How To Demonstrate in Public

Posted on 15th February 2004 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Throughout world history, people have found newer and more effective ways to bring issues out for discussion and debate that would otherwise never see the light of day under the control of an insensitive majority. In American government, politicians have employed the filibuster, the physically and mentally demanding strategy of employing prolonged speechmaking to obstruct the legislative process. In the 1960’s, African Americans engaged in “sit-ins,” taking a right denied them by law, in this case, the right to sit where they wanted in public places. Recently, this same tactic was used by homosexual couples getting married. These are known as acts of “civil disobedience.”

Then there are demonstrations, organized assemblies of citizens to express a collective voice for a cause. This is the most traditional form of bringing attention to an issue. The problem is that it does not always bring the attention desired.

Dying your hair funny colors, sporting T-shirts and signs with outrageous, and often, offensive slogans, and getting yourself arrested for vandalism or violence may get your face on television, and that’s fine, if that’s how you want to spend your fifteen minutes, but your face will also become the face of your movement. If you are demonstrating for something you feel very strongly about, then you must go about it seriously and responsibly.

I admit it. I love grassroots displays. I think that is what democracy is all about, the people. That being said, here’s my advice:

Dress Respectably: Appearance is important. You wouldn’t go to an important job interview in cut-off jeans and a tie-dye shirt, so why do people demonstrate in such attire? You are selling an idea, and how you present yourself affects how you present your idea.

Yes, I know it’s unfair. In a perfect world, we could wear whatever we want and people would still see the substance over the style, but that’s naive. Put on a button up shirt and tie, put on that best dress, or borrow a friend’s, be uncomfortable, and be proud. You are presenting an image of your cause, one of traditional respectability, not of aliens from outer space.

Organize: One of the biggest problems I see in modern demonstrations is that everyone has their own cause to flaunt. I love pluralism, but my love of moderation trumps it when pluralism is taken to an extreme and becomes confusion. We attend demonstrations for a cause. Leave the individualism at home for a day and revel in the wonder of knowing that everyone around you took the day off work because the cause was important enough.

Either Drape Yourself In the Flag, or Leave it Alone: “This land is your land. This land is my land… This land was made for you and me.” I respect the constitutionally protected right to desecrate the flag, but I question its effectiveness. Remember, the ultimate goal of protest is persuasion. Destroying the flag generates anger and rejection, reactions contraindicated to convincing the opposition.

I also question the implications of it. Flag desecration seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The protester who engages in this tactic is mistakenly equating the current occupants of the three Branches of Government with the foundation of Democracy. Those red, white, and blue stars and stripes represent the U.S. Constitution and the electoral process. They existed long before the majority voted whatever current politician offended. They protect our right to demonstrate and assure us that the system can change. They provide hope.

That is everyone’s flag. Don’t give it to the opposition. Wrap yourself in it and do a dance. Revel in what it promises. Don’t let those you oppose take if for themselves. That flag belongs to everyone, demand your share. Take it back.

Last but not least, HAVE FUN: Political Demonstrations can be a great deal of fun. If you are protesting, remember to support a cause as well. Supporting an alternative to what you are protesting is a positive action that will put a smile on your face and make you more appealing to outside observers… Make people outside the protest want your happiness.

Then they’ll want what your selling too. : )

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