By Walcott Aganu
The history of humanity has been characterized by protest and citizen action; in recent years, the situation has been amplified. For instance, throughout 2020, numerous hashtags on social media demanded attention towards protest movements by different groups, accompanied with pictures that are both inspiring and at times, disturbing. Hashtags such as #EndSARS, #BlackLivesMatter, #ShutItAllDown, #zwartepietisracism, #NotMyPresident, dominated the social space. All were demonstrating to us the commitment and fearlessness of ordinary citizens and groups across the world asking for equal treatment and concern.
Many of the movements seeking change we have seen recently were catalyzed by single events: moments that ignited long-held grievances and concerns. One of the most internationally recognizable is the murder of George Floyd in the United States. Nonetheless, there are several incidents of deaths or significant abuses that ignited a spark. While such sparks can cause rapid and robust outpourings of support, they can also lead to disorganized protests that repeat earlier mistakes and express their demands poorly.
Groups seeking change are often painted as disruptors, terrorists and nuisance. Yet, demonstrations and direct action have been a vital form of political engagement worldwide: providing women with the right to vote, people of colour the right to citizenship, and people everywhere the right to stand up against oppression. Many people have discovered their voices in the face of catastrophe, panic, and reduction, demanding the change required for marginalized groups to survive. Aside from the urge to rediscover our humanity, these examples show that movements are still and perhaps increasingly a tool of crucial political and policy change.
This also means that minorities must become better at pushing their demands. We must learn from previous movements’ successes and failures, tactics and methods, and determination to be inclusive. Research indicates that major non violent campaigns have “achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent of violent resistance campaigns,” yet the implementation process of organizing a peaceful protest isn’t entirely well understood.
Protest should always be viewed as a valid channel for policy change and influence. As such, it must be professionalized to make politics more representative of the wants, needs, and demands of societies. To that aim, we’ve outlined five steps groups can take to advocate for policy change peacefully.
- Dialogue must be your priority.
It best if you focused on improving and facilitating government-citizens dialogue systems. To achieve long-term and concrete change, antagonistic and violent techniques are frequently ineffective. Instead, demonstrators should use peaceful tactics to reach out to people in power and sceptical citizens. Citizens’ assemblies, referendums, and increased civil society participation in policy-making are just a few of the choices for discourse.
Protests over a hike in public transportation fares occurred in Chile in October 2019, and they were first disconnected and chaotic. Many groups flocked to the streets, each shouting their problems, and the government retaliated harshly. After that, critical civil society organizations and political parties stepped in and quickly agreed on a single list of objectives, pursued through a referendum process. Chileans were able to pull support for concrete change through the referendum, backed by an overwhelming majority of the electorate.
For protesters, the road to lasting change is usually challenging. Still, through dialogue mechanisms, you may institutionalize routes for airing grievances to those in power and boost your chances of success.
2. Clearly communicate what you want
For a movement to be effective, you must clearly articulate why you oppose a policy and what changes you want to see. When it comes to communication, the #MyDressMyChoice protests in Kenya have taught us a lot. In Kenya, a woman was openly stripped and assaulted by males at a bus terminal in 2014 for wearing a little skirt. She allegedly tempted the men. The conduct and the persistent abuse of women in transit infuriated thousands of Kenyan women. The incident sparked the #MyDressMyChoice protests. Kenyan women marched to the streets to demand the end of all types of violence against women, particularly that the men who stripped the woman be prosecuted that this is made illegal.
Women’s rights organizations, the judiciary, the vice president, and the president himself were all drawn to the protests. The men were apprehended and convicted, and stripping a woman is now prohibited in Kenya. Although Kenya still has a long way to go in protecting women in public space, the #MyDressMyChoice protests made it apparent that assaulting a woman will result in prosecution. Kenyan women were particular in their demands, which contributed to the protest’s success.
3. Listen to everyone’s concerns
If you want to see change, you’ll need a broad coalition of many diverse people to back your protest. Protests are common when government policies do not meet the requirements of citizens. This can result in urgent calls for change, and one way to achieve this is through protests. It is critical; however, that protest movements should not repeat the mistakes of administrations. They must raise the voices of the marginalized and oppressed. This entails ensuring that a diverse range of views is heard, rather than only listening to the complaints and solutions of the first people to join a demonstration.
“Protests are frequently seen in situations when governments favour those at the top while penalizing those at the bottom.”
Only when a protest is well-planned, organized, and precise demands can it result in meaningful policy change. Demonstrators must express their dissatisfaction and convey their demands as a united front. Proactive leaders must engage the demonstrators in dialogue and come up with consensus requests to address their needs. As a result, a movement might reflect how the general public feels about a policy.
4. Get in touch with social activists across the world.
It would be best to collaborate with social activists in other nations working for the same goals as you. Thanks to today’s technological resources, the Common Futures Conversations platform has shown how beneficial virtual spaces are for interacting and working together. Engaging with international networks of social activists who can support your actions and provide a forum for discussing your experiences can be highly beneficial to a cause.
It’s critical to connect with organizations in your nation pursuing similar aims but don’t overlook the importance of engaging with other social activists. The increased networking, support, and skills gained by interacting with others might assist groups in putting themselves in a position where the authorities are forced to engage in conversation and, hopefully, respond to the demands made.
5. Explore all non-violent protest mechanisms
Non-violent resistance techniques are beneficial in many ways; they send a powerful message to government leaders and society that people’s lives matter. Drawing on prior non-violent ways in this way helps to safeguard each individual’s life while also allowing for strategic tactics to achieve the change you want to see. Protest organizers must learn about previous successful approaches, why they may be beneficial and relevant in your environment and guarantee that the entire movement learns these lessons. It will also assist protest leaders in being more strategic in their tactics, approach to governments, and shaping citizens’ ideas into policy demands.
During the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, people lost their lives and property because they came out to protest against police brutality. This youth movement repeated past mistakes because everyone was saying different things, and there was a lack of coordination in message and action.
To avoid such confusion, we must learn from prior protest movements, bearing in mind that any time someone is murdered, hurt, or their property is destroyed during a protest, it is dangerous to your community.