Thursday, May 22, 2014

Public Demonstrations are not necessarily negative

By the time you read this, Babu Owino, the leader of SONU (Students Organization of Nairobi University) and his mates will have probably calmed down after an athletic smoke-filled day.  Would they have achieved the desired results from the day long demonstrations?  Well, to some of the rotten eggs in the basket, they will be a few side mirrors and phones richer, but I doubt if the university folks will have achieved the goal of getting Jacob Kaimenyi the Cabinet Secretary for education to listen to them.
For a long time, certain images have been printed on the brains of Kenyans, shouting crowds, with sketchy banners full of demands marching towards the city centre only to make a hasty return trip a few hours later with the police in hot pursuit in a tear gas filled environment that will culminate with running battles, injuries, loss of property and in some cases fatalities courtesy of police batons, stray bullets or flying stones.
This is the local definition of a demonstration, groups of people organized to come together at a specific place and time to call attention to a specific issue. Although we often think of demonstrations as negative--against "something," they can also be positive, supporting particular politicians and their ideas, specific initiatives, or existing programs. They are usually meant to influence the way things are done, or the way people think. Whether they're aimed at politicians, bureaucrats, corporations, or the general public, they can take many forms. From large, media -covered marches, to small gatherings at Jevanjee gardens to address an issue within a certain region. World over, demos have been used as a way of getting their points across to those in power.
While many of us are used to thinking of demonstrations in the form of mass marches or gatherings, often with signs, there are actually several ways to shape a demonstration. Some, especially those which address very local issues, such as the use of a neighborhood parking lot, don't require huge numbers of people in order to be effective. Others don't aim directly at issues, but use humor, theater, music, or other methods to make a point. Remember the pig-filled Occupy Parliament demonstration against the parliamentarian a few months ago?
You can employ many forms of demonstration, ranging from rallies, sit-ins to marches and parades which is basically numbers of people marching on a route from one significant site to another to highlight their commitment to a particular issue. On a local level, such a demonstration could involve a march from the graduation Square at University Of Nairobi to parliament buildings in city center, where the marchers' concerns are expressed in speeches or other ways. Marches and parades are usually associated with advocacy, support, or protest, and often serve as well for public relations. In some cases, they may also serve as counter-demonstrations.
For rallies, demonstrators gather on their own at a particular place, where they listen to speeches or participate in other activities expressing their concerns (music, skits, and/or remarks by celebrities are common). Rallies, like marches, are usually associated with advocacy, support, protest, and counter-demonstration, in addition to providing opportunities for powerful expressions in the media. Politicians have mastered this form of communication, thriving on topical issues affecting the populace; they always amass popularity through such forums.
In a sit-in, demonstrators do just that: occupy a space in a government office, a street, a particular building, etc. and sit down. Sometimes, a sit-in is accompanied by speeches or other activities; sometimes it is silent. It may involve trespassing, and thus be illegal, it may simply be a statement of people's right to be in a particular place, or it may be meant as a moral statement. Okiya Omtata and the late Nobel Prize laureate Wangari Mathai are perfect examples on how impactful these sit-ins can be.

All said and done, all you need to do is to consider beforehand whether a demonstration is the right vehicle for you to get your point across, plan it carefully, carry it out well, and follow up diligently. A successful demonstration  should  be able to  accomplishes its goals either immediately or over the long term by getting buy in from the people involved, getting the message to those who need to hear it  and leaving a sense of success and support from all and sundry including the media. 

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