I was trying to explain some particularly popular contemporary protest and demonstration tactics to a pal and this spurned a pretty lengthy discussion of what we thought of various tactics as well as what we thought the purpose of various tactics should be.
My take, in a nutshell:
The puppets are past their prime.
The puppets suck.
Burn the puppets and move on.
Wait. Yes. Seriously. That was it.
Later, however, I thought more about the subject. I think there’s a whole book to be written about different tactics and perhaps a guide to choosing which tactic best suits your situation. Writing a book tonight seems out of the question, but since I’ve bounced these ideas off various people I might as well babble a bit here. Besides, it’s better than more babbling about how my hands hurt.
The thing that makes me nuts is how often a march, action or other event is planned with no thought given to what the ideal outcome is. Are you sending a direct message to an executive or board? trying to get media coverage to educate the public about an election, issue, problem, etc? Call me silly, but it seems ill-conceived not to know precisely what you plan to achieve before you take to the streets. That, and the fact that follow-up seems to be a foreign concept to so-many well-meaning organizations.
Without follow-up, you’ll probably be forgotten. Immediately. By the press. By the people. By the decisionmakers. What part of this is hard to understand?
There, that wasn’t so hard. It’s not like I’m asking you to become social scientists and conduct extensive surveys, write massive grant applications, conduct endless focus groups, and write the requisite conference paper presentation. That would be easy, instead, I’m asking you to do the human equivalent of herd cats.
No. No. Joking aside, if we can have trainings for street medics, for civil disobedience, and for other techniques, why can’t we take the time to do a little research. Ask the questions. “What’s our purpose?” (educate consumers? or voters? elect a specific candidate? what? what are you trying to do?), “What do we want to see happen?” (media coverage? a meeting with an executive? a resignation?) “What’s the best way to achieve those ends?” (what are the messages, symbols, or images that we need to get on the air and in front of the people we’re trying to reach?)
Is your point to educate consumers?
No media coverage = fast activist burnout and a truly rotten and possibly damaging waste energy, and probably a sense of failure.
If you’re going to go to the trouble to stage a big drama with costumes and theater make sure someone sees it. (and, if you aren’t the SOA Watch and can’t get Martin Sheen to come out, this is probably your best option). If you stage street theater without the mainstream media’s attention you’re pretty much just doing street theater, only without the hat-passing that would mean you’d at least make a few bucks for your time and energy. I’m big on the not wasting energy thing these days, I know, but it really is a big issue for protestors. (see also: burnout causes, cross-referenced with: creeping sense of futility).
And once you get yourself on the 11:00 news? Getting coverage is half the battle. But half the battle is still only half the battle, and the second half will kick your ass if your message doesn’t make sense. And if your message makes no sense, what’s the point? To take our medley of violence metaphors to the logical conclusion: if you aren’t scoring points for your own side, you’re just handing your intended targets ammunition to fight back with.
We’ve all met protesters who seem to actually be in it for the martyrdom and arrest record. Fortunately, they’re rare. The exhibitionists, narcissists, and egomaniacs are a slightly larger problem since they often fail to distinguish between press for self and press for the cause, and you’re trying to wield political influence with your protest (one presumes) not get on Star Search.
But it’s the stupid puppets and street theater that gets the attention of the cameras. And this is when we make a bargain only Faust could love…we engage in what the media expects to show their viewers and hope like hell we aren’t harming our message.
There’s so much to say on the subject and there’s no right answer for all applications. No flowchart, no howto manual, no weekend training session complete with trustfalls will provide us with a template of surefire tactics for every occassion. Too many variables (community, goals, resources, etc) make one-size fits all methods a silly idea to even ponder, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking questions all the time about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And most importantly of all, we need to ask what do we do now.
Or maybe I just have issues with the damned puppets.
I have to rest my hands for a while. Posting will become sporadic.
Friday March 7, 9am – 5pm
Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC
9th and P St, NW
$10-$20, lunch included
There’s more info if you follow the link up there.
To fully warp my brain into a million pieces, I’ll be galloping from there to Atomic for some birthday rabble-rousing.
International Women’s Day, Peace March
Gather at Malcolm X Park located at 16th St. between W Streets and Euclid, NW.
1pm March to Encircle the White House
The march will leave at 1:00 p.m. from Malcolm X park to encircle the White House.
RAIN OR SHINE
Dr. Helen Caldicott
Maxine Hong Kingston
Terry Tempest Williams
And now I must get some coffee and settle down to work on an article about theremins. I leave you with this fabulous Faithism:
“As a pug owner you need to just weather the farts.”
There’s really no need for context, is there? No sport in that at all.
plucked from the ashes of the punkprincess.com archives, reposted 02-28-07