Large public demonstrations of political support or protest provide high visibility for an interest group if their demonstration is well attended. While letters and petitions are effective tools, they are comparatively discreet. Groups may want to call broader public attention to an issue by engaging in "wholesale" campaigning to a mass audience rather than the "retail" approach of reaching decision makers one letter or phone call at a time.
Successful public demonstrations can provide powerful visual statements. If properly publicized and managed, the effects of these visual statements can be magnified through media coverage. There are a variety of types of public demonstrations and events.
Pickets, marches and meetings are the typical ways of showing the strength of your support. Picketers try to leverage media coverage that is already being provided to another event (usually held by your opposition or targets of your action). Picketing also can influence the people attending or planning to attend the event you've targeted, perhaps even to the point that they would not attend. Marches and meetings are events created by a group to communicate to the broader community and to show organizational strength.
But organization is critical. A public gathering that's poorly attended can do more harm than good. Props and backgrounds like banners, posters, placards, and the choice of venue itself, are essential to creating a strong visual message, particularly for television coverage. Organization and planning also help prevent an event from getting out of control, possibly leading to illegal activity that might draw negative attention.
This chapter's feature, Guide to Constructive Confrontation, derived from Saul Alinsky's classic text on protest politics, suggests some guidelines.