This article was written by Kristi Droppers, Managing Director, Collective Know-How, LLC.
Protests have been an everyday occurrence over the last 10 days, beginning with the inauguration and followed by the Women’s March, March for Life and demonstrations at airports against President Trump’s executive order restricting immigration and refugees. Given the chaos within just the first days of our new president’s term, we can probably expect there to be more protests from all sides.
If you’ve ever participated in a protest or march, you know that there are lots of chants, signs, speakers, music, drumming, flags, hats, etc., and they all serve as mediums for communicating individual or collective messages. Like many, I was mesmerized by the news reports showing the thousands of signs left behind after the Woman’s March, lining the fence a short distance from the Whitehouse. They showed both the diversity of messages and the common themes woven through a one-day protest in that city alone.
With so many differing messages, what gets communicated?
With a world and culture dominated by social media and electronic communication, we’ve grown used to competing messages and information overload and often are not aware of its anesthetizing capabilities. The onslaught of so much noise at a protest, like signs, chants, banners, speeches, etc., make the clarity of the message difficult or, for some, impossible to find. News pundits have argued that they don’t see a consistent, clear message from these protests and therefore don’t know what the protestors hope to accomplish, especially if there is no singular demand or a recognized leader. Some commentators suggest that protests lacking a clear message have little impact or can be dismissed.
Today, we can sit in the comfort of our WIFI-enabled homes and email, post, tweet, text or digitally sign a petition as our act of protest. It may be easy, but in reality this is “invisible” protest. With so many channels for communicating online, no one can find the message in the clutter, and it never feels as if our elected officials pay much attention to our petitions or email rants, anyway.
With dizzying myriads of messaging, why protest?
The Indivisible Guide, created by Obama staffers as a tool for resisting Trump’s agenda, has received lots of attention and commitment across the country. People are signing up to form Indivisible groups and learning how to contact their representatives to make their voices heard. These groups are doing more than calling and leaving messages. They’re showing up at their representative’s offices in person. And their calm requests and questions are SCREAMING in the ears of their representatives. Face-to-face human engagement is more powerful than any voice recording on a congressional representative’s messaging system. By showing up, people force the recognition that there is a message to be shared, even if it’s ignored or debated.
The mass protests seen this past week, with hundreds of thousands of people marching for various reasons, make clear that no matter how different the signs, chants or reasons for being there, human beings are bringing themselves as the message. That’s the message that can’t be ignored or misunderstood.
The communication of being present as a human being with others in protest sends a stronger message than signs, chants, emails and signatures on a petition. It is powerful because of the physicality of human beings coming together – real, observable, vulnerable, strong, demanding and clearly bearing one message: “We are paying attention!”
And, that might be the most valuable signage of our times, no matter where you stand politically.