There should be a sign at the end of every march or protest, written in bold letters large enough for all to see: “WE AREN’T DONE YET!” Once the last cheer has sounded, the last poster has been deposited into a recycling bin, and the last clever tee shirt has been folded and put back in the closet there is almost a breath held -- by organizers, advocates, politicians, corporations, celebrities, and those in opposition of the movement. “Is that all?” Everyone wonders. Will those who waved signs so gallantly yesterday go back to their offices tomorrow and talk about which donut shop has better deals or will they take the brave step and start asking hard questions that matter? Will the college student who gave the heart-stirring speech only a day ago fade back into the grey walls of her political science classroom tomorrow or will she stand up and rally her class to help remind their elected officials that they work for us and not the other way around? Will those who were so willing to buy sweatshirts with powerful quotes on them yesterday spend their own money helping those who are hurting in the world today?
A street march can get people’s attention and bring like-minded people together to feel that they are not alone. This type of community is incredibly important. But marching is not enough. Saying that there are too many homeless people or that everyone has a right to clean water or that you are or are not pro choice is not enough. Marches must be followed by action. If we fool ourselves into thinking that we marched one day so our duty is done then we have already lost.
Marches can be a good tool for change if actual ideas and action plans can be clearly outlined through them. There are 5 steps that I believe must be followed in order to orchestrate a good street march. The first is visible leadership. Whether this is one person or a team, leadership is important so that followers and those interested in the march have someone to look toward for guidance or to act as spokespeople on the movement’s behalf. Thousands of people marching can appear faceless to the media and those on the outside. Having visible leadership personalizes and adds a face to a movement. The second vital component is good organization. It needs to be clearly communicated where and when marches will take place. Information needs to be easy to locate. Those who are only casually interested in the message of the march will likely have short attention spans. Confusion or misinformation can quickly lead to disengagement. Having a plan pre-march and communicating it clearly is vital. The third step to a successful street march in the 21st century is a strong social media presence. Protests like the Women’s March on Washington did a good job of utilizing social media and hashtags to unite all of their protesters even though marches were happening in different cities and even on different continents. Maintaining a strong social media network is also important for communicating with marchers after the event is over. Forth, probably one of the most important aspects of a good street march is a cohesive message. People who happen to look out their car window and see a mass of people marching should be able to tell in about 20 seconds what the protestors’ message is. This message should be short and easy to understand. Depending on the intended audience or message it might also be important to make sure that the message is translated into other languages as well.
Fifth and finally, the linchpin to any street march and the one that can make the difference between it being “good” or “bad” is an attainable action plan. This is important for not only those who are marching but also for those who are in opposition to the march. If a cause can demonstrate to all that the march is only the beginning it will demand that whatever grievances have been brought up be taken seriously. This action plan should be universal and encompass the entire organization and leadership of the march, but it should also provide individualized action plans for those everyday people who are not on the leadership board but still want to make a difference. These could include instructions on how to call state representatives to demand change, recommendations on what vetted charities will do the most good with a donation of time or money, or steps on how to have difficult but the effective conversations needed to illicit real change.
Street marches can be good and effective if they are willing to serve as a vehicle for change. The high visibility of a march must be used as an opportunity to act and disrupt the status quo. The physical act of marching itself is about going from one place to another. Street marches can only be successful if this act of moving forward is taken straight from the streets into the hearts, minds, and hands of its participants.
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