6 Highly Effective Tactics of Protest for Political Influence (and Marching Isn’t One of Them)

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Demonstrators have wondered how they can effect change without publicly begging or screaming for attention in the streets in a way that causes decision makers to respect them even LESS!

“If protesters are only causing themselves trouble by congregating in the streets, then what should they do instead to influence policy?”

Mercifully for the uneducated and the misinformed, I hereby enumerate respectable public thoroughfares by which to communicate. If you want change, then use these avenues judiciously.

A peaceful and overall effective protest would consist of behaviors that I call the:

Six Tactics of Effective Protest

1) Write and mail articulate letters to elected officials — no page limit or word count is specified, and snail mail gets you a physical acknowledgement letter (usually a policy position template);

2) Submit timely comments at local hearings and via the Regulations.gov portal;

3) Send op-eds and letters to the editor to as many newspapers as you can — no acknowledgement is given unless your op-ed is published, so stick with email to save postage;

4) Author and publicize well-researched blog posts about facts and misconceptions pertaining to your cause — unlike letters to the editor, you can guarantee yourself publication and yammer on as long as you want;

5) Make polite, yet urgent phone calls to legislative district offices to explain why a public need exists for whichever cause you support (or why a certain cause is deleterious to the public welfare); and

6) Purchase advertising through channels that include at least some of your target audience. Because concision is everything in advertising, summarizing your policy position in a 30-second radio spot may prove more difficult than writing a well-reasoned letter to the editor.

Honorary Mentions

A) Vote. This has limited communicative ability because it implies you support ALL of a candidate’s political opinions, when in reality you might think all the candidates are unsympathetic to your causes.

This dilemma stems predominantly from causes that precede primaries and the cognitive inertia for most voters to trust only Republican and Democrat ballot choices.

Also, voting is only effective once every 2 years for representatives; 4 years for president, mayors, and some municipal council or town board seats; and every 6 years for senators. Voting is nonetheless useful if you truly support a particular candidate or ballot initiative — or even if you want to block an exceptionally bad candidate or defeat a referendum.

B) Boycott. This is more likely to get corporations’ attention that a mere street protest because it directly reduces their bottom line, except in case of a whiplash sentiment in the positive direction by that company’s most loyal customers!

Besides boycotts backfiring unpredictably, they simply don’t work against governmental units. Although a person might “vote with their feet” by relocating to another jurisdiction, that costs much more money than many protesters have. Ergo, the resources spent on a boycott are better spent lobbying government officials.

“Wow; that seems like a lot of writing!”

Yes, but writing is how laws are proposed, passed, and changed. You cannot expect anything outside the realm of official letters to make official impact; because officials do not recognize disturbances as legitimate policy inputs. Emergencies to be quelled with forceful detainment? Yes. Reasons to change the law? No!

Only campaign money; lots of constituent correspondence; and the occasional constitutional court case — not a criminal case for disturbing the peace, mind you — has ever brought or will ever bring any politician towards proposing or voting for a law change.

I know that sounds boring, but officials are more responsive to those who communicate in ways similar to how legislators communicate, i.e. professionally via institutionally legitimate means. The few “professional protesters” who exist are actually event monitors and intelligence agents disguised as run-of-the-mill demonstrators. Their social pedigree and income are far above that of those who’ve reason to protest!

Like any tool, constituent correspondence and publicly readable opinions must be used accurately to have their intended effect. It is particularly paramount to be not only accurate in your views but also precise enough to eliminate unwanted connotations and to minimize opportunities for incorrect interpretations of your words.

This especially rings true for contentious topics; the range of ideas explicitly expressed and implicitly implied must be something for which you take responsibility! Some further observations are therefore warranted about efficacious communication.

I prefer to write letters and to leave voice mails so that I can elaborate on specifics without having to repeat myself to whichever staffer is taking notes. This also ensures details are preserved, as otherwise an aide might paraphrase a well-articulated argument into over-simplistic talking points.

On the bureaucratic side, it is also easier for staff to photocopy a received letter or to transcribe a replay-able voice recording than it is to jot everything down during a live phone call, i.e. one real-time pass-through of the information within the statement.

Even if you’re not deaf, sending written remarks is the least ambiguous way to communicate complex policy positions. Comments are the best option for maximizing clarity if you have a speech impediment.

You have a better chance of acknowledgement for your political opinion, rather than for alleged criminal activity, when you lobby because the interactions are one-on-one. This is much better for being recognized as an informed, concerned constituent who is likely to vote than you would signal as part of a vaguely identified mob of unknown geographic voting constituency.

Email is also one-on-one if you remember to address one email per legislator and to personalize the greeting. If you send an obvious group email, then legislators and aides will feel less pressure to respond, lest your message allegedly “got caught in the spam trap.”

To create the impression that many constituents are independently reaching the same conclusion(s) on a policy object, don’t copy a phone script or message template given to you by some organization.
Interest groups — such as the conference-and-meeting factory known as United Council of UW Students — understand their members lack the intelligence and critical thinking to customize their boilerplate copy without losing the gist of the prose, but you can do better.

The fact that you’re reading my blog sets you above the pedestrian political pawn! It also implies you have the independent will and the inquisitive mind for cleverness to express policy problems and solutions in your own terms.

Time-Wasting Protesters Not Unique to Low-Information Ferguson

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In my previous article, I explained why demonstrating is more dangerous to the participants than to policy makers. This present piece examines how protesting is a waste of time.

In contrast to institutionally legitimate means of communication, marching in the streets — no matter how organized — in the vain hope of influencing decision makers, means you’re incompetent at learning how to use the intended tools to express your political views outside the ballot box.

Yes, protesters immediately identify themselves as having a long learning curve on how to function in society. Austerity protests I can understand to the extent official avenues for public input are shut down due to budget cuts.

But throwing a hissy fit over a grand jury deciding insufficient evidence exists to pursue a prosecution, is just as immature as claiming all the forensic evidence against O.J. Simpson was somehow tampered with any more than the evidence that put away Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, and Greenwood Attorneys at Law.

These ineffectual individuals are living proof that poor people screw themselves over, most notably by having children.

When the economically handicapped become disenchanted enough with their chances at a better life to the point of futile demonstrations, they should not produce offspring, for their children will be subjected to the same economic constraints and learn the same pessimistic outlook that ultimately leads to self-marginalization.

And even with an idealistic attitude that all you need for some measure of success is to conform long enough to receive you reward, zero-sum reality dictates a critical mass of poverty — around 30 percent of a local population, according to studies — results in a situation where unemployment remains high.

This wage scarcity keeps familial income low, further straining social services and encouraging higher-income people to move into lower-tax locales. Why bring children into such an unforgiving social milieu that is stacked against their financial success and wellbeing?

Desiring to raise a family when poor might seem noble and traditionalist. In fact, some aging parents encourage, henpeck, and lobby their adult children to produce grandchildren for entirely selfish reasons. Such an approach of “give me grandkids at any cost” spells economic doom for already impoverished adult children because their offspring are bred into an unwinnable situation of too few jobs for too many consumers.

In this perpetual scarcity scenario, acting irrationally, i.e. street protesting, seems like the most sensible choice — but it’s not, as demonstrated by the illegality of public exuberance and when compared to institutionally accepted means of lawful influence. (Read more about six legitimate means of influencing policy.)

Civil rights marchers did not cause Brown v. Board of Education or any other judicial interpretation of constitutional protections; only the plaintiffs and Supreme Court judges influenced the outcome.

Similarly, opponents of purported police brutality flood the streets in hopes that enough grand jury members will see their painful emotional appeals and be moved to presume guilt against the cop who killed in self-defense during a perpetrator’s commission of a felony, i.e. see a justified homicide performed in the line of duty as somehow illegal, because a bunch of uneducated, under-employed protesters said so!

Demonstrations are an instance in which the “wisdom of the crowd” is really folly. If you want to make an impact, then file a court case, launch a boycott, comment to regulatory agencies about notices of proposed regulations; and/or lobby elected officials. Anything else does you a disservice.

That sounds rather depressing, no? But the means of change are within grasp — and that “grasp” is not a clenched fist; a Molotov cocktail; or stolen goods!

Legally permissible means of change are — surprise! — those which enumerate specific problems with statutory and regulatory language and those that communicate solutions in terms of legal modifications.

Yet, that is too much to ask from a bunch of immature protesters — for they lack the capacity to think clearly most days and need their sensational fixes through drugs, music, television, and movies. Education for these people happens predominantly when they are stuck in a classroom or learning an illicit, unlawful trade from acquaintances.

The sidewalk blockers are therefore a bunch of intellectual cattle, who rely on figureheads to speak coherently for the incoherent masses that have no destiny but that which is selected for them — because they lack the level-headedness and intelligence to exploit politically feasible avenues for legal change, rather than waste their (empirically worthless) time protesting and demonstrating to absolutely no politician’s concern.

Calling and writing Congress, state government, and your common council does not take any more money than inviting your friends to a protest! You may as well host a legislative action party instead of fooling around with confrontations-gone-wrong.

As for a demonstrators’ economic prospects? Unless you’re already a member of a professional union, marching is a lower-class behavior that designates you as unhireable for white-collar positions. Even if you aspire to be a grassroots organizer, you have plenty of cutthroat competition from your fellow ideologues — and they’re probably not letting you into the organization that hires them, due to defensive self-interest.

Don’t enroll at a university by any stretch — unless for a particular managerial or technical certificate your supervisor says you “need” before s/he can promote you — but explore some low-cost training such as teaching yourself graphical design and writing for the sake of clarifying and informing.

Why do people protest instead of make themselves useful? Emotional contagion from collective learned helplessness.

This is what happens when people protest unwinnable issues: They invest emotionally into a course of action (protesting) without first verifying the potential efficacy of that plan of action (no one will decide things differently after the protest).

Their learned helplessness is from a consistently poor living situation, no matter how many job applications sent forth (no one’s interested) or wages saved (rent increases eat up emergency savings).

Emotional contagion from “Generation Frustration” and similar demographics spreads within their social circles, such that cathartically making a boisterous scene is more appealing — provides “greater economic utility,” as the Ivory Tower academics would put it — than writing an articulate letter or speaking calmly with a legislative aide.

And yes, this means a few bad apples or agent provocateurs in a group can cause mass rioting — the effects of emotional contagion are that predictable!

The textbook example for ineffectual collective action is every demonstration ever for a pending court decision: Courts do NOT listen to public sentiment when handing down verdicts! They rely upon legal precedent and the facts of the case — nothing else!

Ergo, attempts to influence courts and grand juries are inconsequential for them as court officials and perhaps injurious to you as an individual. Either you file an amicus curie brief like the legislators and state attorneys general do, or you effectively say nothing at all!

Trying to reach court personnel via the media is pointless because — even if you’re allowed on camera or are quoted in articles — your messages will NOT be heard by the judiciary: Judges and jury members are not allowed to consume news about their ongoing cases!

That’s a really simple principle, but the Ferguson demonstrators didn’t care. It literally took a police crackdown to persuade protesters they would have nothing to gain by continuing their demonstration, except to look like dummies.

They subsequently feel not only helpless but also forcibly oppressed — acknowledged for the WRONG reasons! — whereas writing letters and speaking with official staffers would have only resulted in helplessness at worst, without anyone to intervene in their non-violent communications or to entice them into illegal activity.

You have a better chance of acknowledgement for your political opinion, rather than for alleged criminal activity, when you lobby because the interactions are within an institutionally welcomed communications channel. This is true whether you call, write, or visit the offices of legislators.