So far it’s been almost all about doom and gloom. It’s not hopeless, I assure you–although time is running out. But before we can get to talk about what to do, we need to discuss ‘triage’–basically how to maximize the impact of your work. After all, most of us only have a little bit of time and energy to devote to this struggle. So we have to be doing the most efficient things we can in order to fix things before it’s too late.
And we all need to understand that some forms of protest are simply more efficient and effective than others.
CHRONIC DISEASE MANAGMENT
I liken the airport situation to having a chronic disease like maybe Diabetes. Everybody’s case is different, but most people will have to try several things in order to get it under control. And once you get it under control, there will still be ongoing management that never ends.
Now some of these initial interventions are intense (surgery, etc.), some have ongoing benefit (drugs) and some are pretty mild and mostly for prevention (exercise, vitamins). The airport is just like that. There are some interventions that are pretty severe, some that require only a small amount of effort.
SHIT ROLLS UP HILL
I contend that in politics, the shit actually flows up-hill. Unless your uncle is a Senator of course–in which case you can go straight to the front of the queue. But for most of us, the way to obtain change is to get attention from the bottom and then use those politicians to leverage the next layer of politicians and up and up the ladder. Each rung on the ladder leverages the next.
My contention is that protesting is a zero sum game. You’ve only got so many hours in the day and so much energy to give to the cause. So you need to give thought as to how you can best use the time and energy you have have available. You might say, “I’ve got one hour a month” or “I’ve got fifteen minutes a day.” That’s not a lot, right? And then figure out what activities you want to engage in.
But you have to really think about what you can do and then do what works. Don’t waste your time on stuff that does not work. And that’s why I’ve focused on the doom and gloom so far, because I know that if you are reading this you are committed. But I also know that you are probably engaging in activities that feel good, but are not really helping the cause. I am desperate to get you refocused on what does work.
BODIES, POLITICIANS AND SOMALI CAB DRIVERS
There are two ways to get the Port and the FAA’s attention: bodies and politicians. For example, when thirty cab drivers from Somalia show up at a Port meeting, the commission always acts. Like any rational human being, they’re freaked out by the number of bodies. When the cab drivers are upset, they show up. And it works.
When the city councils engage, the Commissioners also listen. But again, it’s ‘bodies’. It’s far more impressive when ten people representing three or four cities speak together with one voice.
The problem is this: it’s easier to get 30 people to spend an hour every month calling in 100 Noise Complaints than it is to get 30 people to take the same hour and show up at a Port meeting.
PRIORITIZING WHAT WORKS
So certain forms of protest work better than others.
IMPORTANT: It is FAR more effective (and I mean like 100xs better) for 30 people to take an hour once a month and speak at a Port meeting than it is to place 3000 Noise Complaints during the same month. The former will get some IMMEDIATE notice. The latter simply adds to a database.
Now I’m not saying that making Noise Hotline phone calls isn’t a nice thing to do. But if you only have an hour to give to the cause every month, that is not what you want to be doing. It is tantamount to taking a zillion vitamins every day for Diabetes. The effect is real, but it’s so small that it will never help you get the disease under control. To get the disease under control, you have to be willing to visit the doctor every month and have some sort of treatment.
THE FOOD PYRAMID
I am going to suggest that there is a pyramid of protest activities. It starts at the bottom, things that are super easy, but not all that helpful, working up to activities that take significant amounts of time and energy, but which generate the most immediate results. You want to choose activities that yield the greatest bang for the buck. The general rule of thumb is this: the activities which require the most personal attention are the ones that politicians pay the most attention to.
At the bottom of the pyramid are things like calling the Noise Hotline or signing a petition. They’re more symbolic than anything else.
The next level are things like writing your State Senator or Port Commissioner. Politicians do take personally written letters seriously, especially if your letter is well-written (we’ll get into what constitutes a good letter in another post.)
And then there is showing up at an event. Bodies are paid attention to! Again, if thirty people show up for a Port Commission Meeting? They get attention. Even if only one person speaks on their behalf? The other twenty nine do make an impression.
IMPORTANT: Politicians and the Media pay attention to numbers; the number of letters they get and then even more so to the numbers of bodies that show up at a public forum.
Nearing the top of the ‘protest pyramid’ is an organized public protest. If thirty people gather with signs at the entrance to Sea-Tac Airport or in front of the Port Commission office? It would get attention. It’s one thing to show up for a politician’s event or a public comment period at a City Hall, but it takes things to a whole other level when an organization demonstrates that it can muster thirty people to protest at any given moment. That demonstrates that the organization is unified and committed. That demonstrates power. Not only do politicians notice, but the media notice.
WHAT MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND?
And at the absolute top of the pyramid? Money. If your organization can show some serious cash flow, you will be taken seriously. So the first thing that any serious organization wants to do: Ask for money. Don’t believe that’s true? Then you haven’t been to Kickstarter or GoFundMe, or any church I can think of. When you look at a KickStarter campaign and see that fifty people have already donated, you’re many times more likely to donate to that campaign than if there is a big goose egg up there. And what’s the first thing a busker musician does when she sets up to play on the side walk? Throw a few starter bills into the hat. Credibility builds on credibility. And the ability to fund raise demonstrates power.
Next time we’ll get look at the specifics of our area–how these ideas (and how well these ideas) are being implemented in the Sea-Tac Airport protest movement.