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.
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.