Distributed Protest

The purpose of a protest is, ostensibly, to attract attention to an issue.

When my brother and I went to the June 23rd protest against Bush and his abuse of the office of President, I held up a provocative sign, "Why did Bush block the investigation of the 9/11 attacks?" The protest was large and loud - as it should be. A few thousand people showed up, but many of them could not find a place to stand in the pens that were set aside for the protest.

Several people were arrested for walking outside of the pens.

After the protest, I walked to Bryant park - holding my sign. I noticed that I got a lot more attention as a "lone-protestor". People came up to me and asked questions. Everyone in sight plainly read my sign, and many people asked me to turn it - so they could get a better view.

It dawned on me that another way to protest is for everyone to simply carry a sign on the street, on a designated day. That way more people will see the message. Imagine how powerful it would be that when you went to work, or to the shops, saw a person carrying a sign on every block, no matter where you looked and as far as you went.

For those of you familiar with networking, it's analogous a D-DOS versus a DOS attack... provably a more powerful method, even with comparable bandwidth. An excellent and pertinent article on the decentralized coordination of large groups can be found here.

To comply with the law and make a stronger message there are several simple rules to follow:

  1. Leave your house within a precise time, and bring a sign to an area, possibly with limits, that's convenient to you.
  2. If you see another protestor nearby, acknowledge them and move on.
  3. Avoid police. Lower down your sign or walk away when told to. Raise it up again only when you are out of view. This form of protest is about the group, as a whole, not the individual. Persistent avoidance makes a distributed mob impossible to stop - like trying to corral ants. The cops can't staff people on every corner for months at a time. You, however, can.
  4. Use cardboard, foam-core or paper signs only. Art supply stores sell cardboard tubes suitable to use instead of sticks.
  5. Respond to requests for more information with clear answers or a printed flyer.
  6. End the protest at a planned time. Late-stragglers will water-down the impact.

A critical facet of this form of media is the timing. Anyone can wear a t-shirt and make very little impact. However, when very large groups of people wear them on the same day, it has a deeper resonance. All media has impact in it's distinction from the background noise of everyday life. Since people wear t-shirts all the time, they aren't as powerful as signs, and so they require a higher density.

Another critical issue is the centralized controls swarm-rules methodology of decentralized management. This is a powerful methodology that can be used to have a massive impact. By carefully tweaking the swarm rules, you can refine the overall message.

Here are 2 mild-mannered people who got 11 major writeups, including national papers and TV interviews... for simply carrying a sign and quietly defying the social order. Wheras our June 23rd protest was never heard of. Proof that persistence can win out over volume.

Other ideas for making the protest work. Not necessary, but useful.

Distributed protests are the political manifestations of smartmobs, which are, in turn, the physical expression of the force that universal publishing has given us. They represent the ability of the common man to present media using the same level of sophistication and organization previously available only to those in power. Regardless of what political agenda you stand for, they have the potential to be a new tool in the arsenal of the concerned citizen.