Marches and Protests
The inauguration of Donald Trump was followed by the single largest political protest in American history. This history-making event was started by a couple of different women who posted on Facebook the day after the election saying that they wanted to march on Washington, D.C.
Within 12 hours, their notifications wouldn’t stop buzzing, and they realized they had something that could be big. The women spoke on the phone and agreed to merge their events, and the Women’s March on Washington was born.
While protests or marches can be an effective way to contact Congress, their impact usually depends on how well the organizers incorporate effective advocacy strategies, rather than how many people show up.
Most of the time, the people organizing protests or marches are really good at spreading the word, handling the logistics of the event, and dealing with the media, but more often than not, they do not understand the effective advocacy strategies required to translate their support into actual policy change.
Without a smart and strategic approach, you run the risk that your message will fall on deaf ears.
If most of the decisions that impact effectiveness are being made by the event’s organizers, we think it is worthwhile to contact them to see if you can join their planning committee. Most of the time, the people organizing these events have a million things on their plate and will gladly welcome all the help they can get.
If you do get a seat at the organizers’ table, try to make sure you do the following:
Be bipartisan. No matter what your political beliefs are, it is important for large events to be seen as bipartisan. If not, it could mobilize the other party against you, sometimes for no other reason than to score political points.
If you hold the protest or march in Washington, D.C., try to do so while Congress is in session.
Invite a member of Congress from each party to speak. Members of Congress love to speak in front of large crowds, and this could be something that transforms him or her from a casual supporter of your issue to an ardent advocate.
If you get a member of Congress to speak, try to highlight, as much as you can, how the issue impacts his or her district or state.
Try to get local media coverage. Find a good writer on your organizing team and have them write a media advisory, which is sent out a week before so journalists and reporters can attend. Also write a press release, which is sent right after the event to summarize everything so the papers can write a story about it.
Tips for planning a march or protest
1. Location, location, location.
If you can, try to hold the protest or march in a district or state of the member of Congress who has the most influence on your issue. While attendance might not be as good, being able to sway the individual you are targeting will be much more important. A concert in New York City about increasing funding for US Food Aid programs isn't going to be that effective because the Senator who oversees the relevant subcommittee is from South Carolina. He probably doesn’t care what New York residents think about the issue. In fact, he could probably score some political points in his home state just by opposing it.
2. Focus, focus, focus.
Make sure your protest or march has a very clear and specific message and purpose. If you try to cover every issue out there, you run the risk of diluting your argument, and, as a result, reducing your impact. Yes, including a bunch of issues will probably increase attendance, but it is not worth the damage you do by diluting the focus on your issue.
3. Attendance matters, but not that much.
Yes, a well-attended event increases the likelihood of press coverage and the appearance that the issue has a lot of supporters. However, don’t let attendance drive all your decisions. It’s all about the follow-up. Many factors outside of your control will dictate how the event shapes up. If you find yourself attending a protest or march, one of the most impactful things you can do is to follow up with your representatives afterward. Use the upcoming methods to let them know why you attended the event, why the issue is important to you, and what they can do personally to support the cause you care about.