Why go to a rally? A lot of people ask. Does it really make a difference? Is it worth it to go? The unequivocal answer is yes. Yes! Always, yes! Even if it’s a small rally or it’s a rally in a liberal town where you feel like you’d be ‘preaching to the crowd’, the answer is yes.
But aren’t activists a bunch of angry people? I don’t want to be part of all that anger and conflict. The answer is.. not really anymore. People working for positive change come in as many flavors as there are people. It is true that the “father of political organizing”, Saul Alinsky, developed and proliferated methods of bringing people together based on tapping into their anger but Saul Alinsky died in 1972 and we are stronger than that. Lots and lots of people are acting out of love and now with the Standing Rock movement, prayer and the sacred have become a perfectly acceptable, long needed aspect of political change.
There are many different kinds of change that happen at rallies. There is political change. There is physical change. There is personal and spiritual change. There is emotional change as well. There is also intellectual change. Don’t forget the change that happens to everyone who has been touched by those who have changed. They change. No matter what the rally, something positive is happening on at least one or two of these levels, all of which contribute to larger change.
There are different kinds of rallies. Some are one shot deals, meant to make a statement period. Some are designed to meet a goal in a broader campaign. Some are vigils. Some are directed at a target – for example to launch a boycott: marching to a bank and trying to convince customers to divest from it because it is supporting a destructive industry. Some are not rallies at all. They are actions. We’ll get to that later.
One of the wonderful things about putting yourself in front of people who are leading progressive movements is that these people have really thought things through and are able to verbalize what we may just be feeling. These speakers, their brains are not following popular memes. You might find yourself hearing people talk about issues ways you hadn’t considered. It can be a truly freeing experience. You don’t have to agree, but it gets the brain going and it feels good. So here another way that change is made. All those people starting to think differently; it’s going to change the memes.
Rallies are also great for the heart. We get to be in a crowd of people whose values we align with on an important issue and my goodness that feels so good, our whole body starts to hum. We might even find it easier to talk to people, because of this feeling of unity and community that so much of our society has lost. The vibe lasts long after the event. Having our energetic system plugged into a collective is nourishing, as we are all focused on something positive together. This stuff is contagious. It’s not a football game. It’s not a concert. It’s real life and we are really showing up.
Then there is exposure. If the event is big enough, or if people have done the right preliminary outreach and press releases, the press will be there. With designated press liaisons, we can do our best to get a clear message out to people who are watching it on the news. Even if they do not agree with our intentions, the cause is put into their consciousness. They are thinking about it, which is better than having an issue buried and not thought about at all. Ultimately, when mass consciousness is conscious, changes start to happen.
A rally might have a direct action portion. Direct action is when people take things into their own hands and physically try to do something that needs to be done, because waiting for the establishment to do it might leave us waiting forever. Direct action often includes breaking the law in some way, resonating to a higher law of human rights, common decency and caring for one another and the planet. People who do direct action typically go through training, so they understand what their rights are and how to behave in ways that will mitigate potential police violence. The majority of political activists are dedicated to nonviolence. When you see the news talking about riots, often the riot is happening on the police side, as they throw tear gas canisters and such. Not the activist side.
Sound scary? It doesn’t have to be. The media is prone to focusing on conflict and pictures of iconic 60’s looking people – this is intentional. They are trying to turn you off of political participation. Go down there and find out for yourself what it’s like. If you read the flyers and invites, you can get a pretty clear understanding of what is going to happen. Even in the case of events that include direct action, if you want to support the cause but don’t want to get arrested, you can just stay in the back. Most of the time. It is also possible for the police to just start randomly arresting people. It depends upon the event. Read the vibe and get out if you need to. Or go the rally part and not the direct action part. They are usually separated.
If you want to have a big influence on the nature of the rally, get creative. When people make their own signs, when they come up with creative chants, wave huge beautiful banners and wear costumes representing their ideas in street theater format, it colors the culture of the event and makes everyone happy. They notice the time and energy spent in preparation and they feel it. In a good way.
Bringing your children to a political rally shows them that we have a voice. That we can have collective power. We can be creative and have fun making positive change.
You don’t need a reason to go. You don’t have to be a die hard activist. You can go just because you are curious. You just want to put your body next to the bodies that are standing for something you believe in. That’s power. Or maybe you want to expose your brain to some new ways of thinking so you have more to think about later on. You don’t have to be angry. Be something else. But you can be angry. Anger is healthy when people are being oppressed and the land is being destroyed. It’s a good thing to draw a boundary and say no sometimes. It’s all in how you want to express yourself. If you have an alternative idea you want to present rather than saying no to something, make a banner. Offer that up for thinking. Give room to people who are being angry and be yourself. Diversity is the whole point. There are many ages, stages and experiences being represented. We hold space for the vibrant, wonderful humanity that we are and we are stronger for it.
Political action a powerful, beautiful thing. It’s the hallmark of our country. Public demonstration is our right here, and the reality is, the longer we go without exercising that right, the more likely we are to lose it.
People have had their entire lives change course after experiencing working with other people for positive change. I’ve seen folks quit their jobs, move across the country, start writing. All sort of wild and crazy, magnificent things happen when our passion is ignited from our deepest values. Who knows what might happen to you.