Responding to Bias and Hate
Rights advocates must be attentive to the world around them and notice when injustice happens. The best organizers do their research.
- Get a complete and accurate understanding of what has occurred. Check facts.
- Collect stories of injustice from those who experience it.
- Investigate underlying causes and identify those responsible.
- Initiate inclusive discussions on how to repair harm, restore dignity to victims, and chart a course of action toward meaningful change.
Strategizing a Response
- Build an Inclusive Movement
- Craft an Effective Message
- Match your Tactics to your Targets
- Amplify your Message
- The Ask: Empowering Action
- The Follow-Up
The Right to Defend Rights
The Right to Peaceful Assembly is protected by Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This right protects your right to defend human rights.
Rights advocates and justice warriors promote justice, equity, and inclusion in a variety of ways. Advocacy can include protest as part of a broader strategy. If you are considering organizing or joining a protest, know your rights and respect the rights of others. If you are a student, consult your student handbook and comply with campus policies on rallies and demonstrations or understand the costs of choosing not to do so. Successful and safe protesting requires planning.
A few quick tips include:
- Clarify your purpose
- Create a plan
- Build solidarity
- Craft a unified and inclusive message
- Protect privacy
- Select a safe and accessible location that matches your message
- Know your rights and respect the rights of others
- Embrace non-violence and promote safety
- Adopt a code of conduct for organizers and participants
- Prepare for the needs of people with and around you
- Have fun and find joy in solidarity
Beyond the Standard Protest: Using Creativity to Promote your Message
Advocacy is more than protest. It can inspire hope as well as give voice to pain. Effective movements engage in creative acts of disruption that draw attention to their cause and push others to think in new ways.
Art, music, poetry, and performance give meaning to ideas that are otherwise impossible to articulate. These approaches to activism have the power to touch souls, change hearts, inspire hope, and mobilize change. Sometimes, the creative arts can speak when words fail.
Performances are a powerful way to communicate a message.
Use music, dance, drama, or comedy to highlight injustices and advance equality.
- Plan a party instead of a protest. LGBTQI+ activists held a queer dance party outside the home of American Vice President Mike Pence in opposition to a discriminatory policy agenda. People danced and played music for hours as a form of protest. They used joy and pleasure as a tool of advocacy.
- In 1993 the UN World Conference on Human Rights was being held in Vienna, Austria. Women and the gender-specific aspects of human rights were not on the agenda. On 15 June, women human rights activists opened the “Global Tribunal on Violations of Women’s Rights” in Vienna to draw attention to the persistent pattern of human rights abuses against women. Thirty-three women survivors of human rights abuse and their advocates presented public testimony on gender-specific human rights violations and demanded accountability. The Vienna Declaration and Programme for Action adopted by the delegates at the end of the Conference reaffirmed that the human rights of women and girls were an integral part of universal human rights and fundamentally changed the UN’s human rights work.
On your campus...
- Invite a justice advocate to be a campus speaker. Professional speakers often use audience participation, music, and comedy to help engage the audience in their message. Check to see if your campus has a speaker policy and honor the terms to avoid your event from being cancelled or postponed.
- Stage a teach-in on your campus quad to generate awareness about injustice. Intermix teaching with music, food, and fun activities. Including music and food from different cultures promotes inclusion and promotes resilience.
- Perform Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, “The Vagina Monologues” to raise awareness of violence against women and girls, and to raise money for your local domestic violence shelter or other local organizations working to protect women’s rights. Address the problem of sexual abuse by organizing a campus book reading of The Apology, an imagined apology from the perpetrator of sexual, physical and emotional abuse to his victim.
Be inspired by these other examples of creative activism…
Make the unseen visible and the silenced heard. Invite others to see human rights around them.
- Students at the University of Dayton identify and celebrate upstanders who take risks in support of human rights through The Moral Courage Project. Students take testimony and engage in human rights storytelling to disrupt existing narratives on race and immigration. They elevate and bring the stories of upstanders to life through audio-recordings, photography, and music.
- In 2017, Day Without Immigrants (USA) and Day Without a Woman (International) boycott actions were organized to highlight the contributions that both groups make to daily life and the economy. Immigrants and women, respectively, were encouraged not to work and not to spend money (except at women and minority owned businesses) to protest anti-immigrant and anti-women government policies. Removing them from life for a day shows how integrated these groups are within their societies and how much they are relied upon without recognition of their contributions.
Connecting your activism to an important date, event, milestone, or common practice can increase the power of your message.
- On one college campus, students delivered a “report card” to their administrators identifying specific ways the institution was not living up to its stated mission.
- On another campus, students scrubbed down the school mascot statue with mops and buckets of soapy water to symbolize the need to clean up a racist campus culture. Similarly, Peruvian women gathered in the main plaza in Lima in 2000 to publicly launder Peruvian flags to protest government corruption.
- In 2014, Emma Sukowicz, used performance art to protest campus sexual assault at Columbia University and the mishandling of her own rape complaint by university officials. Titled, “Carry That Weight,” Emma’s performance art included carrying a 50- pound mattress wherever she went on campus to draw attention and protest policies related to campus sexual assault.
- In 2019, students at Albion College organized a silent march to draw attention to the fact that underrepresented students felt they were not heard by the administration when it came to racial bias incidents on campus. The silent march tapped into civil rights history by borrowing the idea from the 1917 Silent Protest Parade. By linking the two events, the organizers highlighted the justness of their cause.
Organize remote or virtual protests.
Sometimes organizing physically is not possible, creative forms of protest can be impactful even when conditions make it difficult to organize en masse.
- In Paris in 2015, climate activists were barred from protesting during climate negotiations due to heightened security restrictions following a terrorist attack. Instead, they gathered and displayed thousands of pairs of shoes representing their supporters from around the world and displayed them outside the building where negotiations were being held, ensuring that delegates would see them as they walked by.
- During the coronavirus pandemic when social distancing policies prevented large protests, hundreds of thousands of runners around the globe participated in a 2.23 mile run in their own communities to honor the life of Ahmaud Arbery by posting photos with the hashtag #RunWithMaud. Arbery was a 25 year-old black man who was chased and shot by armed white men while out for a jog in the United States.
Harness the power of social media & online organizing.
- In 2018, March for Our Lives, a student-led movement, organized the largest single day of protest against gun violence in US history. What started as a march become a movement that protests gun violence, promotes gun control, and registers and mobilizes voters to support their anti-gun violence policy agenda. Their “Our Power” campaign has harnessed the power of digital technology and the creative arts to tell stories rooted in the trauma of gun violence and to advocate for change.
- Attaching a hashtag for a cause organizes the information effectively and gives the campaign a recognizable slogan. This also is a convenient way for people to get involved, because hashtags can be quickly and easily reposted. #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo have effectively mastered the organizing power of social media. Over the period of 1 month in the summer of 2020, more than 4,700 demonstrations (an average of 140 a day) were held in about 2500 communities across the United States, making Black Lives Matters possibly the largest movement in US history.
Reproduced from Carrie Booth Walling, Morgan Armstrong, Marco Antonio Colmenares Jr., and Caitlin Cummings, “Human Rights Advocacy Toolkit,” in Human Rights and Justice for All: Demanding Dignity in the United States and Around the World (Routledge, 2022)