Sunday, February 27, 2011

rules for rallying

Yesterday I took a short trip to Oklahoma City for the "Rally to Save the American Dream" which was being held in solidarity with the protests going on in Wisconsin right now. I got there a little late, so the crowd had already begun to thin out a bit, which might explain the lukewarm tone of the thing. It got me thinking about rallies and what they should and should not be.
(Disclaimer: this is just my silly lil opinion, so it's not like I speak for a group or anything here. I don't mean to offend, and I support activism of all kinds, even if I don't think it's as effective as it could be. I will continue to attend rallies and other activist events no matter how flaccid they may be.)

1. Publicize.
Make a Facebook event, tweet about it, blog about it, text your friends, call the media. A good protest needs attendees, and if there are enough attendees, there should be media coverage. That way, people who did not attend can learn about the cause, know there are people out there who care about it one way or another, and can take action if they want. At the rally, organizations that are relevant can pass around literature and sign-ups for email lists.

2. Unify.
A critical mass is even more powerful when they are unified in a certain way. This can mean wearing a certain color; red seems to be the official color of the current protests. When the Women's and Gender Studies Student Association had our protest of Justice For All last fall, we had a station with spraypaint and a stencil so people could make shirts with the "Trust OK Women" logo. This looks better than just a bunch of people standing around. Another way is to have a few chants that are simple, like "Kill the bill!" or "My body, my choice!"

3. Energize.
A rally works best when it has a lot of momentum. Chants work really well for this, because everyone can participate, and lots of noise makes it more exciting. Singing is also good; yesterday we were led in a few verses of "This Land Is Your Land." Move around, dance, clap, chant, sing, yell. If you are able, stand the entire time. Something that bothered me about yesterday's rally was the endless parade of slow-talkers who got up to the megaphone and rambled on about something that happened 20 years ago. I'm sure that story is interesting, but it can be difficult to hear when the person is speaking through a megaphone. If there is a speaker, they should keep it short and sweet, with lots of passion. Less story time, more firing up the crowd. That way, when people leave, they will feel inspired to do more, instead of bored and burnt out.

4. Bring signs.
This is pretty self-explanatory. If you don't have time or supplies, it's okay. But sign materials are both inexpensive and easy to come by. If you have a cardboard box and a Sharpie, you can make a protest sign. If you happen to be a crafty person with many pieces of poster-board and colorful markers, make extra signs to pass out. This gives people something to do with their hands if they feel awkward, and it also looks good if there are photographers or videographers (professional or amateur) there. A good sign is colorful, clever, and enlightening. DO NOT make a sign that is offensive to marginalized groups, even if you think it's funny. And don't compare people to Hitler. That is problematic, SO tired, and it is usually never actually applicable.

These are some cool signs from the WI protests. I got them here.

Humor + pop culture references = a good sign.
Creepy, funny, and true.
Simple, profound statements like this make for great signs.
Another little nugget of truth!

So pithy! Okay, I'll stop with all the signs now.

5. Stay focused.
This really bugged me yesterday. I know this is Oklahoma, and there's a lot of shit we need to change. But several people got up to plug their own pet causes, which I think takes away from the overall theme of the event. At a rally for unions and workers' rights, a guy got up to talk about marijuana legalization, and a woman spoke about reproductive justice. I support both of those, but it really tears away from the main focus when it just turns into a free-for-all for activists. If you really need to plug your cause or organization, get up and try to speak about the topic of the rally, and say a quick piece about your thing at the end. I beg you.

6. Don't give up!
I am so inspired by the people in Madison, WI. They have been protesting for nearly two weeks now, and the crowds just keep growing larger every day. People are sleeping on the floor of the capitol. They are outside in freezing temperatures and snowstorms. That shit is NOT fun, I can tell you that right now as a WI native. Protestors in the Middle East are dying in the streets for what they believe in. I'm not saying that every rally should go quite that far, but it's important to keep the fight going. This is possible through going to the extreme like Wisconsinites, Libyans, Egyptians, and all the other people fighting for their rights. This is also possible through organizing online, signing petitions, creating more events, calling your legislators, and keeping in contact with the people who attend the events. One rally is not enough to solve a problem! Keep up the good fight.

7. Don't name your event "Rally to Save the American Dream."
That is some lame-ass, PR booooshit. Sorry.

That's all I can think of right now. I've had a very long day of driving - had to bring Damien to the Dallas airport, and I ended up lost in Garland, TX for about an hour. Good times!

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