Fellow kids, are you going on strike for climate change tomorrow? Here are some top tips from seasoned protesting pros.
On Friday March 15, school kids around the world will be walking out of classrooms and taking to the streets to march against government inaction on climate change. For many of them, climate change is the catalyst for their first public protest, just as the Vietnam war was for a young Sue Bradford, or the Springbok tour for Denise Roche and Karen Davis. I asked them, some of our most experienced activists, for hot tips on how to pull off a successful protest.
Make sure you show up
“The most crucial piece of advice is turn up,” says Davis. “Don’t just like it on Facebook or Instagram because the numbers on the ground really count. There’s a joyousness in mass collective action, it’s like going to a music concert instead of listening to a CD. It really does make you feel like a part of something bigger.”
Roche also emphasises the importance of joining the crowd. “Even being there just to boost the numbers is giving weight to the message. Know that you are making a difference because you are a part of a movement that is having an impact on the rest of the world. Even if you don’t have a placard, even if you don’t have a chant, your action does count.”
Organise your transport plans
It’s a climate rally, so think hard about how you get there. Explore all of your public and active transport options and carpool with others if you have to drive. Consider the size of your placards in relation to the vehicle. “It can be quite hard taking long poles on a bus,” says Davis, “so check you’ll be able to carry them onboard.” Check the schedules and make sure you’ll get there on time. You don’t want to be the person sprinting to catch up with the climate change march.
Seek hardy placard materials
“I really don’t recommend writing on the back of cardboard boxes,” says Roche. “Because, if it rains, they disintegrate and it looks really sad.” Instead, she recommends real estate signs. “Hit up your local real estate agent and ask them if they have any corflute that you can steal. They’re a good size, too. Failing that, hit up your local politician because they’ll have a whole bunch of old hoardings.” It doesn’t matter if your political views don’t align, you just need their corflute.
Come up with a good slogan
“Witty slogans are really great,” says Roche. “If you’ve got a really good one it will get picked up by social media which will extend the message.” She recommends the classic ‘I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit’ slogan. “It’s generic and you can hold onto it for next time.”
Bradford sternly recommends proofreading your work before hitting the streets. “Make sure there are no swear words or spelling mistakes. One of the most embarrassing things you can have on a placard is a spelling mistake, it really undermines your credibility.”
Write a catchy chant
“It’s good to make as much noise as you can and chants are great for that,” says Roche. “The thing about a good chant is that it also keeps you moving. You need someone to lead it, so you need an effective [and] loud voice.” Chanting in public is exciting, but avoid the temptation to get too wild with it. “People get too fancy with their rhythms these days,” says Bradford, “keep it to a simple beat with nothing too complicated.”
Pack snacks and water
“You’re on the street for the while and you’ll be waving at traffic and yelling, so having supplies with you is really good,” says Roche. You can’t be sure how long the protest will go for, so make sure you pack high energy snacks and a water bottle. Leave alcohol, drugs and anything that could could be deemed a weapon at home. You’ll get in trouble ooomamama.
March like the penguins
If you are at the front of the pack, resist the urge to charge ahead quickly. “Even if you are young and strong, you don’t want the crowd to get strung out,” says Bradford. “Take your time, show the strength of your crowd and don’t leave anyone behind.” Make sure you wear good walking shoes and prepare for your toes to be occasionally trampled on.
Look out for your mates
In all her decades of picketing, Davis has always advocated for a buddy system. “Look after each other. Find a buddy so that if anything happens to you – if you fall over or you get lost – your buddy will come and find you and support you.” If you find yourself in a spot of bother, look for the traffic marshalls in high vis or find the police.
Don’t get distracted
Without sounding too much like school again, you’ve still got to stay on task. “Stay focussed on the kaupapa of the demonstration,” says Bradford, “don’t get sucked in to just having a good time and eating and laughing with your friends. Protests can be fun, but you don’t want to give the impression that you aren’t taking it seriously. There will be media and cameras there, so don’t act like it’s a big party.”
Beware the media
“The traditional media loves conflict,” says Davis, “so if you get engaged in an argument or start pushing and shoving, it will draw attention away from your main message.” There will be shit tonnes of media outlets covering the marches, including The Spinoff’s own Madeleine Chapman with her famed Spinoff microphone, so have your one-liners prepared. “When the media asks you why you are there, don’t just say ‘no to climate change’,” says Davis. “Say ‘we need to regulate polluters’ or ‘we need to stop mining’.”
Don’t worry about your teachers
Getting in trouble at school should be the least of your concerns, reckons Roche. “If you’re more worried about being marked as truant for one day than the planet burning then your priorities are probably a bit skewed.” Confronted by climate change deniers, teacher’s pets or Duncan Garner? Just ignore them, says Roche. “The rule of thumb is that if you give them air, you give them attention, and that undermines what you are trying to do with your protest.”
Do it again
“It’s fantastic to see young people stepping up. It’s their future, and their children’s future and those in power haven’t taken enough action,” says Bradford. “This is the key issue of our time, so I hope many of them will keep thinking and keep taking action in their own lives for years to come.” Davis echoes the need to stick with it. “Just keep going,” she says.
“This is just the start.”
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