There is nothing worse that watching a group of people who are passionate about their beliefs make total fools of themselves. This is often the case with political protests organized by inexperienced students.
An excellent example of this was the protest by Clean Students Unite Now, a previously unknown group, against the presence of Pepsi products at CSUN. The protest consisted largely of the protesters blocking the doors to Manzanita Hall and preventing student who had food or non-Pepsi drinks from entering the building. The combination of annoying tactics and confusing cause made for an ineffective, if amusing, protest.
Clearly, there is a lack of talent among the organizers of the Pepsi protest. If protests are going to disrupt campus life, they should at least be good protests, full of drama and motivated by big issues. What we need on this campus is a class that teaches would-be revolutionaries the proper rules required for a successful protest.
To that end I have compiled a short list of rules that any potential activist could use to improve their protest.
Rule 1: Do not anger potential recruits
Every protest has two goals: gain publicity for a cause and recruit potential supporters. The first part is easy. Running up to people and smacking them on the head with a “Save the Whales” sign will certainly make them aware of your presence and your cause.
Unfortunately, your cause is associated with you. Public support for it can easily be gauged and is inversely proportional to the size of the angry crowd that is about to give you an old fashioned beat-down. In short, you are not going to gather followers from people who seriously want to beat the stuffing out of you.
Our Pepsi-protesting friends violated this simple rule in spades. Causing people to be late for class is certainly going to make them cranky. Forcing people to relinquish their food and drinks before they are allowed to enter the building is similarly unlikely to make you any friends. Such tactics are likely to get you “sucka-punched” (in the words of one of the many angry students there) or, as actually happened, get a bottle of water poured on you by an angry professor.
If possible, avoid angering the very people that you are trying to persuade. It is counterproductive and is possibly hazardous to your health. If you insist on using inflammatory tactics, then you had better hope that your eloquence and written appeals are sufficient to sway people to your cause. This leads us to-
Rule 2: Do not sound like a moron
If you have abandoned as a fool’s errand the task of being nice to your potential supporters, then your only hope is in your skill as a speaker and a writer. You can be a complete jerk and still have crowds of loyal followers. Just look at Michael Moore. He has all the charm of a baseball bat to the head, but people still watch his movies.
You too can aspire to such greatness, but any attempts to rally the masses will fall flat if they notice grammatical errors in your manifesto. Nothing says “revolutionary wannabe” than pamphlets filled with spelling errors. No doubt the life of an activist is hectic and time-consuming, but a good proofreader for your revolutionary tracts is a must.
Again, “Clean Students Untie Now” failed miserably in this regard. While forgetting to insert the word “we” in a sentence will usually result in you receiving a polite note from your English professor, the same mistake is much more embarrassing when your paper is read by (hopefully) hundreds of people. The last thing you want them to remember about you is how you were unable to put a sentence together properly.
If you have the writing skills of a delinquent sixth-grader, there’s still hope for you if your cause is powerful enough. This is a perfect segway for-
Rule 3: Your cause must make sense
Often, the tides of history are so powerful that they will sweep even the intellectual deadweight along with it. If you are an inveterate jerk who is nigh-on illiterate to boot, then your only hope is that your cause is so powerful that all your personal flaws and foibles are obscured by the sheer magnitude of the coming revolution. Every founder of a Communist uprising turned out to be a homicidal sociopath, but today they are referred to as “Glorious Leader.”
Sadly, our Pepsi protesters don’t even have the intelligence to attach themselves, lamprey-like, to an important cause. It is not even clear what their cause is. Their poorly-written manifesto claims simultaneously that Pepsi poisons people with toxic chemicals in their drinks, violates human rights in India and, a shocking revelation, contains carbon dioxide.
All well and good. I’m ready to jump on the “ban Pepsi” bandwagon at this point. But then they call for taxing Pepsi more to pay for education. That means that Pepsi will stay in business, poisoning people and exploiting Indians until the end of time, but at least our schools will be well-funded.
Clearly, they had no real idea where they were going with this. At one point they are condemning Pepsi and in the next moment they are pontificating against budget cuts. One can only imagine the strategy session that produced this document (“Let’s put in there that Pepsi contains sugar. The proletariat will be sure to rise then!”). Throw in a random reference to Prop. 76 and all of their bases are covered.
Sadly, no one will jump behind this cause. No one, in fact, understands it. This lack of a coherent, powerful cause is fatal to the ambitions of our Clean friends.
This list of rules is by no means comprehensive; it is merely a statement of principles which a potential Protesting 101 class could be organized around. There are all sorts of rules regarding organization, production and publicity. A class that focuses on the practical aspects of protesting will teach students how to effectively “fight the system” and “speak truth to power” while avoiding the nasty pitfalls associated with the amateur revolutionary.
Sean Paroski can be reached via that bourgeois construction known as e-mail at email@example.com.