Is there an alternative to protest rallies?

I’m prompted to ask the question after looking through a list of awesome – and awesomely stupid – protest signs from 2009 at Buzzfeed (via Ross Sharp).

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.

15 responses to “Is there an alternative to protest rallies?

  1. The only way any meaningful change will come to social issues is when the opposing side of conservative politics, that’s us, get our own MSM.Demonstrations, blogs, and papers like Green Left Weekly just ain’t gonna cut it.

    As for demonstrations, I must confess I was shitting myself when I demonstrated at the Fremantle Wharfs when Peter Reith was trying to destroy the union movement.The police had a film unit there, that would have done Hollywood proud.Many citizens that attended this particular demonstration were mortified a picture of their kisser was going to be studied and filed at police H.Q.

    The conservatives have the MSM in their back pocket, and no more is this more revealing than the uber right wing shock jocks who permeate the air waves.Some of the better known radio stations are used for nothing more than Liberal party propaganda.And do they play up to the chattering class with base emotive clap trap.

    The Greens must get their message out in the form of debate that they control and mediate, a drive must start to at least obtain a radio platform, expensive?Yes, so is fucking the planet, and putting up with government meddling in our lives, such as the Gay marriage debate.

    If we cannot counter their propaganda out to the masses with our own, we will forever be in opposition.

  2. Voting is a pragmatic and sensible way to make change, I find.

    I love that first picture. It reminds me of a story Frank Moorhouse tells in ‘The Inspector General of Misconception’ about some guy who carried a sign about with him wherever it went. It read –


  3. This is my favourite. No wait, this. Or maybe this. Or possibly this.

    Dang, there are so many to choose from!

  4. Is that Iain Hall in the first shot on the right?

  5. Voting is a pragmatic and sensible way to make change, I find.

    I think it was Emma Goldman who said that if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.

    Asking what means are necessary to adopt all depends on your ends. For some ends, protests are indeed a useful means of organising and expressing support for a cause. It’s important, IMO, for the left to make their case to the authorities as a force en masse, not as medieval style petitioners, looking for permission for this or that from the sovereign.

    To discuss these things in more detail, it’s necessary to go into specific examples. Take gay marriage, for instance – lefties ought to be able to garner support for this from across a relatively broad spectrum of political opinion (such as right and left leaning liberals). However, many of these people are not going to attend a rowdy demonstration, so you have to consider a range of means by which to get them on board.

  6. Ehh – so you’ve finally come on board, Jeremy! We’ve been over this on soooo many threads; Rallies don’t work. Petitions don’t work. What does work? Sneaking it into the mainstream. Which does more to advance gay rights? A protest rally of 4000 people, or a single episode of ‘Will and Grace’ watched by 200,000, that shows a cuddly, non-threatening gay man? The Daily Show did more to prick the bubble around the Bush administration than 4 mainstream news networks, working around a 24hr news cycle…
    What else works? Take it to the courts. Enforce the rights you do have; build up a precedent and reinforce the expectation of what is reasonable behaviour.
    Third idea; word of mouth engagement. It’s easy to hate ‘teh gays’, ‘them bast#rd muzzies’; But Russ across the road, he’s okay. I mean, e’s a pillow biter but his hearts in the right place. And Abduhl? ‘Is missus makes a mean felafel… Have a BBQ, invite your neighbors. It’s a lot harder to hate people you know really well. The personal *is* political.

    Above all, remember you’re part of a community and a society, not just an economy. And stop treating ‘the faceless masses’ as though they don’t care – By setting up a rally, you actually separate yourselves from the mainstream. ‘Lookit us, we’re all sooo much more caring and aware than you. If you don’t join us you’re an uncaring monster.
    (no, I’m busy trying to do my xmas shopping, and you’re blocking the footpath. Move, dammit!)
    It does more harm than good, the generic protest movement…

  7. Protest rallies are merely a means to obtain attention for a cause. It is a mistake that elements of the left have elevated the demo to mythical heights as a means of making a point. Most of the time, it is not a good one. It is mainstream media support that gets an issue going, especially if you can also convince other centres of power, resources and influence, such as big business and government.

    Clearly, the book on activism – which, as far as I understand it, hasn’t yet been written – will be written by whomever it was who worked out the marketing plan for ‘climate change’. That is the case study any wannabe activist has to be totally on top of!

  8. @GaryM: Re: having a radio platform. That’s what 3CR is there for!

  9. I cannot agree that protests do more harm than good. It’s possibly the size of them these days – in the past some of the mass movements in society were expressed by people taking to the streets – do you think the civil rights movement in America would have worked with BBQs?

  10. I got the impression the walk across the harbour bridge for reconciliation was a pretty powerful thing, but …

  11. @Aussie Unionist

    …depends on who turns up to the barbie! But how long ago were the civil rights marches? Or vietnam protests? 40-50 years ago… just try and find me a recent example.
    Astroturfing, endless morgan polling, manufactured controversy, etc – the landscape of political protest is not the same as what it was.

    It’s time for tactics to evolve…

  12. I really think new political parties are the way to go. People are looking to get excited about things, and to feel they can make a difference.

    With modern (internet-based) social networking we’re finally in a position where real democracy can work, where citizens can debate and vote directly on any issue. Given a structure (the devil would be in the detail, but I think it could be made to work), a political party that was directly member-driven would get people on board.

    Have the party’s representatives chosen by the community, as active and respected members of that community. Have the debate and qualifications open and active. No more institutionalised lying – there are the varying positions of party members for anyone to see. Media distractions on “party unity” won’t be relevant, because there would be some disunity about everything. They’d have to get sick of reporting on it eventually. And hell, have representatives take differing positions – a party that never disagrees with the leader’s position isn’t a democracy, it’s a fan club.

    We’re still using a political system that relies on sending a handful of representatives to a far away place to “rule” us because the technology didn’t exist for people to be involved themselves (not since the city-state was small enough for the eligible folk to just wander down to the meeting). Well now we have the technology. We’re back. We can be democractic.

    So lets do it.

  13. What we need is a national day of support, “Strap One On For Gay Marriage Day” perhaps. It will be more appropriate no doubt for some here to wear their strap-on on their heads.

  14. Not even pretending not to be a troll today, are you, SB?

  15. You do know I support gay marriage Fred? It was more mirth than trolling!

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