Why Your Protest Isn't Changing the World
When you think about protests, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of people marching with signs or chanting slogans. Perhaps you picture a group of people rallying together to demand change on a social or political issue.
Whatever image you have in your head, one thing is likely true: you believe that protests can be effective in bringing about change. After all, if people didn't believe that protests could be successful, why would they bother taking part in them?
Actually, that is true. An analysis by economists from Harvard University and Stockholm University finds that protests do in fact have a major influence on politics. The research shows that the success of a protest is best measured not by its direct effect on politicians but rather by the effect it has on the protesters themselves.
The researchers found that when a protest has a large turnout the protest participants are politically activated in a way that pays political dividends after a given protest is long over. For example, each additional protester at a 2009 Tax Day rally, the study's specific focus, correlated to an extra seven to 14 votes for the local Republican candidate in the 2010 election.
Actually, that is true. An analysis by economists from Harvard University and Stockholm University finds that protests do in fact have a major influence on politics. The researchers found that when a protest has large turnouts, its participants are activated in such a way as to have an effect on politics. The success of these movements is best measured not by their direct impact on politicians but rather by how much each additional participant influences others who were there at the time--and this can be seen soon after any given event ends. For example, Each person attending the 2009 Tax Day rally correlates to between seven and 14 extra votes for local Republican candidates during the 2010 election season.
But that doesn't mean any protest solves social issues such as climate change or animal abuse. If you look at the past, you can see many protests that didn't solve the social issue.
The Occupy Wall Street movement was a social and political protest that started in September 2011 in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City's Financial District. The protesters' main goals were to oppose social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the undue influence of corporations on the government.
However, the movement failed to bring about any significant or lasting change. Many involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement became disillusioned, and it eventually fizzled out.
2012 Anti-Nuclear Power Protests in Japan are another example of a failed protest. These protests were in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which occurred after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011. The nuclear disaster caused widespread radioactive contamination, leading to the evacuation of residents living near the plant.
The protesters demanded that the Japanese government stop using nuclear power, but their efforts failed. In fact, the Japanese government has continued to use nuclear power, despite public opposition.
So why do some protests succeed but others don't? Let's take a closer look at some of the reasons why your protest is unlikely to make any real change in the world.
Don't have clear goals
In order for a protest to be effective, the people organizing it need to have clear goals. Otherwise, it is easy for the protest to fizzle out or get hijacked by outside forces.
Unfortunately, many protests lack clear goals from the outset. This lack of clarity often leads to infighting and disagreement among the protesters, which can eventually lead to the collapse of the entire movement. If you look at the Black Lives Matter case, for instance, you'll see that the movement has been plagued by infighting and a lack of clear goals from the very beginning. What exactly do they want to achieve? Is it an end to police brutality? More social and economic equality for black people? Something else entirely? It's hard to say, and that lack of clarity has made it very difficult for the movement to sustain itself over time.
Even when protesters do have clear goals, those goals are often too broad to be truly effective. Take the Occupy Wall Street movement, for instance. One of their stated goals was to "end the greed and corruption of the 1%." But what does that actually mean? How would they go about achieving such a huge goal? It's impossible to say, and that lack of specificity made it very easy for the movement to fizzle out.
For protests to have clear goals, it is important to keep them small and achievable. That way, people can see that their efforts are actually leading to results, which will help to keep the movement going.
The public's negative perception of your organization
Many people and groups fight to solve social issues. But by choosing the wrong method, some groups got a negative image against the public.
Take a look at animal lovers for example. They care about the animals, but they use the wrong way to get public attention. In some cases, They break into people's houses and rescue the animals. This might be considered a good deed by some, but most of the public would see them as burglars. This kind of action not only got them a negative image but also makes their cause less likely to be supported by the public.
For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has been plagued by negative publicity ever since its inception. One of the main reasons for this is the crime and violence that have been associated with the movement. Many people protested peacefully but in particular, the 2016 shooting of five police officers in Dallas by a BLM supporter was a major black eye for the organization.
But it's not just violence that has hurt BLM's image; there have also been allegations of corruption and mismanagement at the top levels of the organization. For instance, the group's co-founder, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, was accused of using BLM funds to purchase luxury homes while doing very little to actually help black people. These kinds of stories have made it very difficult for BLM to gain the public's trust and support.
So social justice organizations need to be very careful about how they are perceived by the public. If they are seen as violent or corrupt, it will be very difficult for them to gain mainstream support. So they need to make sure that their actions and messages are carefully calibrated to avoid any negative blowback.
Protests are usually short-lived
Another problem with protests is that they tend to be short-lived. This is partly due to the fact that they are often organized around a single issue. Once that issue has been resolved (or deemed unresolvable), there is no reason for the protesters to stay together.
Additionally, most people only have so much time and energy that they can devote to protesting. After a certain point, they need to go back to their regular lives and jobs. This means that even the most dedicated protesters will eventually have to move on. For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement only lasted for a few months before most of the protesters dispersed.
This is not to say that protests can never be effective in the long term. But it is important to realize that they are often quite fleeting and that any positive changes that come about, as a result, will likely be short-lived as well.
So it is also important to find a way to sustain a social movement beyond the initial protest phase. This can be done by creating an organization or structure that can continue the work long after the protesters have gone home. This doesn't mean that you have to establish an NGO. But it does mean that you need to have a plan for how the work will continue even after the protest is over.
People become dull about social issues
One of the main reasons people become dull about social issues is because they are bombarded with the same message over and over again. For example, we've all seen the "stop climate change" posters a million times. And while that message is important, it's also easy to tune out after a while.
A study conducted in 2013 found that people repeatedly exposed to the same message about social issues became less interested and motivated to take action on those issues. In other words, the more you hear about a problem, the less likely you are to do something about it.
Additionally, social media has made it easy for people to "armchair activism." This is when people simply share or like posts about social issues without actually taking any concrete action. While this can raise awareness, it doesn't do much to actually solve problems.
To prevent this, protesters need to come up with fresh and innovative ways to get their message across. Otherwise, people will quickly become bored and tune out.
One way to do this is to personalize the message. For example, instead of just saying "stop climate change," you could talk about how climate change is affecting people's lives in specific ways. This makes the issue more relatable and interesting, and it also might be more likely to inspire people to take action.
Another way to keep people's attention is to focus on positive solutions instead of just problems. For example, a protest against plastic pollution could also talk about how to reduce plastic use in our everyday lives. This gives people something concrete that they can do to make a difference.
The media covers your protests superficially
When protests do receive media coverage, it is often quite superficial. reporters are more interested in the spectacle of the protest than the actual issues at stake. As a result, they tend to focus on the most sensational aspects of the protest, such as violence or property damage.
For example, the media coverage of the 2014 Ferguson protests was heavily criticized for its focus on the looting and property damage that occurred, rather than the underlying issues of police brutality and racial discrimination. This kind of coverage not only fails to inform the public about the issues at stake but also paints protesters in a negative light. As a result, it becomes harder for future protests to gain traction and public support.
Vietnamese war in the early 1970s is another example. The media coverage at the time focused heavily on the violence and property damage that occurred, rather than on the protesters' message against the war. This kind of coverage made it difficult for future anti-war protests to be taken seriously.
So it is important for protesters to work with the media to make sure that their message is being accurately conveyed. This can be done by organizing press conferences, giving interviews, and writing op-eds.
You can't change the world alone
The word "alone" here doesn't simply mean that an animal lover should find another animal lover for the animal rights protest. It means that you have to find other untypical people or groups that can support the protest.
For example, there is nothing new about animal lovers protesting against a company contributing to animal abuse. However, in order to make a real impact, they need the support of other groups. They might need meat-eaters to join their social media campaigns, and business leaders to commit to making changes.
The same principle applies to any social issue. To create lasting change, protesters need to build alliances with groups that might not traditionally be associated with their cause. This way, they can create a movement that is too big to ignore.
Of course, this is not easy, but there are ways to achieve it. One way to do this is by finding common ground. If you're protesting against animal cruelty, you could reach out to corporation groups and point out how much profit they can make if they actually protest for animal rights. This way, you can appeal to their interests and get them on board with your cause.
Change takes time
Real change is a slow process. Even if a protest does manage to create some immediate change, it's often only temporary. Lasting change requires time, effort, and patience. This is because social issues are often deeply entrenched and complex. They might be the result of years of discrimination or violence. To solve these problems, it takes time to change people's attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
For example, the civil rights movement didn't achieve all of its goals overnight. It took years of protests, sit-ins, and marches before the government began to take serious action on racial discrimination. And even then, there is still a long way to go in achieving true equality.
Another example is women's right to vote. Women were not granted the right to vote overnight. It took years of campaigning and protesting before women were finally given this basic right. For example, the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 is often credited as the start of the women's rights movement in the United States. But it wasn't until nearly 70 years later that women were finally granted the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
So if you're thinking about protesting for social change, remember that it's a marathon, not a sprint. It might take years or even decades to achieve your goals.
Protest can be an effective tool to solve social issues. But it is important to use it wisely. This means working with the media, building alliances with other groups, and being patient. Only then can protesters hope to make lasting social change.
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