Public demonstrations: How to be heard by media
Public protest is a powerful way for a group or individual to make their voice heard to the media and to other members of the public. Along with targeting members of congress, and getting at-risk people to safe locations, public demonstrations – in the form of marches, sit-ins / occupy, and other forms of gathering – are one of the three pillars of how we #resist.
So… a lot of people put together demonstrations. It’s easy, right? You tell people where to show up, and a crowd gathers to either march from one place to another or to occupy a space. Nothing to it, right?
The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.
~ Thomas Jefferson
When you invite numbers and hope for the best, you run into a few problems:
- You have no idea of how many are going to show up. When you alert the media to an event, one of the first questions they’ll ask to see if they think it’s worth covering is “How many people are you expecting?” They’ll know if you’re pulling a number out of your ass.
- Those that do show up may not know what they can and can’t do at a protest. This can lead to mob mentality and rioting. Protestors should know their rights, but also the consequences of actions
- When the media interviews random protesters, they may talk about the things that brought them out specifically, rather than the message the protest was organised to convey. This makes it easy for people who disagree with the protest to dismissively say “they don’t even know why they’re mad!”
The military veterans among White Rose Resistance founders and members will be the first to tell you that preparation is the key. “Before we deployed on missions” notes founder Rurik Wolfe, “we took part in work-up training. This included what to expect on the ground, what to do when challenged, and what our duties were.”
White Rose Resistance protesters are asked to take part in similar training organised by your group leaders. Prior to attending a protest, you will:
- receive briefings in staying on-message
- take part in simulations including mock protests and mock arrests
- receive a briefing on the layout of the area
- receive briefings from legal advisors
- where possible, have the option to take part in riot gas training
1. The Message
When you’re part of a large group protesting, the media won’t just interview a designated Public Relations Representative of the resistance. They’ll want a “person on the street” interview and you may be approached.
One of the things that sets a White Rose Resistance protest apart is keeping the message focused. Your group leader will train you in what the message is for that specific protest, and that is the answer you’re expected to give if interviewed. This does not mean you can’t give your own reasons for protesting but to prevent fragmenting the message we ask that you put your grievance second.
For example, at a protest against Donald Trump’s corruption and efforts at profiting off the Presidency, people might give the following answers:
“We’re here because we’re tired of Trump treating the American people as his own piggy bank. And on a personal note, I don’t like how he treats women”
“We’re here because we’re tired of Trump treating the American people as his own piggy bank. And on a personal note, I think the way he denies climate change science is reprehensible”
2. Simulations & training
Even if you’ve taken part in protests before, you may not have experienced actual hands-on pushback; whether its locals who support Trump or law enforcement officers there to disperse the crowd, having training beforehand can keep a situation from escalating into a riot. By staking a mock protest in advance, in a venue like a gymnasium, local group leaders are able to have others come in to play the role of police or locals trying to break up the protest. This hands-on training may include you being grabbed and dragged, and other forms of contact.
If you’ve ever taken part in a well organised march, you know the route is determined beforehand and there are often barricades and police separating off the march route from general traffic. However, for all forms of protest; marches, occupy sit-ins, and others, it’s helpful for not just organisers but for the protesters themselves to know where they are, where they’re going, and where safe spaces, first aid areas, and rally points are if an emergency arises or if you get separated from your group.
4. Briefing in your legal rights and obligations
A big part of taking part in protests is causing trouble for those you’re protesting against, while keeping yourself as out of trouble as possible. Receiving information on what your rights are, what sort of lawful arrest you might face, when you should cooperate and when to resist, and whether or not you should destroy property or loot (hint: no) can make the difference between getting your message heard and getting locked up for long after the protest.
5. Riot gas training (if available)
If facilities are made available in your area, your group leader and event coordinator may make riot gas training available to you. Knowing first-hand the effects the gas has on you, and how your body will respond, can make it far less intimidating and increase your preparedness.
You’ll be asked to bring a second set of clothing to change into afterwards, and bottled water and rolls of paper towels will be in high demand. You’ll be placed in a small area and exposed to the gas to feel how it affects your skin, eyes, nose, and breathing.