4 Ways To Make Sure Your Protest Really Makes A Difference
I get it; you're angry.
The country is a garbage nest of rage. And no matter which side of the political pop you're licking, the situation sure feels helpless. Too often protests devolve into dumb hostility, like the Oregon standoff or the more-recent UC Berkeley shitshow.
But what if I told you that if you follow the rules history has laid out, protests and boycotts absolutely can work? For when you look down the annals of successful civil disobedience, a clear pattern emerges. One that I will now express to you in the following four easy steps. Grab a beer, you pitchfork-shining renegade. This is your handy guide to nut-punching The Man!
Reject Violence Immediately
It's easy to raise a squinted brow and bravely declare yourself "anti-violence" -- but that's not what this is about. Personally I think violence gets a bad rep. It's good exercise, super fun when you're drunk and/or on meth, and responsible for Martin Scorsese's entire career. So rest assured that when I say that violence hurts protests, I'm not speaking from some moral high road; but rather coming from the purely statistical perspective that nonviolent demonstrations have a higher success rate than brick-throwing.
Specifically, they are two times more likely to work.
While it seems too good to be true, the retrospectively obvious reason can be best explained by looking at the highest-grossing films of all time.
Notice what they have in common? None of them are rated R. The first 18+ film actually appears 115 places from the top, and even then it's a movie about a sexy, suffering Jesus Christ. Because violence isn't inclusive. Violent protest repels legitimate support faster than a "Legalize It" banner made of cursed mummy wrap. And when it comes to overthrowing a government, it's all about universal popularity despite the undeniable disruption a protest causes.
Here's the thing: assuming the police are perfect angels (they won't be), even non-violent protests are objectively volatile from the start. Every demonstration from Occupy Wall Street to Ferguson to the Red Shirts in Bangkok wafts of sickly pot smoke and drains the local economy like an sozzled money vampire. Even the least violent events leave mountains of trash and harbor boisterous jackassery -- which the opposition inevitably uses to discredit the cause. This has gone on for decades, from Reddit scolding women's march litterbugs to the goddamn Civil Rights march on Selma.
It's amazing what petty straws will be grasped when people don't have a leg to stand on.
Finally -- protests don't require violence because it doesn't actually take that much force to topple tyranny. According to historical studies, only 3.5 percent of a population needs to engage in continuous nonviolent opposition in order to swiftly overcome a dictatorship.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Because we haven't even gotten to the marketing stage of our revolution (yes, there's a marketing stage).
Establish A Brand And Communication
It's super ironic that one of the strongest pillars of the anarchist philosophy is really good branding, but here we are, buying clearance mayhem from a goth novelty store.
Rebellion imagery has the advantage of being both aesthetically appealing and simplistic in nature -- the kind of grainy monotone scribbles ideal for a tattoo or graffiti tag. It might seem counteractive to the cause, but some of the most effective peaceful revolutions were propped up by amazing branding. Take, for example, "Otpor!" -- a civic protest group credited with politely overthrowing the Serbian government in 2000. While that sounds daunting as fuck, the cause was helped along by a single easy-to-identify image:
The symbol found itself plastered on many walls and banners and ultimately made its way to the MTV Europe Awards in 1998 -- which subsequently caused the Serbian government to censor the ceremony broadcast.
And since exposure is key, the news and media quickly become a point of political contention in a time of unrest (hey, that sure sounds familiar). That's why both the Serbian and People Power Revolution in the Philippines involved a tug of war over radio and television broadcast stations...something we thankfully don't have to deal with until Mark Zuckerberg runs for Earth King Of Tomorrow.
And this goes for every iconic movement, because what you're initially picturing as "branding" is much more fluid in practice. As we've previously mentioned on Cracked, Rosa Parks wasn't actually the first woman to remain seated in defiance to systematic racism -- however, she was the most sympathetic figure to associate with the cause, so she became the face of the Montgomery bus boycott. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail was also the product of a pre-planned strategy for the next time he was arrested. The letter would then be passed from numerous publications before getting spun into a book that he brought on the road with him.
For the teenage grump this might seem like "selling out," but like downgrading your protest to "PG-13," it's just yet another way to make a revolutionary message more appealing. Because it's not enough to defy the government -- you have to sell that defiance to the American people. You have to convince them that it's sustainable the same way Coca Cola convinces people that drinking handfuls of sugar quenches thirst.
Only unlike most products, the best revolutions don't have to fake their appeal. And that means you need to play by the rules in order to prove those rules need to be broken...
Focus On An Upcoming Election (To Assess The Damage)
A corrupt election is one of the biggest harbingers to a peaceful uprising. It happened during the 1989 revolution in Germany, when an already mistrusted election was revealed to be false. The recent uprising in Egypt was prompted by fraudulent voting; same goes for Serbia and the Philippines. If revolutions were tsunamis, elections are the foreboding birds flocking over Jake Gyllenhaal.
Also, simply put, having an election is a good way to make sure the system is actually broken before you abandon it. I wouldn't tuck-and-roll my Toyota Matrix just because it made a few rattling noises, so I certainly wouldn't abandon American democracy unless I thought the process was beyond meaningless. And while many of you are shaking your heads and saying "yeah dipshit, we just did that and it didn't go great" -- there's still a sizable chunk of the country that doesn't see it that way.
And so this is why the midterms and the 2020 election are so important -- not necessarily to prove that the system is broken, but rather to hopefully prove that it's not. So anyone currently displeased needs to get their ducks in a row before 2018. Like, super in a row, too. Because depending on your party, that shit is looking bleak.
At the same time, it's pretty much an American tradition for the midterms to swing in favor of the opposing party to the president (because Americans are just a bunch of hipster contrarians at heart). But even if the process seems frustratingly plodding, it's important to note that pretty much every successful non-violent protest has worked through the system. When MLK wrote the aforementioned Birmingham jail letter, he was later sprung through the efforts of JFK -- who at the time was running against Nixon. In response, King flat out declared "I've got a suitcase of votes, and I'm going to take them to Mr. Kennedy." And he did just that, effectively winning the election by influencing several swing states.
And this is why the midterms matter. Because political parties aside, it's the first opportunity for the American people to show just how pleased or pissed they are about the current administration. And while you could argue that the gerrymandering and the electoral college is making a fair election impossible -- I say that you fuckers just aren't trying hard enough.
In what I'm assuming is the definitive blog for moving and storage news, Sparefoot.com has put together a rather helpful guide to locations that both conservatives and liberals can move to help push an election in their favor. And sure, you could argue that uprooting your entire life is a bit extreme -- but in terms of exertion it sure beats storming the Bastille.
Having Fun Is Extremely Important
This isn't a suggestion. I'm not saying, "remember to have fun out there, sport!" I'm saying that, historically speaking, protests have to be fun in order for them to sustain themselves.
And the reason is obvious: protests are, in their barebones form, terrible to participate in. You have to stand there for hours like an asshole and hold a big stupid sign in the air with all your jerk friends. There are no bathrooms or air conditioners. Passersby hate your guts. So while your average chum might totally support the cause, there's a fair chance they aren't going to bother standing around all day unless there's a fun reason to do it.
To extend my movie analogy, if you're aiming for a family-friendly, well-advertised PG-13 resistance...try not to make it a gloomy flop. No one wants to attend the Jupiter Ascending of protests.
This is why every great protest had at least a little fun. Serbian protesters used humor and digital marketing, the Philippines brought entire families to demonstrations like a picnic, and Germany and the Civil Rights movements used chants and songs -- as did Gandhi on his Salt March. Heck, the recent Standing Rock protest got media shit for "resembling a Burning Man event"...but chances are those drugged-up honkeys were half the reason people flocked to the site.
The only time you can gather a large, disruptive group in a public space and NOT piss people off is if you're the fair or some kind of zany parade. So why not be those things? There are so many goddamn ways to throw a nonviolent protest that it's stupid to just do the bare minimum. Just ask the coolest goddamn party ever -- also known as the Women's Suffrage Movement.
People often imagine a group of stuffy ladies organizing sit-ins and wearing sashes, but the women's right to vote was actually built on a foundation of costume parades, live shows, and fucking pageants. Why the hell aren't we protesting with pageants anymore, you guys? Where the hell are the party buses and Mannequin Challenges? The Women's Suffrage movement absolutely had those things -- they just called them "parade floats" and "tableau vivant"...the latter literally being a group of actors standing completely still to create a live photograph.
I know you're angry. I know that for certain races and religions, amassing in protest will more likely lead to police brutality and condescension from politicians. Not everyone has the luxury or patience for pleasantries when their rights are being pummeled in real-time. This anger deserves respect. But to wield it constructively, it also needs to be tempered and rationed. It needs to be communicative and appealing. It needs to be cool, smart, and sophisticated rage, like a grizzled doctor who plays by his own rules.
Forget those "cuck"-screaming Nazis. Forget those ninja-clad firebombing assholes. Like the dickheads who screamed and pushed the Suffragettes all those years ago, there are always people hoping to turn the collective into a horde. But in a time where the leaders of this country have never looked and acted more like political cartoon caricatures, now is the time to show them how gnarly Team Fuck-This-Shit can be.
Follow Dave on Twitter because he craves your approval. Also -- if this current administration isn't your cup of tea, perhaps check out this handy resource for nonviolent protest.
It's Spring Break! You know what that means: hot coeds getting loose on the beaches of Cancun and becoming imperiled in all classic beach slasher ways: man-eating shark, school of piranhas, James Franco with dreadlocks. There are so many films about vacations gone wrong, it's a chore to wonder if there's even such a thing as a movie vacation gone right. Amity Island and Camp Crystal Lake are out. So what does that leave? The ship from Wall-E? Hawaii with the Brady Bunch? A road trip with famous curmudgeon Chevy Chase? On this month's live podcast Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff are joined by some special guest comedians to figure out what would be the best vacation to take in a fictional universe. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased here!
Also check out 5 Ways Powerful People Trick You Into Hating Protesters and The 8 Most Ridiculously Badass Protesters Ever Photographed.
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