Strategies VI: Effective Protests and Marches

Protest marches are an essential part of any social movement. Or are they? In the American civil rights movement of the sixties, protests brought about significant and lasting social change. But in more recent times, successive waves of protests have swept the country without having much in the way of a measurable impact. Why?

The answer is that effective protests have concrete, specific and immediate goals. Non-directed protests can build a sense of community and unity, increase visibility, and establish a sense of a collective will. But they can also be counter-productive exercises in futility that mobilize opponents, while sapping the energy and the enthusiasm of the participants.

When we look at the civil rights movement, we see it all clearly. The Montgomery bus boycott focused on desegregating buses. It succeeded. Numerous department store sit-ins successfully desegregated many retail outlets. The March on Washington helped pass a specific package of key civil rights laws. However, the Albany Movement failed. It was an ambitious attempt to desegregate all institutions in Albany, Georgia at once, and it suffered both from a lack of focus, and an opponent who was able to use that lack of focus to suppress the movement quietly.

For those of us living in the current moment of history, we need to take a lesson from our elders. As I keenly remember from my days of protesting the George W Bush re-election, it felt good just filling the streets, but had little real impact. On the other hand, directed, localized protests could potentially do quite a lot to help.

For example, I live in Columbus, the capital city of Ohio. Two protests I would definitely mobilize for are:

1) Pressure Republican leaders in Ohio, most notably Governor Kasich and Senator Rob Portman, to issue an official statement denouncing the appointment of Bannon, AND distancing the G.O.P. from the alt-right rhetoric he has fostered on his website.

2) Push the Democratic leadership of Columbus to officially declare Columbus a sanctuary city, an important practical and symbolic action in support of Columbus’ large immigrant population.

Get enough people on board and these are attainable goals, that could have a larger cascading impact on the nation as a whole.

If you are local to Columbus, please check out Columbus United for information on marches and protests.

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