
I teach people how to hold meetings. In short, a three stage process – each stage having specific time allocations:
- This is where we are right now. (Introductions – speeches to highlight ongoing matters)
- This is where we want to get to. (The end solution – clear defined – that is wanted for the future)
- This is how we are going to get there. (The definite, positive defined plans that will get people there)
What you can do however – what you should do – is help those attending before they leave, know what the real next step is and how they too can help and how they too can do it! They must be walking or driving away knowing assuredly not only what needs to happen next but also HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. We need to do A, B, C. Here is how you can also do it. 1, 2, 3… Plans need to be out out there and direction given. Not vague direction. Clear direction. Times must be stuck to. Tasks assigned, must be more targeted – and examination of why there was failures is just as important as discussing successes. People cannot get to stage three unless stage two is resolved correctly. This includes the addressing of errors or matters not being of more effectiveness than hoped for!
- When it comes to protests, they should not be half-arsed organised. Remember, impressions count! Calling for lives to be saved while exhibiting a sign with a noose, demanding others be hung, is counter effective and also exposes character and quality of protest.
- There should be a defined start and a defined end – in speaker and in time. Many turning up do so knowing they might have to be at a location at 2.30 pm but also know they will be done by 4.30pm for definite. They can plan better around a protest.
- Trouble breaking out? Step away immediately from those ruining your protest. Let the cameras and world see you want no part of the rotten actions of a few ‘bad apples‘. Let there be a physical significant gap between the few troublemakers and the vast majority just there to support a good cause. Stepping away also in clear distance also helps to expose who is ruining your cause/issue to those you wish to further attract. It says to them “We want nothing to do with trouble maker crap. We are better than this. We are better than this.“
- People leaving, knowing what the next stage is, knowing what they need to do, knowing who to contact, knowing where to go for further help, knowing what time the next meeting or discussion place will be – will be people that will be more positive energised not only continue their activity but more inclined to ask others to become involved also.
- Be a surgeon. Don’t operate like a blunt hammer. Damien Fagan and myself got ourselves into the Oireachtas, then managed to go on public historic record in regards to JobPath. We did this by targeting specific people and using state processes in order to further highlight our issue and expose on Dail record, the existence of greater abuses. We could have stayed outside all year, every year for a decade just shouting but that didn’t get us further in. We got specific, picked out our aims, overcame put up obstacles and determined, remained on target – not allowing ourselves to be distracted. To quote the move Star Wars “Stay on target. Stay on target!”
- Sick of being ignored? Take your issues to those that putting money into the pockets of those that refuse to highlight your issue. Go to companies or people and ask them peaceful but in great numbers if necessary, why they are supportive of a body that is unwilling to highlight injustice? If they too ignore you, take your protest to places where they are gaining revenue. You want to move an inactive, stubborn or too silent blockage, peacefully hit it where its is most effective to have unblocking or wanted moving effect.
- If you want your protest be rise above the many rest, be different. Be unique. More of the same? Yawn… Onlookers will move on. They have to finish their shopping or have to meet someone. You’re forgotten about five minutes later. Change that. Make yourself and your cause/issue more memorable. Do that? Media might turn their camera and microphones more towards you!
I could go on but I’ve kept you reading long enough. Protesting is effective when done right – and allowed to be done right. History has taught us this many, many times. Speaking of history, from 1900 to 2006, campaigns of non-violent nature were more than twice effective than those that had confrontation and violence attached to them. Those that are willing to learn, are the ones that stand far better chance of successes – and success should mean progress.
Protesting is not just about highlighting negative actions, it’s about highlighting an issue, seeking and even giving positive solutions for many. Something that more people across a nation could be far more willing to get behind. Don’t leave people defalted – leave them more energised.
20 year barman. Re-educated as an I.T. professional, website creator, I.T teacher, digital media management & marketing professional. Studied accountancy, taxation, business management & law. Founder of UnitedPeople political party – click here. Previously the first National Chairman of Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) & founder of the Louth branch of DDI. Author. Regular contributor to social media. TV & radio guest experiences. Appeared in the Oireachtas & Dublin Highcourts to defend the rights of citizens along with exposing many wrongs. Consistently seeks greater democracy & accountability from all elected levels of Ireland. Currently writing two books, non-fiction “Life Behind Bars” & “Better Tomorrows“.