Putting the "PR" in Protest

In mere hours, the United States will experience yet another transition of power as it sees the inauguration of its 45th president. Yet, many across the country are not only apprehensive about this change, but actively demonstrating against it, namely the participants of the Women’s March on Washington, set to take place on the day after the inauguration on Jan. 21.

The protest, along with its sister events across the nation and around the world, aims to counter the rhetoric and the persona that President-elect Trump portrayed

during the 2016 Election cycle while also advocating for women’s rights. The event’s mission reflects participants’ desire not only to express their dissatisfaction, but to assert policy positions and cultural objectives as well.

A recent article from NPR reported that if participants want to create long-term change, it’s going to take more than just a single event. This evoked the question of well, what could? How could people who orchestrated this march and those who participated in it bring about the sort of change they want? As it turns out, public relations could very well be the answer.

Public relations is essential to the success of any movement, whether it’s social, political, or cultural in nature. Movements are built on relationships, and those who can manage them can rise to the top. Protest, and an organization’s response to it, can be a useful tool if utilized properly. A 2013 report from Bournemouth University explored how the concepts of “dissent PR” and the related “protest PR” can shed light on the role such demonstrations play in terms of altering the political landscape.

The report defines dissent PR as the use of public relations practices to challenge societal norms, and is more concerned with changing ways of thinking than promoting action. Protest PR, on the other hand, is the component of dissent PR that uses persuasion to facilitate some sort of concrete change, such as a law or regulation. The women’s suffrage movement and modern day “slut walks” are key examples of this, with the results of the former becoming successful over many years of perseverance.

The Women’s March on Washington exhibits qualities of both forms of public relations. While the protest itself represents a greater cultural movement that leans toward dissent, it also has a well-defined manifesto of policy changes protesters wish to see realized. The continuation of demonstrations like these, however, is vital to the ultimate success the movement is striving for.

Michael Kazin, a professor at Georgetown told NPR that to be successful, the march needs “clear and consistent objectives, constant pressure on the Legislature, dedicated support from its base and continued momentum.”

For dissent and protest PR to be effective, it’s going to take more than just one big event. Many more women must walk the same winding road before protest can turn into progress. But with time, effort, and continued pressure, there is a chance that the words we see on posters could transform into policies that can change lives.

Image from Shawn Thew, European Press Agency. Retrieved from USA Today.