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Activism

How to organise a protest: The Big Issue’s guide

If you want to know how to organise a protest, here’s The Big Issue’s handy guide on the laws, logistics, and tricky bits

From Extinction Rebellion to Insulate Britain, protesters have been grabbing the country’s attention and forcing their issues onto the agenda. Watching their efforts might leave you inspired, thinking you want to know how to organise a protest.

But taking to the streets can be a daunting step if you’ve not done it before. There’s a world of logistics, laws, and promotion that might not be obvious at first.

So, to walk you through it, The Big Issue has put together a guide on how to organise a protest

Identify the issue you’re going to organise your protest around

What are you protesting about? If you’re reading this, it’s hard to imagine you don’t know.

But it pays to refine your protest’s aim – the more focused the better. Protests can get written off as “down with this kind of thing” actions all too easily.

The Kill the Bill protests are an obvious example of clear aim: getting the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill voted down. But think specifically.

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Is there an action you’re hoping will happen as a result of your protest? For instance, a recent protest outside the House of Lords urged peers to vote against the Nationality and Borders Bill.

A protest outside the Jamaican High Commission in November 2021 urged the Jamaican government not to cooperate with deportation charter flights.

You might also find it’s easier to persuade people to turn out if their attendance might help achieve a concrete outcome

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Sort out the logistics of how you’re going to organise your protest

Think about the content of your protest, and how that will work towards your goal. It might involve speeches, chants, or stunts. In fact, most protests involve speeches and chants.

If you’re going to do speeches, try to bring a microphone or megaphone, and figure out who is going to do the speech. Get them to prepare what they’re going to say – the important thing is to keep it punchy and emotive.

If you want media attention a particularly high-profile speaker may help, as may having a novel, eye-catching element to your protest. Think outside the box.

Handing out flyers to attendees and passers-by can help spread the word of your issue in more detail than you might be able to go to at the time. And can you get banners or placards made ahead of time?

If the protest will involve chants, it pays to let your core group know what these might be ahead of time so they can get things going.

If it’s going to be a march, decide on a good meeting place and a route. Meeting in an open space, such as a green or a park, or by a landmark, is usually best. Your march’s endpoint will usually be obvious – ideally it’ll be relevant to the issue you’re protesting about.

how to organise a protest
A protester at a Kill the Bill march in London, January 2022. Image: Extinction Rebellion

Find the groups and people in your space who may be interested

Making change is all about working together. Firstly, finding people who can essentially guarantee their attendance will help establish a core group. This makes life easier all around.

Secondly, they might be able to contribute ideas and expertise, and can also spread word through their networks.

Have a look on social media, as well as in news articles for people who have been quoted talking about your issue.

Notify the police

By law, you need to give police at least six days’ written notice if you’re organising a march.

You must include the timing, route, and name and addresses of the organisers.

If you’re doing a stationary demonstration – for instance on the street outside a government building – you don’t need to give the police notice, but you may wish to.

The police can impose restrictions, such as limiting the duration or changing the route if it is likely to cause serious disruption, but shouldn’t make you pay.

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Spread the word

Once everything’s in place, you want people to show up. Social media is your friend, so make sure you’re using as many platforms as you can. Set up a Facebook event, promote the protest on Twitter, and get the word out on Instagram.

Tag relevant people, hashtags, and ask people to spread the word. Remember: social media sites’ algorithms mean you can’t just post once and expect people to turn up – you’ll need to push it multiple times.

If you haven’t put a press release together before, it can sound like a formal document but is simple. Include details of your protest, as much detail as you can on what’s happening and why it’s important, and a punchy, emotive quote from an organiser or two.

As well as sending word of your protest to larger outlets, you might have more luck with smaller publications, and with targeting journalists who’ve covered issues similar to the one you’re protesting on. It might help to designate one of your group as the person who deals with the media.

And if you’re organising a protest which you think The Big Issue might be interested in covering, email greg.barradale@bigissue.com

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