May 10, 2019
“Sometimes you protest because it’s the right thing to do.”
L.A. Kauffman is a movement journalist and a grassroots organizer for more than thirty-five years. We discuss her book, How to Read a Protest, The Art of Organizing and Resistance, the history of mass protests in America, the role of women organizing them, and the many effective forms that protest can take.
1963 March on Washington
The 1963 March on Washington was the first mass protest in America. In anticipation of 200,000 protestors descending on Washington, the march was carefully planned from the top down. Surprisingly, the organizers worked together with the Kennedy administration. All the signs were made by one entity and bore uniform messages. The route of the march was mapped out to pass by the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, away from the White House and the Capitol.
The Women’s Marches of 2017 were a decentralized, grassroots effort that yielded 5 million protestors nationwide, in red states and blue states, in urban as well as rural areas. The geographic spread is as significant as the total number of marchers. In many small communities, the Marches of 2017 were the largest protests they had ever seen.
The power of protest
Protest can be a powerful tool to effect change in many forms. It can raise awareness on an issue and shift the debate surrounding it. Protest can also intensify the urgency of an issue and expand the ideas of political possibility of public policies. On a personal level, protest is an act of faith, a way of registering discontent or standing behind an issue, and even a way to connect to something larger than ourselves.
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L.A. Kauffman is a longtime grassroots organizer who has mobilized mass protests against the war in Iraq in 2003-2004 and most recently collaborated with the artist Nan Goldin to hold a protest against the Sacklers at the Guggenheim Museum in February 2019. She is the author of How to Read a Protest, The Art of Organizing and Resistance and Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism. She also contributes to The Guardian. You can follow her on Twitter @LAKauffman.