Because of course rallies are annoying and inconvenient – for the participants just as much as passers-by. And while I’ll get out to show support for the civil rights for an indefensibly oppressed minority, it’s not surprising that many – even from that group – won’t. For various reasons, including lack of enthusiasm for the act of standing in a crowd chanting; lack of confidence that it will make any difference; and concern that rallies might even set a cause back.
As to the last concern, that might be one of the best things about rallies – they show precisely the sort of people who support a cause. If the people there are ordinary-looking citizens with witty signs advocating a sensible point, that’s pretty good advertising to other voters – and a warning to politicians that it’s a mainstream issue about which they should be concerned. When ordinary people hit the streets, that’s when governments lose elections.
On the other hand, you’re probably not helping the cause if your fellow sign-holders are these guys:
That’s one protest you don’t want the media photographing.
I guess it’s a catch-22. All movements for change have to start somewhere, even if at the beginning that means owning their initial status of national insignificance. If the cause is just, and if the advocates are reasonable (of course, the larger the gathering, the greater the chance of fringe nutcases joining in), eventually it will sink into the collective consciousness that there’s something that needs fixing. And if the advocates look like middle-of-the-road swing voters, the people over which the main political parties fight, then their concerns are more likely to be seriously addressed.
At least attending a rally – which involves giving up your precious time – shows that you are serious about an issue. Someone who signs an e-petition might have forgotten it a moment later. Someone who gives up their Saturday is someone a politician can at least be confident will remember the issue when the next election rolls around.
Those who think rallies and protests are passe and unnecessary – how would you go about promoting a change to a government policy in 2009? Start a new party? Write a letter to your local MP? Comment on a blog? What are the alternatives you have in mind?
UPDATE: One group who’ve held rallies recently, Equal Love, are now suggesting that people insist on a meeting with their local MP to make the case face to face. Harder to dismiss the rights of people when you’ve met them, or when you’ve had to try to defend your bigotry to a voter’s face who’ll call you on it.