I Protest!

Recently I gave a speech at a conference in Ireland and the topic I chose to cover is “How Ordinary People can have an Impact to Change the System”.  I attended a protest in Ireland years ago and I can say we made an impact that has changed the law, but more importantly, Public Opinion.

I get invited to protests on a regular basis but rarely attend. From what I learned from our protest, I can say that there is a right and a wrong way to protest. Poorly organised protests have little impact and may actually have a reverse effect from what you intended. At a “Protest” in Ireland last year, about 20 people showed up, but nobody brought posters or leaflets to hand out. This is not a criticism of the event, I doubt the folks involved ever felt the need to protest before or had ever attended a protest.

The protest that I attended that had an impact had 30 people involved. Cars would pile up at the start and unload people with posters. The protest was outside the Irish Parliament and it took a year of protesting before an opportunistic politician took notice and jumped on our bandwagon. The end result of our protest was a special report by the government on how many children had died in State “Care”. There was a huge amount of publicity and Public Confidence in the Child Protective System was shattered for many people.

After the report was released on the deaths of 196 children in “Care” in a decade in Ireland, public confidence in the system was so low that the Minister for Children took away (supposedly) responsibility for Child Protection from the Health Service, and formed a “new” agency. In reality the reformation was nothing more than a re-branding because the “new” agency was formed with the same 4,500 people responsible for the current mess. Nevertheless, a significant number of the public were now less-than-confident that this agency could adequately protect children in their “Care”. All done by 30 determined protesters who communicated a mission  and repeated it like a broken record until their mission was accomplished. The full story is in the book. It was started by 2 ordinary people like you and me and yes, you could have an impact.

What I learned from the protest was this;

  • You need a Mission, a message that you want to tell people.
  • It’s going to take time to get people on board so you need to do sustained protests at regular intervals.
  • You need posters, banners, leaflets and people not afraid to talk and debate.
  • You need to do some “Lobbying” of Politicians, especially those in opposition.
  • Without leaving home you can start petitions on Change.org. You can write to politicians, you can meet with local representatives, you can get behind others who want change.
  • You need to build momentum and keep at it until someone takes notice. A wise man once said; “First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they debate you, then you win”. Stick with it until you accomplish your mission.

Over the years I have also had blogs and spent much time replying to stories on online publications, this has also had an impact. Someone recently replied that my comment only got a few likes. I pointed out that Hitler had millions of followers but Jesus only had 12. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, don’t attack people and encourage debate. I know these comments have had an impact because many people are quoting me verbatim even if I am not getting credit for saying it. We forget that high profile people are ordinary people too and they read social media. You may feel that you don’t have any power to change things but you have something infinitely more useful, Influence. If you make a reasoned argument, you will draw people into debate. Sure they may laugh at you, but once they debate you, you have won. Everyone of us has the power to influence others. Even just sharing this post might have some influence on someone who has the actual power to change the system. Doing nothing is not an option.



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