When you find out about the next rally or march, you may wonder how you can increase your impact. There is one thing you can always do, and it’s both easy and fun: throw a protest party to prep for the protest.
By protest party, I don’t mean a kegger or a party with streamers and party hats (but hey if that’s how you want to roll, you do you, boo). I mean a small gathering where you and your friends can prepare creative activities for an upcoming rally or march.
Benefits of Throwing a Protest Planning Party
Emma Goldman famously said, “If there’s to be no dancing, I want no part of your revolution.” Too often people approach protest as an obligation, but no movement will succeed if it isn’t built from within a devoted community. A disconnected series of marches won’t engender change. The protest party enables those who are attending to commiserate about the cause, build deeper connections, and establish the movement as part of their identity. It is seldom the case that marches alone will achieve your goal, but at the same time it can be tough to bring people into the hard work of organizing. A protest planning party is a great way to get people more involved without asking them to take on a bigger commitment in the movement. By encouraging people to set aside time to think creatively about their actions, they will be more excited about the upcoming event. It is a small, fun way they can put time and energy towards your movement before they are ready to engage more deeply.
It’s a lot of fun to discuss what to put on your protest signs. Seeing how other people express their dissent helps you get to know them better. Moreover, by setting aside time to really plan what they will do at the protest, the protest itself will be so much more effective and memorable.
How to Throw Your Protest Planning Party
A Minimum-Effort Protest Plan
The one thing that people always expect at a protest is signage, so at the very least you want to create a space where people can make their signs. Provide markers, stickers (especially letter stickers), letter stencils, paint and poster boards so people can create protest signs. If you plan to paint signs, be sure to buy a dropcloth so you don’t have to worry about spills. It will also help if you have access to a computer with a printer, so you can print things, or research ideas for your signs. If you have limited time and energy, you can throw a “sign making party” and not do anything else.
In addition to making signs, you should research and discuss chants you can do at the march. You can use your phone or computer to research existing chants, or you can take classic chants and modify them for the current protest.
Here’s a list of protest chants from the 2018 climate march you can use to start. I noticed at previous marches there weren’t so many people chanting, so I created a printable list and handed them out at the march (see link above), so more people would have ideas of things to chant. This is the kind of thing you can do at your protest party. Having these resources on hand made for a good conversation starter at the march too. Being prepared is fun!
Making the Protest Party Fun
Though it’s not strictly necessary, if you want to make this as fun as possible, there are some more steps you can take.
- Think about what music you want playing in the background. Music creates atmosphere and fills in the gaps when there is silence. You may even want to take the time to create a playlist of “protest songs” (which I put in quotes because I don’t mean a specific genre, just whatever fits to you) that you can play. Then, on the day of the protest, you can take a small bluetooth speaker with you and play that list at the march. Bonus! But it is better to have any music than no music at all.
- Naturally, any party is better with snacks or food. You don’t need to go all out providing complicated hors d’oeuvres, just be sure you have something for people to munch on so they don’t have to choose between the cause and sustenance. If you are going to be providing food substantial enough for a meal (e.g. pizza), you should mention that in your invite, so people know they can come over before dinner.
- Depending on the layout of your home, it might help to move the furniture so there is space for people to spread out on the floor. If you have throw pillows in another room, bring them into the party room so people can sit on the floor comfortably. Clear the tables so people have room to work on their signs there too
Prepping for Your Creative Mischief Party
Next time you hear about a march or rally that you’re excited to attend, go ahead and put an event in your calendar for about a week in advance, when you’ll be able to invite people into your home. Whether you use social media, invite by email, or good-old-fashioned phone, invite folks as early as possible before their calendars fill up.
Above I call it a “Creative Mischief Party” to keep it open-ended, but you can go simple and name it after the event itself, e.g. “Fridays for the Future Prepping Party” or “Sign-making for the Climate Rally.” A specific name will help get their attention.
Put another date in your calendar a week before that, for prepping for the party: buying food, cleaning up, making your playlist, buying art supplies, etc. The week before is also a good time to call your besties and those who you know care about this cause to find out if they will be able to attend. If you have a Facebook event, post updates asking what people can contribute. For example, if you are providing booze, you might want to mention that as a status update, and ask what mixers people can bring. You might mention that you have markers and letter stickers, but that if people want paint they will need to bring their own.
One nice thing about this kind of event is even if only two or three people show up, it is still a success. If you don’t have a lot of experience party planning, this is a low-key kind of get together. So don’t stress it!
You Don’t Have to Do It All
If you want to do this but there is some aspect you can’t provide, contact a friend and see if they want to partner with you to do that part. Be up front about what you are able to contribute and what you need to pull this off. Ideally, there should be a protest party for every march you attend, so it’s just a matter of someone putting it in the calendar and making it happen. Why should everyone make their signs an hour before, when we can get together and make it a social activity?
By getting people to commit to some aspect of the party, they are more likely to show up, because they are taking ownership. And by attending the planning party, they’re less likely to bail on the actual march, because they’ve already committed to the prep work of making their signs and whatnot. Even friends who can’t attend the actual march for whatever reason may be eager to help out with the planning party, so they can feel like they were able to contribute to the cause.
How to Throw a Next-Level, Kick Ass Protest Party
It is a shame that so many people think protest is about standing around and holding signs. Protest is about disrupting the normal flow of things. Protest should be expressive and creative. Think about your friends who will be attending, and what skills they bring to the table. If you know a drummer, encourage them to bring a hand drum for doing chants. Or you can build makeshift percussive instruments out of common household stuff. If your friends are terrific dancers, they could use the party to plan a short dance routine to be performed at the protest. If your friends are studious researchers, they could come up with a list of facts that your graphic design friend makes into a handy flyer to give to bystanders. Your theatrical friends can plan a die-in or other form of performance. The possibilities are endless.
No one wants to be a cog in a machine, and that’s how it often feels when we stand around holding a sign: one of many ants marching. Instead, use the creative mischief/protest-planning party as a chance to bring everyone’s individual skills into the mix. For example, after many years of protesting the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA, the protesters’ signs evolved into giant, elaborate puppets. These puppets have become a form of art that is associated with the movement.
If you get in the habit of throwing protest planning parties and planning your creative mischief, it is only natural that over time what you can accomplish will grow and evolve. After you already have signs and chants ready to go, your friends may decide to create costumes. Someone may purchase a screen printer and make flyers or t-shirts. Or you may decide that you are ready to commit civil disobedience or plan other forms of direct action. But those kinds of things do take planning, and they require trust among the protesters. Protest planning parties are great for both. Let the creative mischief begin!
Karma has a degree in writing and sociology. She’s an Americorps grad and a board member of the California Writers Club. Her first foray into human rights work was with the Westcott 12 activists who launched a 100+ day camp out in protest of sweatshop labor. Since then she’s organized with IndyMedia, Occupy Oakland, and most recently with Solidaridad Con Los Ninos, a group that organizes caravans to visit detainment centers. She loves street art, poetry, and dancing with wild abandon.