At­lanta ac­tivists give in­side tips on ef­fec­tive protest­ing

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Black Lives Mat­ter, women’s rights, sci­ence, anti-fas­cism, anti-racism, anti-white supremacy, anti-Trump, pro-equal­ity, proLGBT rights, pro-trans­gen­der troops — the list of con­cerns rel­e­vant to pro­gres­sives grows daily.

Some of these is­sues can be ad­dressed in meet­ing rooms and con­ver­sa­tions with elected of­fi­cials. But some elicit such a pow­er­ful re­sponse from the pub­lic that they’re best ad­dressed in the streets.

When those times arise, there’s a de­sire to “do some­thing,” but some­times it’s hard to know where to be­gin. Ge­or­gia Voice reached out to a num­ber of At­lanta ac­tivists for ad­vice on how to de­velop, ex­e­cute and eval­u­ate these move­ments.

Al­lies to the cause

“If you know you’re go­ing to go for­ward with a protest, and you know it’s go­ing to be the most ef­fec­tive way to draw at­ten­tion to the is­sue or put pres­sure on an in­di­vid­ual or or­ga­ni­za­tion or cre­ate mo­men­tum around an is­sue … then a good next step is fig­ur­ing out who are the stake­hold­ers that need to be in­volved in that?” said Jeff Gra­ham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity.

James Brian Yancey, founder of men­tor or­ga­ni­za­tion Rain­bros., which helped or­ga­nize the Trans­gen­der Equal­ity March in July, said groups he’s in­volved with plan ahead on two fronts: first, for things that they an­tic­i­pate may come to pass, he said there’s an ef­fort to iden­tify who is in­ter­ested in be­ing in charge of a re­sponse; and then for things that come out of nowhere — like the trans­gen­der mil­i­tary ban tweeted out by Pres­i­dent Trump on July 26 — where a dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion is re­quired.

“We usu­ally try to break that down into, are we try­ing to gain aware­ness of an is­sue? Are we try­ing to get a spe­cific sto­ry­line or mes­sage? Other times you re­ally want there to be an an­gle; you want them to leave with a mes­sage or thought they didn’t think be­fore,” Per­mit­ting re­quire­ments de­pend on the protest. For marches or­ga­nized as an im­me­di­ate re­sponse to an is­sue, such as the April march against Don­ald Trump and the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, pic­tured here, or the July Trans­gen­der Equal­ity March, per­mits may not be needed, but re­spect­ful con­tact with city of­fi­cials to en­sure pro­test­ers’ safety is en­cour­aged. (Photo by Dal­las Anne Dun­can) Yancey said. “The last thing, is there any­thing they should leave with a fur­ther ac­tion?”

In the case of the Trans­gen­der Equal­ity March, that fur­ther ac­tion was do­nat­ing to a city­wide fundraiser ben­e­fit­ing trans non­prof­its.

Protest lo­ca­tion and re­sponse time will de­ter­mine whether or not a per­mit is re­quired. Gra­ham said protests planned at the Gold Dome will re­quire pa­per­work and oc­ca­sional costs, and per­mit­ting may need to go through the Parks Depart­ment, the Po­lice Depart­ment or the City of At­lanta, de­pend­ing on who owns the prop­erty.

Protests with more time to plan — and get per­mits — may also have re­quire­ments handed down from city of­fi­cials. Lukis New­born, po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist and di­rec­tor of Civic-Minded Cit­i­zens, said the March for Sci­ence had to have por­ta­ble toi­lets and a march route pro­vided to the city be­cause of the crowds ex­pected.

“Some­times it does take time to plan, but it’s an is­sue that is go­ing to be on peo­ple’s minds for a while,” Gra­ham said. “Af­ter Pulse, here in At­lanta, we chose to take a cou­ple of days … When we ac­tu­ally got the com­mu­nity event to­gether, I’m re­ally glad we took the time to do that be­cause it al­lowed us to have a re­ally pow­er­ful, mean­ing­ful pro­gram that al­lowed us to hit a lot of themes that we might not have been able to hit if Ge­or­gia Equal­ity had called peo­ple to the cor­ner of 10th and Pied­mont [im­me­di­ately].”

But in the case of an im­me­di­ate re­sponse, there may not be time to go through the per­mit­ting process.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t re­al­ize if you are ex­er­cis­ing your First Amend­ment rights, the po­lice are gen­er­ally go­ing to try and help you as long as you’re com­mu­ni­cat­ing with them,” Yancey said. “If it’s rapid re­sponse, gen­er­ally the rules of thumb are have a planned route; if the po­lice com­mu­ni­cate with you, you talk to them, tell them what the plan is.”

Ready, set, march

There are mul­ti­ple di­men­sions to tackle on the day of a protest.

In ad­di­tion to the core group of or­ga­niz­ers, Gra­ham rec­om­mends hav­ing a few key po­si­tions to keep the event mov­ing and safe on the day-of: at­tor­neys, se­cu­rity and an em­cee to in­tro­duce any speak­ers. Ken Wain­wright, LGBT ally and ac­tivist, also sug­gested hav­ing some­one in charge of first-aid sta­tions and en­sur­ing pro­test­ers have bot­tled water.

“Have peo­ple at the front of the march know where the march is go­ing,” New­born said. “Have peo­ple that are very eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able as vol­un­teers.”

Marches can also be pref­aced with ac­tiv­i­ties like sign-mak­ing, key­note speak­ers and group chants to “get fired up,” as Wain­wright says.

“It’s not about ad­vo­cat­ing dis­obe­di­ence, but it is ad­vo­cat­ing that as Amer­i­cans, we have a right to protest,” he said.

So­cial me­dia is a pow­er­ful tool pro­test­ers can en­gage in dur­ing the march as well.

“If I press a ‘live’ but­ton, you have 125 peo­ple at a protest and they’re com­mand­ing at­ten­tion that wasn’t there be­fore I pressed that but­ton,” Wain­wright said. “Peo­ple from other coun­tries are re­al­iz­ing on cam­era the in­jus­tices that are hap­pen­ing in the LGBT com­mu­nity and the black com­mu­nity. Now they’re see­ing it … it starts to cause for change to hap­pen.”


Eval­u­at­ing ef­fec­tive­ness

“March­ing in it­self and protest­ing in it­self doesn’t do any­thing. But what you do af­ter that march and the peo­ple you in­spire in that process is what mat­ters,” New­born said. “With­out 65,000 peo­ple march­ing in the streets of At­lanta at Women’s March, there wouldn’t be these thou­sands of peo­ple who came to­gether to cre­ate non­prof­its, to cre­ate this move­ment.”

It’s from the protests and marches that more new ac­tivists emerge and po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates file dec­la­ra­tions of in­tent, he said.

“It doesn’t stop at the steps of the Capi­tol where we stop march­ing. That march con­tin­ues into di­rect di­a­logues with our sen­a­tors,” New­born said. “The other aspects of protests is they ask those tough ques­tions.”

Change won’t hap­pen overnight, Wain­wright said, but that doesn’t mean a protest isn’t ef­fec­tive. He be­lieves what de­ter­mines suc­cess hap­pens later, when pro­test­ers have a bal­lot in front of them.

“Con­tinue to put logs in the fire be­cause now, it’s not just about protest­ing. It’s about or­ga­niz­ing,” Wain­wright said. “It’s about vot­ing. Don’t protest if you’re not go­ing to vote. Don’t protest if you’re not go­ing to get ac­tive in that way.”

Au­gust 18, 2017

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