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Inspiring Change Through Peaceful Protests
Changing the World Through Peaceful Opposition
The world is a bit chaotic at the moment; perhaps it always has been. The fight for democracy being waged in the Middle East and Northern Africa and the protests happening America's heartland underscore the importance of allowing citizens to make their voices heard. The right of people to organize and collectively support or oppose their leaders should be basic, but of course, not everyone sees it that way. In Libya and Bahrain, government officials have ordered troops to fire on demonstrators, believing it better to rule by fear and quell any opposition. It may take decades, but eventually, the power of such tyrannical regimes must come to an end, and almost always, the ousters begin with crowds of peaceful demonstrators leading the charge.
Many people believe that one or a few do not have the power to effect positive change. That is not so. One person, using the right tactics, can definitely inspire change. All you need to do is remember names such as Ghandi and Nelson Mandela to know that it is possible. And individuals, when joined by other individuals with the same beliefs and goals, can also affect change. Remember what just took place in Egypt and Tunisia, where peaceful demonstrators over threw leaders that had the monopoly on power for decades, without violence.
In America and other democratic nations, there are many peaceful ways to get the attention of lawmakers. If you have the inclination to become politically active, but aren't sure where to start, here are a few ideas.
Letter writing campaigns. If you have specific thoughts or ideas that you want to express, put them in writing. Letters should be articulate, fact-based and concise. If you have potential solutions to a problem, offer them. Letters should remain free of name-calling, accusations (especially unfounded allegations) and overtly angry statements. Those that remain professional and concise are likely to garner attention. The others are not. In addition, your letter should specifically cite the issue to which you are opposed and the reasons why. You are not opposed to a decision because it is "stupid" or because you think it will "hurt the public." You must be specific. If you think that bills being considered will hurt the community, indicate why.
Phone calls. You can call your legislators directly to voice your support or opposition. Phone numbers are listed on their websites or in the government pages of many phone books. You will never reach the politician directly. Calls are fielded by staffers who take note of your position and are required to pass it on. Typically, their notes will include a simple accounting of whether you are for or against an issue. You may request a meeting with your legislator and it is possible that you will get one. These requests are typically more successful during "quiet" times. If there is a controversial bill being considered, you can be assured that meeting requests are too numerous to grant.
Meetings. Your best chance of getting a face to face meeting with your legislator is to be part of a coalition that has a specific need to discuss an important issue. Such coalition is best if backed by an organization that is well-known. For example, I joined a coalition on behalf of the Alzheimer's Association that went to Washington D.C. and lobbied Congress for increased funding through NIH for Alzheimer's based research. We saw several Congressmen and women and were allowed to state our case. If I had traveled alone to D.C., it is likely that I would have come away disappointed.
Social Networking. Using Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social networking helps to get your position across to thousands of people. You have to be prepared not only for like-minded affirmations, but also, for debate and opposition by those who disagree with your position, but it's a great way to start dialogue and keep your issues in the forefront. As with letter writing, keep your posts professional. Your goal is not to offend, it is to persuade. Not everyone is practiced in the art of diplomacy, but it is always a laudable goal. The other great thing about using the internet to effect change, is that you can upload documents and links to videos, news clips, copies of bills, footage of rallies and other important images that help to support your position.
Demonstrating. Taking to the streets with throngs of protesters is always bound to garner attention. Clever signs, costumes and chants increase your visibility. Blaring music, drumming, guitar playing and singing are effective ways of reinforcing that this is a non-violent protest. If you're using a sign, indicate what group you represent. Are you democrat or republican? Are you a veteran, uninsured, homeless, poor, unemployed? Are you normally a supporter except on this issue?
Put a face on it. If you are able to locate an influential person that is likely to garner the attention of legislators, do it. Appoint a spokesperson that sparks interest and is likely to gain followers. This helps to increase changes of getting media attention. It also helps to create a rallying point. Getting someone influential and brave enough to be the face of your campaign creates a focal point. They can lead chants, give speeches and keep protesters fired up and reinforced.
Get media attention. Call the local paper, TV and radio stations and ask for coverage at your rallies and protests. Write guest columns for the local paper. Many are published in the Opinions or Editorial sections. Request a radio or TV interview during which you can state your case. This is typically most effective if you have noted spokespersons at the helm who can articulate your points effectively. No one is likely to give air time to an unknown person that might descend into a rant, but if you are recognizable and have outlined your points well prior to requesting an interview, you may just get one.
Take turns. Protests and rallies can drag on for days, weeks or even months. When this happens, the efforts can't help but lose steam. People have to work. They have lives. While their issues are important, they can't afford to camp out at the rally site forever. This makes it crucial for protesters to organize and make a plan for how to keep numbers relatively stable by splitting the time that each protester agrees to spend at the site. Here in Wisconsin, teachers staged a sick-out for 4 days. When they needed to report back to the classrooms, they started a "Stand in for a Teacher" program, in which parents and others took up their positions at the rallies. Teachers joined them before and after classes.
In the words of a chant I hear in Madison daily, "This is What Democracy Looks Like!" Don't forget. It is effective if you know how to engage in it.
© 2011 Jaynie2000