Peaceful Public Demonstrations

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)

Governments and large companies often ignore the will or well-being of the people. An election can be stolen a war can be illegitimately launched, an environmental disaster can be caused — all without significant challenge from legistatures, the courts or other designated "guardians of the people."


When "normal" dissent is being ignored; when imminent, possibly catastrophic, initiatives are being undertaken such as an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country. In these cases "traditional" ways of registering dissatisfacton aren't appropriate.


Although crowds of people can be — and are — denigrated by politicans, the media, and other powerful institutions, their existence is somtimes the most profound expression of a population whose rights or sensibilities are being ignored. People must sometimes take to the streets to visibly express their dissatisfaction.

Large public demonstrations are probably the most overt form of protest. It is hard to deny the reality of thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands of people, in the streets peacefully marching, with banners and signs, music, costumes, noisemakers and other devices that have been spontaneously and individually designed. Though often portrayed in the media as marginal and/or dangerous, mass demonstrations (such as those in the Ukraine in December 2004) are generally peaceful and, indeed, suitable for the whole family. As a matter of fact, the presence of families and older people helps ensure that the demonstrations are peaceful. Through their visibility, they also help to legitimize the protest by showing that the concerns aren't limited to one demographic use, youths, for example.

In February, 2003, the world witnessed the largest expression of this pattern in history. People gathered in over 600 ciites in over 40 countries worldwide to protest the invasion of Iraq by the world's only superpower. Although the Bush administration was undeterred by this unprecedented display of disapproval, the idea of peace as an ideal was brought forward by civil society worldwide and held aloft as a universal idea — one that citizens must not allow governments to pursue — or ignore — according to their own calculations and motivations.

Mass peaceful demonstrations don't take place in a vacuum. They need to be tied to broader strategy. This often involves engaging with the media and with established governing (or intermediating) entities. It is often helpful to have a clear set of demands. Finally, although this doesn't always happen, measures like gathering names and contact information can be used to help build a large activist network that persists beyond the duration of the protest itself.

I was dreaming in my dreaming
Of an aspect bright and fair
And my sleeping it was broken
But my dream it lingered near
In the form of shining valleys
Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
That the people / have the power
To redeem / the work of fools
Upon the meek / the graces shower
It’s decreed / the people rule

   -- Patti Smith, "The People Have the Power"

I think that the photograph of the demonstration in Los Angeles (early 2003) against the US invasion of Iraq used above is from a web site that helped promote the worldwide peace demonstrations.


Peaceful, mass public demonstrations both large and small, in combination with other forms of dissent are sometimes necessary.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although demonstrations are disparaged by politicians and the media their existence is sometimes the deepest expression of those whose rights or sensibilities are being ignored. It is hard to deny the reality of thousands of people in the streets peacefully marching, with banners and signs, music, costumes, and noisemakers. Peaceful Pubic Demonstrations need to be tied to broader strategies that include building activist networks that persist beyond the protest itself.

Pattern status: 
Information about introductory graphic: 
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